The sound of trotting hooves could be heard outside Malden High School on Wednesday as more than 50 pupils took part in a unique session of animal-assisted therapy.
“It’s not every day that a horse walks into a school,” said Toni Hadad, founder and president of Lifting Spirits, an Andover-based nonprofit that provided the horses. “There were lots of smiles, lots of kisses. . . . Everyone really enjoyed meeting them and getting to know them.
Lifting Spirits offers horse therapy at more than 90 facilities across the state, including nursing homes, elementary schools promoting anti-bullying messages, and colleges seeking stress relief during the week. exam.
To help students cope with the stress of a school year disrupted by the pandemic, the charity provided Malden High School with three miniature horses measuring just 25 to 36 inches.
The students took a break from class to get some fresh air and interact with the animals, which Hadad says helps alleviate stress and promote positive social interactions.
Animal-assisted therapy is widely recognized as effective in the field of psychology, but horses are particularly emotionally intelligent, Hadad said.
“Horses are amazing,” she said. “They have a magnetic field that radiates 40 to 50 feet where they can synchronize their breathing with humans and calm a person down.”
And miniature horses can be especially calming for students who have special needs or who have been bullied.
“Horses have special needs within themselves,” Hadad said in a phone interview. “We convey that everyone is different and that it is okay to be different. Our horses are different because they are small and have health problems, but they are horses like any other horse.
Rachel Gelling, social worker at Malden High School, said the program was a success. Some students and teachers had never seen a horse up close – not to mention a miniature, she said.
“They were so excited,” Gelling said, “They’re going to be talking about it all week.”
She also said students need extra emotional support now more than ever.
“Overall, I’ve noticed that after being so isolated, we have an increased number of children showing symptoms of social anxiety,” Gelling said in a phone interview. “COVID has been difficult for everyone.”
She said one student arrived with tears in their eyes on Wednesday, but after a few minutes with the horses, the student was “smiling and heading back to class.”
Julia Carlin can be reached at [email protected]