Horses, Goats, Rabbits, & More: Our Furry Therapeutic Family at Asheville Academy

At Asheville Academy, our therapeutic team is made up of expert clinicians, caring staff, experienced teachers, and some other unexpected helpers: animals. Think about the calm that washes over you as you come home to the love and affection of your pet–that feeling is precisely why we have so many on-campus.
As the barn manager, I know our animals have a real impact on our girls at Asheville Academy. They bring an extra spice to the therapeutic process that people just can’t provide.

A campus covered in animals

It’s hard to move around our beautiful campus without seeing some sort of animal. From guinea pigs to rabbits to kittens to chickens to dogs to baby goats to a pot belly pig named Ruby Sue–we definitely have somewhat of a therapeutic zoo right on-campus.

For our equine program, we have full sized horses, a miniature horse, and a miniature donkey. All of these critters are used safely and purposefully to benefit the therapeutic process.

How our animals help our girls

All of our animals have a purpose in the therapeutic process. Animals are certainly different than humans, but they have the ability to teach young minds certain skills and lessons about self-regulation, boundaries, relationships, and more.

We have animal therapy groups that each meet once a week. The groups are made up of a therapist, myself, and a group of girls. Every week, there’s a different topic to focus on, such as setting boundaries.
For example, we often use our baby goats as a way to help our girls understand healthy boundaries. Baby goats have tendency to get hyper, nibble on your clothes, and climb all over you. Our girls practice how to form boundaries with the goats in an assertive way. We discuss the differences between passive, assertive, and aggressive communication while interacting with the goats.

Other animals that are great with giving instant feedback are bunnies. Obviously, our girls love to hold the bunnies–who doesn’t? But the thing with bunnies is that they’re sensitive to your energy. They pick up on whether your heart rate is too high or breathing is too fast and it makes them nervous. So, in order to interact with the bunnies, our girls have to regulate themselves through deep breathing and other techniques.

Building Responsibility and Accountability Through Animal Care

In addition to the weekly animal therapy groups, girls participate in volunteer work with animals over the weekend. Students go to Animal Haven, a refuge for abused or abandoned animals. There, students help clean barns and take care of the animals. In addition to volunteer work at Animal Haven,  they have the opportunity to help me take care of the chickens and miniature horses on campus by helping me feed them and care for them on a regular basis. This volunteer work helps build a sense of responsibility and accountability that translates into their relationships with humans.

Read more about the volunteer work students partake in here>>>

Animals Acting As a Mirror

The animals provide the girls with a mirror. Human body language and social cues can be difficult to work with sometimes–animals cut through all of that. They get down to the basic instincts and give our girls the ability to see the direct effects of their actions.

There’s also more direct one-on-one sessions, especially with equine assisted therapy. Sometimes a therapist and student will do a talk therapy session with a guinea pig, kitten, or baby bunny in their lap–just to take the tension out of the room. For some girls, it can make opening up easier because they feel more at ease with the animal around.  
Overall, it’s easy to see that our animals fully enrich our students’ lives at Asheville Academy. Not only do they brighten the girls’ day–it’s hard not to feel happy after seeing a baby goat–but they teach them critical lessons that they’ll take with them back home.

Asheville Academy is here for your family

Asheville Academy is a therapeutic boarding school for girls, ages 10-14. Our students commonly struggle with anxiety, depression, ADHD, and other behavioral or emotional challenges. Our animals play a large role in our therapeutic process, making them part of the whole Asheville Academy family.

With the help of our licensed therapists, experienced teachers, caring staff, and expertly designed program, our students move closer to a healthier life. We use the best tactics and therapeutic methods in order to build a healthy self esteem for girls at Asheville Academy.

For more information about Asheville Academy, call 800-264-8709 today.