As a child, Cadiz resident Susan Garon struggled with issues related to depression and social anxiety during her years growing up.
But Garon was fortunate enough to have a horse, and she worked through her issues.
Today the licensed marriage and family therapist relies on her equine friends to help as she works with her clients, young and old.
Garon, 63, is the owner of Equine Assisted Transitions, which she founded as a non-profit in 2009 in Lawrenceburg. Six years ago, she acquired property in Cadiz, where she now operates her horse therapy program.
Its sessions offer clients an opportunity to work with the horses, develop relationships with them, groom the animals and ride them.
“Horses kind of mirror our own relationships,” observed Garon, who is also a certified therapeutic riding instructor. “They live in a herd, which is similar to family dynamics.”
Garon noted that people connected to horses understand the animals are therapeutic, but she said her directors and supervisors were mystified about how horses help people.
In Cadiz, Garon has “a very nice barn” and a covered indoor arena where sessions with the horses can take place in winter and summer.
An obstacle course is used for training horses and for working with people, with a focus on helping them bond with the horses, working on trust and understanding and teaching clients to communicate with others.
As a therapist, Garon said she usually focuses on relationships. In the past she worked with youth in foster care or those who were struggling with significant behavioral issues and were about to be sent off to a residential program because of their struggles.
They may have had drugs in their families, Garon said, and they had a lot of anger, depression and anxiety, emotions so extreme they weren’t allowed in other summer camps.
Garon wanted to form smaller groups where they could get help dealing with their frustrations and anger and learn to deal with things they were facing at home or school.
She wanted other youth to experience what she’d experienced with her horse as a child.
At her facility in Cadiz, Garon currently has 25 clients ages 3 to 70. Some just come to ride, although they are all known as riders.
There’s a stigma around therapy, Garon explains, and by identifying everyone as a rider, no one knows if a particular person is getting riding lessons or receiving therapy.
One of those riders is Emily Curcio.
The 28-year-old suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car wreck eight years ago, and coming to Equine Assisted Transitions has helped sharpen her physical, mental and social skills, the young woman said.
“All of them really helped me a lot,” Curcio, who lives in Herndon, notes of the instructors that she’s worked with through the program.
Emily’s mother, Yvette Holmes, had heard about Garon’s program in Cadiz. Her daughter had ridden a horse since age 10, but after the wreck it was no longer safe for her to do so.
“This is safe with people and horses that are trained,” observed Holmes, noting that the program’s instructors worked with Emily a lot on her flexibility, strength and coordination.
Five years ago, it took several people to put her daughter in the saddle for the first time at Equine Assisted Transitions. The young woman wasn’t able to do it herself, her mother said.
Holmes said the program has also been good for Emily’s outlook, and her doctors in Louisville are thrilled with the therapy.
Today Curcio still can’t ride her own horse; but she takes care of it, and she has a safe environment at Equine Assisted Transitions where she rides and works with those horses.
On a recent afternoon, she groomed Tank, a Quarter Horse, before walking him around the indoor arena with the assistance of horse leader and volunteer Diane LeClair.
Riding Garon’s horses has helped improve her balance, according to Curcio. It’s also helped with her physical skills, boosted her mental abilities and given her opportunities to spend time with other people.
After the accident, “all of my friends disappeared from my life,” Curcio said. Her only social interaction was with family so being able to spend time with other people at the arena has been an advantage for her.
Curcio described the program as “very, very helpful,” and Lantana Hight, a summer intern at Equine Assisted Transitions, agreed.
A college student majoring in equine management and psychology, Hight noted that the program has been as much a help to her as it has been for the young clients she sees.
“Just to watch what goes on here is absolutely amazing because you can see the progress of all the kids,” said Hight, who’s been a volunteer since she was 15.
As for Garon, she says the volunteer-run program is something she feels strongly about.
“It’s a passion,” she observed. “It’s something I’m passionate about doing.”
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, overlapping sessions that allowed the students to socialize with each other gave way to therapy sessions that were spaced out.
Work was done outside for social distancing.
Wearing masks and hand washing were emphasized with the students, and the facility’s one restroom was sprayed out regularly.
Garon considers the challenges of the pandemic to her program and notes that she basically had to shut everything down during that time and find a new way of doing things.
“We did everything we could to make everyone feel safe and kind of started with rebuilding from there,” she noted.
Garon anticipates that her numbers will increase again with things opening back up as people receive their vaccinations and there are fewer instances of the coronavirus.
She is looking for new volunteers and says they can have experience with horses or kids.
But Garon also notes that her volunteers don’t necessarily need experience with horses since a lot of the effort involves working with the students, teaching them how to brush the horses, coaching them to work with the animals and encouraging them as they do.
She adds that there’s a need for funding and sponsorships, businesses or church groups to sponsor the therapy program, for example.
Garon said this summer will include smaller groups of around four or five people as well as the individual sessions with her clients.
She noted that there are other therapy riding centers, including one in Paducah that has an emphasis on special needs and another center near Nashville, Tennessee, called Saddle Up.
The need is great, she said.
Her clients at Equine Assisted Transitions come, not only from Cadiz and Cerulean in Trigg County, but from surrounding communities like Clarksville, Tennessee, Hopkinsville, Pembroke, Gracey, Elkton, Benton, Murray and others.
Garon said she’d like for her work to be carried on in the future, and she hopes to find a young person interested in learning about the program and continuing it; she said she wants that volunteer to connect with the horses and to become sponsors for both the horses and the program’s participants.
The potential is there, she notes.
“There’s a lot of room for growth and opportunity that I’m hoping we can make a significant difference in our community,” Garon said.
For more information, find her program on Facebook by searching for “EA Transitions.”
Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or email@example.com.