CINCINNATI — Some say animals have the power to heal and perhaps because of that, a new equine therapy center to help people deal with trauma will now get an unlikely urban location.
“The ability to create a relationship with an animal that you’re terrified of when you first see it, but then it’s just that sense of belonging to each other. You just feel connected to something bigger. than yourself,” said Dwight Young, founder and executive director of Bloc Ministries.
It’s the kind of healing Young is striving to bring to Price Hill, where he’s currently building Horses on the Hillan equine trauma therapy program right in the urban center of Price Hill.
It is an extension of Bloc’s mission to serve the community and develop a support system for the people who live there.
“One of the things we’ve done over the years is use horses in trauma therapy. We do a lot of trauma care. 95% of the people we work with, children and adults, have both experienced trauma in their lives. We thought one of the best ways to do that was to have a therapy barn in the neighborhood,” Young said.
In the past, Bloc has helped connect people to equine therapy using a farm in Harrison, but this required leaving the neighborhood, which was a barrier for many people.
“The difficulty is getting anyone out of any neighborhood like this, transportation is a killer,” Young said.
The same goes for the cost, he said.
That’s why Young began working to build his own program in Cincinnati. He has been working on creating Horses on the Hill since 2015 and recently began building the Equine Therapy Barn at 1655 Ross Avenue.
The City of Cincinnati leases the land to Bloc, which is the site of the former Quebec Heights School and the project is supported by private funding.
“We were fortunate enough to work with the city to secure this property on Ross Avenue that’s been dead here for a long time to put in an equine therapy barn,” Young said. “You are in the center of Price Hill. There probably aren’t many properties like this left.
Mackenzie Sharpshair, programs director for Horses on the Hill, said the program will include counseling, as well as grooming, feeding and eventually driving and riding the horses.
“I kind of had this vision of Horses on the Hill as being an Eden, a Garden of Eden for this neighborhood. A place of peace and growth and healing and I’m so glad it’s just available, readily available,” said Sharpshair.
Therapy with the gentle giants helps build trust, confidence, emotional awareness and more.
“In order to have a positive experience around them, you have to be grounded and in that moment. And if you know something about people who’ve been through a lot of trauma, it can be hard to get there. But, the horses pull that at you,” she said.
The program is for economically disadvantaged youth and their families, as well as those in recovery, veterans, abused women and others.
Ashley Posik, who will work as a horse specialist at Horses on the Hill, knows how the program can help firsthand.
“There’s something to be said for a relationship between a human and animals of this size,” she said.
As a teenager, Posik volunteered and worked at a horse shelter. Life took her away from that role, but after years of battling addiction and surviving sex trafficking, the animals she once worked with came back into her life.
“I was working through my trauma (when a therapist asked me) ‘when was the last time you felt pure joy? When was the last time you felt freedom? All I remembered was when I was on that rescue,” Posik said. “When you see all the horses running up the hill and it’s pure happiness. It’s pure power. Magic is something I can’t explain and it’s not human.
It was then that Posik decided she wanted to help others find this.
“Learning to trust something much bigger than yourself (like a horse, helps overcome trauma). Whether you have to look at it physically or metaphorically. (It is) where you will find the freedom from the oppression that you’re in pain. And that’s exactly what trauma is. It’s oppression. And to be free of it, you have to find something bigger than yourself. And you have to learn to trust it,” she said.
In total, the site will include an indoor arena, a barn, a stable and six horses. It will also include an agricultural and horticultural program. Horses on the Hill is expected to be operational in the summer of 2022.