Emily McCormick and Sydney Puffenbarger get to know one of the horses at Shayna Meadows Therapy and Wellness, LLC Stables during an after-school program. Photos courtesy of Family Resource Network

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Shayna Meadows Therapy and Wellness, LLC, partners with Pocahontas County Parks and Recreation and Family Resource Network to provide equestrian scholarships for a series of three three-week programs at the Shayna Meadows Stables on Sunset Road between Marlinton and Frost.

The program is geared toward middle school aged children who are interested in learning about horses.

But Shayna Meadows is more than just a horse stable.

Owner Lynette Otto is a licensed professional counselor and provides coun- seling services, specializing in equine-assisted psycho-therapy. With the assistance of the horses, Otto provides individual, family or group therapy to clients.

Otto said she has worked with FRN volunteer Jean Srodes for several years to offer the program to middle school students and is happy to continue that partnership.

“It was kind of [our] brainchild to be able to have kids get exposure to hanging out with horses because a lot of kids – especially young girls – tend to be wild about horses,” Otto said. “This year, we’re able to do three sessions for three different groups of kids.”

The program begins March 20 and will continue every Tuesday until May 20, excluding the Tuesday of spring break.

Shayna Meadows owner and licensed professional counselor Lynette Otto leads Mya Workman and a horse into the arena at the stables.

Because the program is being funded through the FRN, Otto said it will be easier for students to learn about horses without worrying about the cost.

“It doesn’t matter if people can afford it because FRN is paying for it,” she said. “That’s the thing about horses – they tend to not be cheap. It’s not a cheap hobby. It’s not like signing your kid up for soccer. The overhead is so high, and the horses are so expensive to keep. So, when I charge for these kinds of programs – even though I’m not charging very much – I have to at least cover some basic costs.”

With the program, students will go to the Shayna Meadows Stables after school and spend an hour and a half there, learning about horses and how to work with them.

“We’ll start off learning how to groom the horses, how to lead the horses, how to work around them safely and learn a little bit about their personality,” Otto said. “They will learn how to safely move around them and then we will start doing more complicated things – leading through obstacle courses, which they really get a kick out of doing. Then we move on to learning how to saddle up the horses and then some riding.”

Otto has offered the program for several years now and she has seen students really grow as people from their experiences with the horses.

“The kids absolutely love it,” she said. “Horses are really good sports, which is why I do it.”

Using her expertise with the horses and their abilities to interact with people, Otto is able to help the students gain leadership skills as well as boost their confidence.

“Horses are very relationship-oriented animals,” she said. “They live in herds and so they’re very tuned in to each other. They want to be with people and they also really like calm. It doesn’t mean you have to be passive, because if you’re going to lead a horse through an obstacle course or you’re going to ride them and have them walk forward for you, you have to be assertive, too. They respect that. They kind of look for that leadership. I think that’s why when they lead the horses in the obstacle course, the kids really like it because it’s not scary – you’re not on the horse, so they’re not worried about falling off – but they want to have that horse go around the cones and stop where they’re supposed to stop. It’s a bit of a challenge for them to do that. They have to provide that leadership and have to be calm and respectful.”

When the students are able to get the horses to follow their lead and successfully finish the obstacle course, they take great pride in their success.

“There’s a real sense of accomplishment because clear-ly, the horse can go wherever the horse wants to go,” Otto said. “We’re not going to make the horse do anything because they’re big animals. So they do it because we’re creating this respectful, gentle yet assertive environment for them to do this thing that we’re asking them to do.”

For some, the thought of working with horses can be scary, mainly because of their size and power, but Otto said the students have the ability to lead a horse as easily as she does. All it takes is patience and a strong will.

“If it doesn’t work great the first time, you try again and you can figure out what went wrong,” she said. “There’s learning involved. Horses – they’re their own people, so to speak, so they might have a good day, they might not be in a good mood that day. The kid has to be in tune with them, but it’s not an insurmountable task. They can accomplish it. They can find that success.

“Then when you get the kids on the horse, I think that’s also a sense of power,” she continued. “A lot of kids are worried about it, until you get them up on that horse and they’re taller than they’ve ever been, looking around and again, they’ve got this animal under them that they’re now able to navigate and start to be a leader.”

Working with the horses – even if it is just for three days – creates a relationship and bond with the students. Otto said the program teaches students a certain discipline that makes them control their emotions and learn to be calm, yet assertive; strong, but not aggressive.

“It’s a sense of accomplishment, as well as a relationship with this really cool animal who kind of needs you to be in a good space,” she said. “You can’t be wild or really aggressive. You have to be with the horse. I think it’s a combination of all those things. I don’t have to talk about all that with them. The kids can kind of see, ‘if I act this way, it works better.’”

Otto added that the students come out of the program with a sense of pride and a renewed sense of self because they were able to focus their energy on learning something new.

“Even just learning a new skill – we know that increases self-esteem and the way we feel about ourselves,” she said. “When we accomplish anything that’s difficult or challenging or something we weren’t sure we could do, then the next time you are called upon to do something out of your comfort zone, you can think back to something you did and say, ‘I was able to accomplish that, I can do this, too.’”

For more information on the equine scholarship, contact Pocahontas County Parks and Recreation at 304-799-7386.

To contact Shayna Meadows, call 304-799-4141 or visit shaynameadows.com

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com