CINCINNATI — Some say animals have the power to heal and perhaps because of that, a new equine therapy facility to help people deal with trauma will now be getting 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 this 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.
That’s the type of healing Young is working to bring to Price Hill, where he’s currently building Horses on the Hill, an equine trauma therapy program right in the urban core of Price Hill.
It’s 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 folks we work with, kids and adults, both have had some kind of trauma in their life. We felt like one of the best ways we can do that is actually have a therapy barn in the neighborhood,” said Young.
In the past, Bloc has helped connect people to equine therapy by using a farm in Harrison, but that required leaving the neighborhood, which presented a barrier for many people.
“The difficulty is getting anybody out of any neighborhood like this, transportation is a killer,” said Young.
So is the cost, he said.
That's why Young began working to build his own program in Cincinnati. He’s been working to create Horses on the Hill since 2015 and recently began building the equine therapy barn at 1655 Ross Avenue.
The city of Cincinnati is leasing the land to Bloc, which is the site of the former Quebec Heights School and the project is being supported by private funding.
“We were blessed to work with the city to get this property on Ross Avenue that’s been sitting here dead for a long time to put an equine therapy barn here,” said Young. “You're dead center of Price Hill. There is probably not too many pieces of property 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 leading and riding the horses.
“I’ve kind of had this vision of Horses on the Hill being an Eden, a Garden of Eden for this neighborhood. A place of peace and growth and healing and I’m really excited for that to just be available, readily available,” said Sharpshair.
The therapy with the gentle giants helps build confidence, trust, emotional awareness and more.
“In order to have a positive experience around them you have to be grounded and within that moment. And if you know anything about people who have experienced a lot of trauma it can be difficult to get there. But, horses pull that out of you,” she said.
The program is intended to serve economically disadvantaged youth and their families, as well as individuals in recovery, veterans, abused women and others.
Ashley Posik, who will work as an equine specialist at Horses on the Hill, knows how the program can help firsthand.
“There is something to be said about a relationship between a human and animals of that size,” she said.
As a teenager Posik volunteered and worked at a horse rescue. Life pulled her away from the role, but after years of battling addiction and surviving sex trafficking, the animals she once worked with have trotted back into her life.
“I was working through my trauma (when a therapist asked) ‘when was the last time you felt pure joy? When was the last time you felt freedom?’ All I could remember was when I was on that rescue,” said Posik. “When you see all the horses running on the hill and it’s pure bliss. It’s pure power. The magic is something I cannot explain and it’s not human.”
That’s when Posik decided she wanted to help others find that.
“Learning to trust something way bigger than you (like a horse, helps overcome trauma). Whether you got to look at it physically or metaphorically. (It’s) where you will find freedom from the oppression that you suffer from. And that’s just what trauma is. It’s oppression. And to be released from that you have to find something bigger than you. And you have to learn to trust it,” she said.
In all, the site will include an indoor riding space, barn, stable and six horses. It’ll also include a farm and horticultural program. Horses on the Hill is expected to be up and running in summer 2022.