Horses have always played an important role in Katy Schroeder’s life.
An accomplished horsewoman by the age of 19, Schroeder left her home of Dubuque, Iowa and headed to Pennsylvania to train with an Olympic equestrian in a sport called eventing—a combination of dressage, cross country jumping and stadium jumping.
She also began pursuing her interest in social services and earned a degree from University of Delaware in Sociology.
Schroeder enjoyed competing for many years but found herself becoming more interested in exploring the healing aspects of connecting with horses. After moving to Bend to work for an outdoor wilderness therapy program, she searched out programs with a mission to help people with horses.
She came upon the nonprofit Healing Reins Therapeutic Riding Center in Bend.
Healing Reins is nationally-accredited center that helps children, adolescents, and adults with physical, cognitive, and behavioral needs. The program teaches participants not only how to ride and care for their horses, but also how to build a relationship with them. People with multiple sclerosis to stroke patients to kids with attention deficit disorder find great joy in the horses.
Schroeder completed the instructor training and in 2007 was hired full-time at Healing Reins. During her time there she was introduced to equine-assisted psychotherapy through an educational workshop.
“I was so moved by this. I knew I wanted to focus on mental health in an equine setting,” says Schroeder.
She needed formal counseling education and training to go with her undergraduate degree and hours of field work. She attended an information session for the OSU-Cascades Master’s in Counseling program and talked to Professor Daniel Stroud about exploring equine-assisted therapy as part of her program. She started the three-year part-time program in June of 2010 and will graduate next summer.
“I’m learning counseling skills, but the program has also been a personal growth journey for me,” says Schroeder.
For a counseling class, Schroeder was tasked with creating a therapy group. She knew exactly the kind of group she wanted to design and lead.
She wanted to work with survivors of domestic violence and the horses at Healing Reins. She knew the women and the horses would be a great match.
“Connecting with this animal creates a great deal of self-confidence,” says Schroeder.
She worked with OSU-Cascades professor Daniel Stroud and fellow graduate student Shannon Mattingly, the local nonprofit Saving Grace which works with survivors of domestic violence, and with Healing Reins to put together a pilot group.
This summer, she spent nine weeks working with a small group of women healing from traumatic experiences. Each woman was paired with a horse partner and worked on activities designed to promote self-efficacy and interpersonal communication. Some of these activities included grooming and handling skills.
The goals of the group are self-awareness, building self-esteem and empowerment.
Schroeder is now looking to bring this kind of equine-assisted therapy to another group in Central Oregon who have experienced trauma. She and the professors at OSU-Cascades have applied for a research grant to work with women veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress.
“You build social skills, self-awareness, and a massive amount of self-esteem and confidence working with these 1,000 pound animals,” says Schroeder.