Therapy can come in many forms. Kristina Davis ’73 of Appleton, Wis., is a licensed clinical social worker. She has been providing counseling for families, couples and individuals for 27 years in the Fox Valley area.
In 1995, Davis created a 14-week group for “at-risk” adolescent girls called Teen Awareness Girls’ Group (TAGG). The purpose of the group was to improve self-esteem and build character through the use of music poetry and film.
Davis’ co-worker, Ann Dake, assisted with TAGG. When Dake came up with the idea to found a ranch to use donated horses in the therapeutic process with youths and their families, Davis followed right behind her.
CHAPS Academy opened in Shiocton, Wis., in 2004, and Davis and Dake brought the TAGG program to CHAPS for two summers.
“The horses help youths with emotional, mental and behavioral problems,” Davis says. “In nature, an animal is either a predator or prey. Horses are prey, so they have to be highly sensitive to their environment to stay safe. This means horses are very sensitive to the emotional energy we emit. They respond to us nonverbally in ways that become a mirror or metaphor for our emotions. And they also respond in surprisingly loving ways that heal emotional pain.”
Davis experienced this herself with a horse named Star.
“I was at CHAPS the day he arrived. He would not approach me so I talked to him about how much he would like it there,” Davis says. “When I worked with Ann to learn to get over my fear of horses, Star chose me to work with. At CHAPS, the horse chooses the youth. The youths are introduced to all the horses, but just one horse shows an affinity for each youth and becomes the horse the youth works with in therapy.”
Davis recalls many examples of CHAPS successes. During TAGG, one of the girls barely said a word in group and groomed her horse in silence while the other girls chatted.
“Then the day came for riding,” Davis says. “Tally, a chocolate brown horse had been stubborn with one of the more assertive girls, not obeying her lead. The minute he felt this fragile girl on his back, he lowered his head, a sign of surrender and respect. He obeyed every tentative command she gave him. She had never ridden before, but she sat up straight in the saddle and rode like she had been riding all her life. Her eyes were bright and alive as she circled the arena and guided Tally around the barrels. Tally had awakened her to new possibilities in her life.”
In another session – a first encounter between the girls and the horses – a deeply wounded girl followed the others into a field where a horse named Apache grazed. A frisky, in-your-face 2-year-old, Apache came from a ranch where 60 horses inhabited 11 acres; he was neglected and starved for the first year of his life. He walked over to this girl and laid down with his head in her lap. Apache’s extraordinary attention made her feel special.
“The horses respond in these surprising ways all the time,” Davis says. “They seem to know just what is needed in the situation.”
CHAPS Academy (www.chapsacademy.org) is a non-profit, Christian-based facility that offers equine-assisted programs for youths with behavioral and mental health issues, and a suicide-prevention program for “at-risk” adolescent girls.
Davis has her own caseload of clients and also is a clinical supervisor of seven residents for the resident program. Residents have master’s degrees and are in the process of doing their two-year work experience at CHAPS before they can apply for their counselor state license.