A facility just outside Kemptville is celebrating 10 years in business partnering with horses to help people with all types of mental health struggles.
Founder Ryan Theriault started Tranquil Acres in 2011, after quitting his job as an account manager for RBC. He found the farm in Kars and moved out to the country that September to start his equine assisted mental health facility.
Ryan was drawn to the field of equine assisted mental health because of his love of horses and his personal experience with anxiety. Although he grew up in a family that couldn’t afford horses, he was able to spend more time around them later in life and noticed what an impact they had on his mental health. “I saw how important they were and what they were able to do for me,” he says. “I noticed that when I was with the horses, I was a lot more calm.”
Tranquil Acres offers equine assisted psychotherapy to clients with all types of mental health struggles. Ryan says they work with a lot of first responders and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as people with anxiety, stress, depression, eating disorders and victims/survivors of sexual assault or human trafficking.
Sessions are conducted with both an equine specialist practitioner and a licensed mental health professional like a psychotherapist, social worker or occupational therapist. Both equine specialist practitioner and the mental health professional work together to help the client and partner with the horses to create metaphors and find solutions to their issues through experiential learning. “We provide the space and the time for the client to come up with their own solutions to whatever they’re working through,” Ryan says.
According to Ryan, partnering with horses is a great way to help clients tap into their emotions and patterns in their life because of how sensitive they are to their surroundings. “The horses mimic scenarios in life and the reason why the horses do that is because they feed off our energy,” he says. “They feed off the intent that we’re sensing. Horses are super good at recognizing people’s intent, because in the wild they have to always remain vigilant about their environment.”
Ryan says equine assisted psychotherapy is a great alternative for people who find that traditional talk therapy doesn’t work for them. Tranquil Acres sees clients from all over Eastern Ontario for individual sessions, and they often have clients flying in from as far away as Newfoundland to access their retreat programs. No session is ever the same, and Ryan loves watching how clients interact with the horses, partnering with them to find the courage and strength they need to live their lives despite their mental health challenges. “Working in this field, you get to see people that struggle, like you and I, every single day, and it’s allowing these people to normalize that they’re not weird, they’re not strange, they’re not broken. They just need a safe place to be able to process life. To be able to put the pieces back together in a safe place, and that’s kind of what we’ve created.”
COVID-19 has placed a huge strain on Tranquil Acres as they have been periodically shut down during the provincial lockdowns over the past year. Right now, Ryan says they are operating at about 30-40% capacity and only seeing clients in person that desperately need the support. “Mental health is definitely something that we need to continue during these times,” he says. “It’s more than ever needed.” Tranquil Acres has seen an upswing in calls over the past year from people looking for mental health support. Ryan says they do their best to meet their needs by offering virtual sessions, in-person if necessary, or directing them towards other community resources.
Ryan is very grateful to the community who have been helping them feed the horses throughout the pandemic. They have also been able to tap into a few government grants, but are relying heavily on their savings and lines of credit to keep the lights on. As a fee-for-service facility, Ryan says it is hard to balance being a business owner and the needs of clients who may have lost their jobs. He recently had a conversation with a client about how people are either overworked or out of work, neither of which is good for mental health. “I think that’s the big problem. Either you have too much time to think, or you don’t have enough time to think and process things, so that’s where we’re seeing a lot of our clients.”
Ryan is hoping that with more and more people becoming vaccinated, they will be able to return to normal business over the coming months. It is clear that he is passionate about what he does and would love to see his four employees and eight horses (and a donkey) back at work supporting the mental health needs of the community on a more regular basis.
For more information about Tranquil Acres visit www.tranquilacres.ca.