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Children With Severe Behavior Problems and Horses Who Help Them

Updated on January 9, 2012

horses can be good therapists

This is Dale, the horse that saved the boys life
This is Dale, the horse that saved the boys life
There are many different animals that can appeal to kids in crisis
There are many different animals that can appeal to kids in crisis
another horse I used in this type of behavior therapy
another horse I used in this type of behavior therapy
one of the kids who came for lessons
one of the kids who came for lessons

Acting Out

Children will act out for all kinds of reasons.  What I am addressing here, are those children who have gone through the traditional kinds of fixes, like therapy, home schooling, and anger management.  There is one type of behavior therapy that is a non traditional help that I have been involved in, that seems to really work.  This involves the child and a routine once or twice a week appointment with a very different kind of counselor.

Let me tell you a story about a little boy, who had been to every school in our county, and had been kicked out, leaving only a home school situation for him.  He was ten years old, and lived with his mom and sister.  The boys sister was two years older than he was, and seemed to be a rather spoiled child.  She also seemed to be the "boss" of the house, indicating to mom when she thought they should go to bed, what they should eat, and so on.

It was a very dysfunctional home, and Mom seemed to be a caring person, but had a real hard time saying no to her kids, and meaning it.  The kids seemed to be winning the war on who had the final say in the home, and there was no Dad present, nor was there a Dad who even made an appearance. 

Mom wanted to be the parent, but these two kids had worn her out.  She would lay down the law, and after pushing and pushing her boundaries she would finally give in and would turn her head to let the kids do whatever it was that they were pushing to get.  When they met me, it was because I had been advertising horse back riding lessons for kids in our neighborhood, and the family lived in our area, and had two horses that were just sort of being yard decorations.  The girl had an interest in the horses, and was very good about feeding them and caring for them as much as she knew to, but when Mom came to me with this interest in learning for her kids, she could only afford to put one child in the lessons, therefore the girl who was doing well in school, and was better behaved got the paid for lessons.  The younger brother came along to watch, and as I instructed the girl, saw in him an interest, but also saw in him a deep anger.

Mom came to me to inquire about a possible price discount for the second child, and we began talking about his behavioral problems.  It seemed that no school in the area would take the child back, for he had displayed some very angry and physical lashing out against his fellow students at first, fighting on the playground and after school at first, and then a flash temper that was shown in class that finally ended with an attack on his fifth grade teacher, who he had hit with his fist, once in the face and once in her chest area.  He had been at that point, expelled. 

When his sister was taking her lesson, I watched him as he began kicking an old tub in my driveway, and as the hour continued he gave this old plastic tub a thorough lashing.  His Mom asked him and then told him to stop, which only seemed to escalate the action.  I saw in him a very sad and jealous kid who definitely was competing with his sister for the good or bad attention of this mother.  I told her that I would give the child free lessons, if he was willing to help me out in the stable and arena area cleaning up.  She talked to him and he readily agreed.  Mom warned me about his ":problems" and told me to watch out for his anger and to not expect him to actually "do" what I expected of him for the lesson. 

I thought to myself, "Sure lady, you watch and see if he doesn't do what I ask", but said only "OK, I will."  She wanted to stay and watch but I asked her not to, that she could come and pick him up later.  She looked at me dubiously, as though I was crazy for taking on this kid alone, and didn't know what I was getting myself into, and also noted the sister and her obviously discussing this as they walked off towards their car, the girl smirking and pointing my direction.

The youngster approached me and asked what we were gonna do.  I decided to put him on a paint horse I had that was about 14 years old, and was a difficult animal to get to do anything but walk slowly.  I told the child that this horse had some problems just like he did, but that I thought they would be a perfect match.  We walked back and got him on his halter, and I let the boy lead him out, showing him how to lead the horse and not get stepped on.  I could see some ideas hatching behind the boys eyes, even at this point.  I showed him how to brush his horse, and stepped out of the picture so the two of them could get to know one another.  As soon as the boy thought I was out of sight, he hauled off and hit the horse in his side.  Now a ten year old boy can hit but not hard enough to do any damage to a horse, and the paints response to this was a very hard swish and flick of his tail, right in this boys face.  It was enough to let him know that he could also hurt him if he wanted.  I watched as this boy took out a little bit of limited frustration toward this horse, and also watched the horse come back with his own brand of "you better watch it kid, I am bigger than you "response".  The horse hit him with his tail, reached back and bit at him, but only got his clothing, knocking him down once, and rubbed his itchy eye on him till the boy almost couldn't keep his balance.  I then stepped back in before it went any further. I told him that this horse, his name was Dale, had been abused (a lie), and needed a friend.  I didn't say anything about him hitting the horse or what I had seen. 

After getting Dale saddled up, the boy got up on him, and we left on what was to be a learning experience for all of us.  The boy wanted me to be intimidated by him, and the horse too I think, but old Dale had not even noticed much.  It had been good for the boy to be able to be around someone who could take whatever he dished out, and we went off for a very long ride.  About three fourths of the way through the ride, the boy got off Dale, and I asked him if he was sore, and he said "No, I just felt sorry for Dale, I think he is tired"  This was the first time the boy had shown any consideration for an other's feelings at all.  I honestly thought he just didn't want me to know he had had enough, and his butt was sore.  After walking for about ten minutes he got back up and we finally arrived back. 

He was so tired and sore after this ride that his aggression was just plain gone.  He very tiredly went about doing what I asked of him, and his Mom came and got him.  I felt that the experience had been a positive one, and told Mom to bring him at least once or twice a week.

The very next morning when I got up and went out to feed the horses, I was surprised to find my newest student out there with a rake, cleaning up Dales stall.  The horse was nudging him around and they had become best of friends.  The thing was, the boy did not have any friends.  He needed to feel liked and wanted.  This old horse made him feel that way. 

His mother called me in a panic a few minutes later, asking me did I know where her kid was, she woke up and he was missing.  I told her not to worry, he wasn't missing he was at my house cleaning up horse crap, voluntarily.  She couldn't believe her ears.

As soon as her little brother was involved, the sister no longer wanted the lessons.  This was OK by me, for the boy needed the attention more than she did anyway. 

The long and the short of this lesson was this, as soon as this child had gotten involved with this old horse of mine, he began to show improvement at home, and eventually went back to school.    He began to show a side of him that was hidden before, and that was that he could in fact feel for another living creature, human or not.  He began showing his mother that he was able to do his chores, and because of Dale, and his love of him, was able to be taught, for he did not want to lose his weekly lessons with him.  This gave his mom the leverage she needed to get him to do what he was asked.

Many therapists have used horses and other animals in therapy with kids.  The thing about horses is that kids with temper issues cannot really do anything that will hurt an animal of that size.  Yet, they are able to show these kids the love they need.  This therapy worked for this child, almost completely causing him to recover from his debilitating behavior.  Who knows what would have happened to this kid if he had not had this relationship with a horse.  I believe he very easily could have ended up in Juvenal hall or some other kid detention center, and eventually would have ended up in jail.  It looked like that to me.  Thank God for Dale and horses like him.


Submit a Comment

  • justateacher profile image

    LaDena Campbell 

    7 years ago from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz...

    One of my dreams (one I still may do) is to have a group home of troubled boys along with horses and dogs that have been mistreated and put them together to take care of each other.

    Nice Hub!

  • ddsurfsca profile imageAUTHOR

    deb douglas 

    7 years ago from Oxnard

    When I was a kid I thought that only animals understood me, and that they were the only ones who were my friends. Sometimes animals can be very healing to a persons soul.

  • suejanet profile image


    7 years ago

    Thanks for an interesting hub. I have an adopted child and have been having a great deal of trouble. It's almost like we are on two different planets.

  • ddsurfsca profile imageAUTHOR

    deb douglas 

    7 years ago from Oxnard

    Thanks all for your comments. Yes it may be true that I saw the need, but it is equally true that the horse also sensed his need and put up with him. This horse was not like this with everybody, and old Dale did the work too. I couldn't have done it without him. That lad cleaned horse poop for weeks on his was great.

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    Wow ! Your instincts are bang on with this child. Is he and his mom ever lucky you came into their lives. Really though, YOU are the one that this boy became attached to. You 'invited him in' when the rest of the world shut him out and told him he was not wanted. That was the beginning. Then he took all of his frustration and anger and tried to see if you would do the same as everybody else. You stood strong, showed your loving alpha which I suspect mom struggled emmensely to do. It is a combination of intense child and dependent mom ( who really needs to be an alpha presence in this boys life). Congratulations on making this world a better place !!!


  • marcoujor profile image

    Maria Jordan 

    7 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

    It is truly amazing what animals can teach us and this is a great example. The confidence and time you took with this young man is inspiring. It shows what can be done when you believe in someone's abilities and potential-- Bravo!

    Voted Up, Useful, Awesome & Beautiful!

  • Paradise7 profile image


    7 years ago from Upstate New York

    This is a great story, and very encouraging for those parents with "Problem" children. I always wonder, is it the parent or is it the child, or a combination of both...sometimes kids don't come to compatible parents that are able to guide them in the ways they need. Not to say the parent is a bad parent; not to say the kid is a bad kid; they just don't mesh with each other.

    I'm glad this kid was able to show the horse some affection and pay some positive attention to this patient old animal. I'm glad the horse was able to get his own back, just enough, without really hurting the kid, to let the kid know there ARE limits.

  • tlpoague profile image


    7 years ago from USA

    Beautifully written! I have heard of therapy like this before. It is amazing to see the transformation of children that just wanted to feel loved and needed. This was a wonderful piece of writing to read. Thanks!


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