Xenophon is fortunate to have a staff and a Board of Directors who are dedicated and hard-working people. Never ones to less the moss grow on their feet, they are forward thinking and committed to finding ways to maximize the use of our beautiful center, as well as to meet the needs of the disabled in our community. It is this drive to serve that has led the center to start Operation Hooves on the Ground, our veteran’s program, as well as Bridle Paths to Success, our adult program.
Xenophon has had to face limitations in terms of what we can offer in the way of riding. Restrictions to our herd size (county ordinance) and the size of individual horses had limited our ability to provide riding programs for adults. But, evidence has shown that horses offer therapeutic value in many ways, not just from sitting astride. Horses are extremely perceptive animals and can sense stress, anger or other emotions and often mirror these back to the individual interacting with them. They will willingly to work with any person, regardless of illness or limitations. With our therapy horses, their calmness and patience reduces stress. On these principles, Xenophon designed out unmounted programs for vets and adults.
This is also the basis behind Connected Horse. This non-profit organization uses evidence-based models utilizing non-mounted equine guided activities to help individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s and their care partners. Connected Horse recently conducted research projects at Stanford University and UC Davis to measure the effectiveness of these horse interactions on stress reduction and quality of life indicators. Both studies confirmed positive outcomes on these indicators.
Connected Horse was looking for a center to pilot their program and Xenophon rose to the challenge, yet again realizing the need in the community for help with this population. Over 35 million people are living with dementia worldwide, and there are very few services for these individuals and their caregivers.
The Connected Horse program had its first day at Xenophon on August 30, 2017. It consisted of 3 “dyads” (an individual suffering from dementia and their care partner), a Connected Horse facilitator, Liz Williams, our staff members Tineke and Wanda, as well as a number of Xenophon volunteers. Activities with the horses included observing herd behavior, grooming, leading them, and connecting with them over the fence – all were intended to teach non-verbal communication skills to both care partners and persons living with dementia. Reflection on these experiences was the focus through out the workshop. The program ran for 4 weeks.
The response was amazing from both the perspective of the participants as well as the volunteers. Said one caregiver, “This benefits both people because this caretaking job requires 24/7, high alert. The change of pace makes me feel calmer. I know from knowing Jim for 56 years that he’s content. It’s relaxing to watch him relax.” Connected Horse co-founder Paula Hertel explains the benefits for individuals living with dementia, “For people used to only receiving care, this process reverses that. They become the givers of care. The roles of caregiver and cared-for melt away.”
Our first pilot program was featured in the East Bay Times.
The response has been tremendous and we will continue with a second session of workshops later this month, with a third scheduled for November. Xenophon has applied for grant funds to continue the program into next year. We are grateful to be able to offer this opportunity to people struggling to cope with this debilitating disease. For more information or opportunities to participate, please contact Mari Parino at Xenophon, (925)377-0871. A screen process for potential participants is necessary.