Horses and humans have had a place in each other’s lives for roughly 6,000 years. In that time plenty of stories have been told and experiences documented that have cemented the strong bonds and loyal companionship that can grow between the two. Horses can be so attuned to our emotions, in fact, that they can be of great service when it comes to therapy.
Coronado resident Scotty Aurich owns and manages Sunnyside Stables in Bonita and is finding new ways to put his background in special education to use by combining his passion for teaching with his love of horses. “A couple years ago I was volunteering up in Poway with credentials in special ed, intending to teach in that, but doors kept closing in traditional avenues, which instead lead me to look into environments aside from schools and that lead to my horse, Tacoma.”
Aurich recently came into ownership of the stables this past January where he feels he was meant to be. “It was like a divine plan that it happened now at the right time. It’s as if I just kind of moved my [special education] class here; my class is outside now, that’s all.”
Equine Assisted Therapy has been in common practice for the last 20-30 years and has shown to benefit people suffering from a variety of conditions ranging from anxiety and PTSD to learning healthy social, physical, and emotional development for those on the autistic spectrum. “I’ve worked with some people in Poway with cerebral palsy and the horse’s gait mirrors the human’s natural walk really closely, so [horse therapy] is another good benefit of how to train people’s muscles to build up their strength.”
Now together with Tacoma, whom Aurich has ridden with for some time before coming into ownership of him, they are on a mission to give back to the community by helping kids on the spectrum struggling in their development. Aurich currently has one student he and Tacoma have been working with, a 12 year old named Noah who has trouble with verbalization. “For Noah it’s about projecting his voice [so I’ll ask], ‘Okay what do you say to make your horse go?’ and he’ll firmly say, ‘Move!’ and he gets to find and use his voice.”
The facilities at Sunnyside Stables include some arenas and easy access to surrounding trails, which are both used in sessions depending on what needs to be focused on. They keep their sessions casual and flexible. Aurich designs exercises based on Noah’s needs and own desires for the day as well. “My philosophy on teaching anything is to give the kids some ownership in their own learning with some choice. I find it’s beneficial when they feel just as involved and invested.”
Noah’s mom regularly attends sessions and remains involved in the process of her son’s progression with Tacoma.
Tacoma, too, finds joy in his time helping Noah, Aurich says. “My horses are extensions of me, they’re not tools, and Tacoma’s ears are up during sessions. He’s licking and chewing, blowing, and that’s [him] saying ‘I’m happy, I’m relaxed, this is fun.’”
Tacoma is 20 years old and was involved in rodeo events when he was younger, and his personality reflects his curiosity and relaxed nature with people. Aurich bonded very quickly with him when the two first started riding together and he emphasizes the importance of that step in any work with horses. “With anyone new I like to start with the groundwork – have people just come groom the horse and turn them, etc., so they start forming that trust and relationship before even getting on the horse. You really want to form that bond and trust first; it’s very important.”
On that note he is very mindful of safety and caution, especially with any kids he takes on for therapeutic sessions. “Safety is a big thing and I’m very thorough when it comes to rules and safety. I mean, it’s an amazing experience but it is always a risk to get on a 1,000 pound animal. But I try my best to keep things safe and fun, and it’s all about the kids having fun and learning and them having a positive and enjoyable experience around animals.”
While Noah had some previous experience with horses and they were able to jump in more quickly, they still do everything at a walk when riding, due to the nature of Noah’s disability and not wanting to add stress to his physical or psychological limitations. Aurich maintains that with new students the first step is to figure out previous experience, if any, figure out their goals and needs, and take things in baby steps.
Aurich recalls with joy how far he’s witnessed Noah come in the time since they’ve started these therapy sessions, in both his verbal development and his confidence with Tacoma. “Really just seeing Noah … the first time he got on, it was a little awkward and you could tell he wasn’t exactly sure what he was doing. And last week he just got the block brought it over, set it down, got on the horse all on his own and said, ‘Okay, move!’ and knew exactly what to do and say, and that was really cool.”
While Sunnyside Stables is primarily a boarding stable for owners to house their horses, Aurich hopes to find another horse or two as easygoing and personable as Tacoma to be able to expand his ability to offer equine assisted therapy in order to help more children around San Diego, free of charge.“I was born super early, I was only 1.5 pounds and it is a big reason of why I want to give back to families and kids, to share love of animals and give back to people. And it’s been a fun adventure.”
Families wanting to learn more about working with Aurich and Tacoma, or interested in the stables, can contact him by phone or email at 619-435-4237 or email@example.com.