Watching kids with white-painted hands make prints on Clyde the Never Give Up Horse was an inspiration for University View Academy 9th-grader Gianna Phillippi. “I wanted to be part of that,” she says. Clyde is a Clydesdale used in therapy sessions for children. Gianna says of the children, “We tell them to close their eyes, make a wish, and Clyde will make that wish come true.” It’s a way of harnessing the imagination and instilling hope in children going through rough times.
Clyde the Never Give Up Horse
Gianna’s role is getting therapy horses ready for the sessions at Carousel Farms in Folsom in St. Tammany Parish. She helps train rescue horses for the role of healer. The animals, in some way, were mistreated and are wary of humans. She finds joy is regaining their trust so the animals can use their unique qualities of calming children. Many have also experienced trauma, like bullying at school or worse. Gianna says, “The horses connect in a certain way with the kids.” In effect, the rescues come to the rescue.
Gianna and a horse in Training
She volunteers with a group called Equine Reflections, which provides mental health and learning assistance using horses. There is no riding involved. The horses are used because of their perception of body language, tone of voice, and biochemistry and can perceive emotions such as joy, relief, pain, and fear. The program follows the Eagala model, the global standard for Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Personal Development which uses a team approach with a licensed mental health professional, an equine specialist, a horse as a therapist, and the client. Gianna’s mom, Patricia, says, “It’s a phenomenal thing to see this one-thousand-pound animal pick up on the emotions of the child.”
Gianna has grown up with horses, takes riding lessons to develop her equestrian skills, and is an accomplished rider. Then she met Carousel Farms owner Bonny Barry and saw the children’s’ experiences with Clyde and became hooked on the benefits of the program. She assists up to three days a week and credits the flexibility UVA offers for allowing her the time to do it. Gianna says she likes how she can work ahead of schedule to make room for her volunteer work. One of the courses she loves is an elective called Highland Swordsmanship. “I have a lot of fun with that,” she says because it helps her with the balance that she needs to ride horses.
The 14-year-old has her sights set on owning a horse farm one day and after college possibly going to Veterinary School.