Army veteran Glenn Scheuermam says his post-traumatic stress disorder causes him to have panic and anxiety attacks. For years, he’s received in and out-patient treatment.
But it was another type of therapy, this one aided by a very large co-therapist, that has finally helped him find peace.
“Working with horses helps me with my breathing and my relaxation. This has by far been the greatest help for me,” said Scheuermam, who feeds, grooms and performs other chores with horses as part of his equine-assisted psychotherapy.
Scheuermam is a volunteer at MKE Urban Stables, a new $5.6 million facility that houses the therapy program. His hope is that others also will give the treatment a try.
“Anybody and everybody could benefit from this,” he said, as he walked one of the specialized helpers through the stable, located at 143 E. Lincoln Ave. “I wish I had found this world of horses years ago.”
MKE Urban Stables is working with the Milwaukee VA Medical Center to provide therapeutic and volunteer opportunities for other veterans.
Youths also will receive treatment there soon, said Heather Kahl, clinic and community resource manager for Rawhide Youth Services, which provides equine-assisted therapy at other locations throughout the state. It will provide services to young people three days a week at MKE Urban Stables.
‘These guys really opened up my heart’
Kahl said equine therapy can be effective because it provides services outside a traditional therapist’s office.
“That can help them work through issues that maybe they’re not as comfortable talking about in that type of setting,” she said. “Sometimes using a horse as a co-therapist helps people share stories.”
Those who receive therapy will work with 15-year-old Coy or 25-year-old Coco, who like other equine-therapy horses, have a special ability to help those in need.
“They can sense everything, even your anxiety,” Scheuermam said. “But they have a way to help you relax and feel better. These guys really opened up my heart.”
Because many urban youths have limited or no experience with horses, the idea is to take each session slowly until they become more comfortable, Kahl said.
“We might have one session where they observe a horse, and then maybe next time they get to feed them or give them a treat,” she said, adding that their therapists also are trained equine handlers.
In addition, the stable will also welcome Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps students from Hamilton High School in the fall, said Kent Lovern, chief deputy district attorney for Milwaukee County and president of the MKE Urban Stables board of directors. The students will perform community service.
Lovern was a member of the Rotary Club of Milwaukee when the idea for the stables originated six years ago. At the time, the group was looking to find a permanent home for the Milwaukee Police Department’s Mounted Patrol horses, he said, but members suggested that the location include horse therapy as well.
Located two blocks east of Milwaukee Police Department’s District 2 headquarters on West Lincoln Avenue, the stable is the first in the nation to pair police horses with therapy horses for use by the larger community. The stable also has a large community room and indoor arena, which will provide space for interactions between the community and police, Lovern added.
“This is a location where police and community members can engage with one another when they’re not in a crisis setting,” he said.
The organization recently began a search for an executive director. Lovern said that person will take over day-to-day management of the stable and lead fund development.
That position will be supported through a $100,000 grant from Bader Philanthropies.
Bridgett Gonzalez, program officer for Bader Philanthropies, said having the facility in the heart of the city is crucial given the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health.
“The pandemic has heightened the need for mental health services in the community,” she said. “Having a specialized form of treatment is an added benefit because not everyone receives therapy in the same way.”