When it comes to helping others, whether in a therapy session or corporate team-building, Michelle Salzman doesn’t horse around — well, maybe just a little.
Salzman started Horse Sense KC this year using her love for, and skill with, horses to work with groups and businesses looking to achieve certain goals.
“Working with horses gives them opportunities to see their problems and find solutions to deal with them,” Salzman said.
Salzman uses the equine approach to deal with such issues as time management, problem employees, bullying and empowerment.
“The essence is how you’re going to work with a team to get something done,” she said. “Sometimes what’s obvious is not what you do.”
Salzman discovered the therapeutic use of horses through her own work as a licensed clinical social worker. She uses a team method, developed by the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, that uses a health professional and equine specialist.
“Horses are very intuitive,” Salzman said. “They’ve found that horses and humans work well together — for things like team-building. … The military is using this with PTSD patients. … You’re learning what you’re going to do with people.”
Salzman has been involved with horses for several years as a rider.
“I saw the effects of my two horses on me, and I just knew they could help others,” said Salzman, who is also a registered nurse.
After learning about the equine association and its approach, Salzman decided to become certified in its type of therapy. She attended two three-day trainings and earned her certification last October. Salzman connected with Roxanne Bremen at Blue Sky Stables in Belton to offer the specialized training beyond her therapy practice. Going to the business community with the training model seemed like a natural next step to Salzman.
“Corporations are looking for ways to have a healthier workplace and more communication so that they operate healthier,” she said. “It’s a learning opportunity to see things in a different way.”
The first step is talking with the client about what goals or issues to address. A session is set at the stable, using from one to three horses.
“The mental health professional and equine specialist are in the arena at all times,” Salzman said. “We’re there to ensure safety and tell what we are observing during the session.
Salzman runs the client group through a series of exercises.
“We’ll often ask them to do a task with the horse so the horse becomes a partner to them,” she said. The activity may involve using props as hurdles and getting the horse to go over the block. Sometimes the activities are done with little talking, encouraging participiants to come up with non-verbal solutions to their task.
“If they’re trying to deal with someone who’s pushy, we ask them how are you going to get this 1,500-pound animal to do what you want it to. … The key is how to approach the situation differently. We have many different props they can use.”
Sessions are generally one hour, with Salzman and Bremen sharing the fee.
Salzman has used word of mouth to attract customers to her service; she’s in the process of developing a website to add to her marketing efforts. In addition, she has made calls to various organizations letting them know about her equine work.
“It’s a very slow process,” she said. “It’s not as prevalent in the Midwest. A lot of people are doing it at residential facilities where they can set up for a year. You have to find your niche.”
Salzman knows it may take a little while for the business side of her efforts to catch on, but she said it’s worth the wait.
“I enjoy this so much,” Salzman said. “It’s having an office without walls. … I want to make sure this stays manageable so we can make a difference.
“It’s very empowering to get a 1,500-pound animal to do what you want.”