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Horses provide therapy for troubled youth

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Jordan said, "It’s easier to just turn a horse around."

Urrutia grinned and replied, "Of course it is, but a horse can’t see behind them."

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The point was never to get the horse to the back of the barn. It was to get the horse to trust Jordan.

"The horse is doing all the work," said Urrutia’s wife, fellow equine specialist Karla Davis. "Our role is, as facilitators for the horse, to teach them. The horse is going to treat Jordan how Jordan treats the horse. The horse only exists in this moment. Everything Jordan does, they are going to react to it. Our role is to watch the horse and the horse’s reaction and hope learning follows."


Clinician Melody Kerner still remembers the first time she considered using horses as therapy. A depressed girl sat slumped in the rocking chair by her desk, struggling with memories of sexual abuse. She suddenly perked up as images of horses flashed across Kerner’s computer screen. It didn’t take Kerner long to find Urrutia.

Urrutia doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t on the back of a horse.

After graduating from Shoshone High School in 1971, he attended Idaho State University on a track scholarship.

He got a math degree and became a high school teacher. But other skills and talents took him from Idaho for many years.

"My favorite part of teaching was the counseling," Urrutia said. "I didn’t leave teaching because I didn’t like it. I loved it."

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While teaching, Urrutia competed in local rodeos and eventually hit the professional rodeo circuit.

Then, in 1983, he started a country music career, producing 10 albums and six top-10 songs in Europe. For 15 years, Urrutia toured the nation 300 days a year. Finally he decided to come home and combine his love of horses and desire to help youth.

Urrutia is a Level II equine specialist certified through Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA), an equine-assisted psychotherapy service founded in 1999.

"It’s not what we obtain in life, it’s what we become doing so," he said. "And if I ever got back into teaching, counseling, I’d have more to offer because of EAGALA."

Kerner, a clinician with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, started working with Urrutia and Idaho Horse Therapy in March 2012. She works with children from Twin Falls and Blaine counties and is known as the local clinician who prescribes equine therapy.

"Some kids don’t want to sit across and talk to a therapist," Kerner said. "I’ve rode horses all my life. When I’ve had a very stressful day at work, I like spending time with my horse. And that’s what I see happening with the kids."

An hour-long equine therapy session costs $60 per child. Participants are on probation and have had a mental health assessment. The probation officer for the girl or boy applies for the program through the Department of Juvenile Corrections, which pays for the service.

"All of us have kids on our caseload, and we are always coming up with ideas, things in the community that can help them," Kerner said. "We have a lot of kids on probation. And though court has them in required therapy, equine therapy ... puts them in a whole different realm and opens them up to new types of learning."

A child who hasn’t been around horses has an advantage because the idea is to get him out of his comfort zone and improve self-esteem.

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