Coronavirus News: Yonkers students who lost teacher find relief in virtual horse therapy

YONKERS, Westchester County (WABC) -- Students at a Westchester County school who lost a beloved teacher's aide due to the coronavirus are finding comfort from an unexpected source: Livestreamed horse therapy.

And experts are hoping the virtual equine therapy can offer help and hope to other traumatized and marginalized children.

The students at The Biondi School in Yonkers were hit hard in the pandemic and found relief thanks to a virtual grief and bereavement therapy session with horses, which was streamed live from the SkyBlue Equestrian Center.

The virtual therapy has been going on for about four weeks now. Previously, the students experienced the therapy in person.

Jennifer D'Agostino is in charge of the Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy and Learning program at The Biondi School, run by Rising Ground, a large human resources nonprofit in New York City.

"Horses help children reflect on what they are feeling," she said. "They help them tell their story. They draw connections to what the horse is feeling and their own experiences. They develop personal understanding and learn to regulate their emotions."

The students shared their reflections about their late teacher, while a chocolate-colored horse nuzzled D-Agostino's iPad and provided a closeup of the 1,000-pound animal to the families logged in from home via Zoom.

D'Agostino led the interactive visit, moving according to student requests and encouraging them to make observations about the horse's behavior.

"It was so peaceful, just wonderful," D'Agostino said. "Parents reported afterwards that their kids felt relieved. They were missing a connection with someone they loved. So relating to the horse, to nature, and to each other was soothing. It was a shared experience while we are learning apart."

For kids who struggle with managing their emotions and behavior, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an additional challenge -- one that D'Agostino believes can be helped by this form of therapy.

A federal grant pays for this therapy program, and not only have the children's lives been changed, but the horses -- who miss the kids -- love it too.

Who knew? Even horses are working from home.

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