The folks at Chastain Horse Park (CHP) recently completed Phase 1 of their $9 million expansion and are embarking on the second and final phase of the project. Once complete, the team will have the capacity to eventually double their therapeutic offerings.
CHP is an 83-year-old horse park situated on 15 acres in Atlanta. One of only two urban horse parks in the U.S. — the second in Dallas — CHP provides primarily therapeutic rides and equine-assisted therapy, along with riding school and boarding. In 2021, the team conducted over 5,000 therapeutic sessions.
CHP’s ultimate goal is to help foster life-changing relationships between individuals of all abilities and horses. Executive Director Trish Gross describes the expansion as a way to “broaden our depth and breadth of impact.”
These therapeutic opportunities are invaluable for the patients, offering both mental and physical benefits. Equine therapy can prove helpful for those with sensory impairment, ADD/ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, depression, anxiety and more.
To help make these services accessible for all, CHP subsidizes 50 percent of every therapeutic session. Additionally, the team offers full and partial scholarships to those in need. Of Atlanta’s 41 zip codes, CHP serves 32.
CHP broke ground on the project last August and one year later, they have wrapped up Phase, 1 which includes a new Community Barn. The construction team just kicked off phase two, which will feature a Therapeutic Horsemanship Center with clinical and educational spaces.
Gross describes horses as the ideal therapy animal because, as prey animals, they are incredibly sensitive to the energy around them. Their brains are made primarily of the limbic system, giving them the ability to read human emotions. With the horses serving as somewhat of an emotional mirror, patients can better identify and work through their own feelings.
“[Horses] are in fight or flight mode constantly. A lot of us are in fight or flight mode constantly, too, specifically our veterans, people with disabilities, kiddos with mental health challenges and depression,” Gross said. “The phrase is, ‘What you put down, the horses pick up.’”
In addition to the tangible impacts of equine therapy, the horses also serve as an incentive for patients who might feel apprehension or aversion to a traditional session.
“Our therapists say that motivation to attend therapy and work hard is half the battle,” Gross said. “Who really wants to go to the doctor? Not a lot of kids do. But they love coming [here]. They want to work hard. Their boots are by the back door the night before, and they view it as a treat to come.”
Moving immediately from Phase 1 to Phase 2, Gross expects to wrap up the project by the fall or winter of 2024. “No grass grows under these feet. We are on it,” she said.