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North Phoenix horse therapy ranch helping to wrangle anxiety

Posted at 6:34 PM, Nov 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-17 20:34:42-05

PHOENIX — At a ranch in North Phoenix, those who step foot on the grounds and onto the backs of its horses hope to harness a positive state of mind.

One of those individuals is 12-year-old Alexa Walker.

“The horses release my anxiety and they make me happy,” said Alexa.

For the past few months, she’s been coming to Anchoring Hope, which is a company using equine therapy to help those struggling with their mental health.

“We’re working with people more with neurological and behavioral issues,” said Anchoring Hope owner Britt Burbach. “We want to induce the same chemicals that anti anxiety medications will induce, so we want get that serotonin, the oxytocin, the dopamine, all those, we want to get those flowing, and doing it naturally.”

That’s where horses like Ollie and Pepper get to work. Through specific movements of the horse and the rider, studies have shown participants’ brain wave patterns change.

“In April...” said Laura, Alexa’s mother, choking up just two words into her sentence. Earlier this year, Alexa, who has a history of anxiety, began to shut down.

“She stopped school, she stopped life,” according to Laura, who said the pandemic delayed her daughter from getting the immediate help she needed. “It was impossible to get her in for an appointment with doctors and therapists and we needed help immediately."

Filled with stress, Alexa couldn’t sleep and didn’t want to socialize. She worried all the time to the point it was crippling her life.

“Is this gonna be my life from now on, that’s what I thought,” said Alexa.

That’s when they turned to Britt Burbach at Anchoring Hope.

Her patients include veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries, people with depression and anxiety, as well as children with down syndrome and autism. From trust positions on the horses, back to counting the rhythm of its steps, a place of zen is discovered during the experience.

“Doing this, they have focus so much... that everything else, the math test, the boss that’s bothering them, the whatever, goes,” said Burbach.

The sound of Pepper's trot is a focal point for Alexa, who visualizes its hypnotic tone when anxiety strikes at home.

“It helps me focus at where I am in the present and not wandering off and worrying about other things,” said Alexa.

“It saved her life,” said Laura, who witnessed a complete change in her daughter. “If I didn’t see it for myself, I don’t know if I would have believed it.”

For Burbach, that’s what her life’s work is all about; Giving those saddled with an invisible but very real trauma the tools to put it to pasture.

For more information about Anchoring Hope and it’s programs, click here.