Equine teachers
Program helps kids reach their 'winning stride'

CONYERS - According to Susan Jung, owner of Double Diamond Stables on Bethel Road in Conyers, horses are the best at mirroring people's feelings in order to relate to and teach others.

At her stables, Jung offers Winning Strides, an equine-assisted learning program for children, where she uses counseling and psychotherapy techniques to teach kids valuable skills. In this program, kids participate in a variety of activities centered around horses in order to develop skills in team building, problem solving, and creative thinking and encourage personal growth.

"We just relate everything the horse is telling them to life," Jung said.

The program features activities such as an obstacle course, where participants must convince a horse to make it to the finish line without touching it, and the world's most powerful horse contest, where participants use various items to decorate a horse as the world's most powerful horse would look.

After each activity, Jung talks about the group's experience with her students and applies it to real world situations.

"I've combined the mental health part with the equine part," Jung said. "It just makes sense to combine them."

Jung believes that horses are our

co-facilitators and are excellent at gauging clients' feelings in order to help them realize and improve their own personal situations.

"I've seen people feel really sad and horses come over and comfort them," Jung said. "Almost always the horse is mirroring what the client is feeling. It's amazing to watch."

The most difficult part of introducing this program to young students, however, is that most of them want to ride the horses.

"That's the hardest part, letting them know that it's not a riding program," Jung said.

The focus of the Winning Strides program is not riding the horses but teaching children valuable skills through a variety of equine-centered activities. In case problems arise during these activities, an equine specialist and a mental health professional accompany student groups at all times while they are interacting with the horses.

Jung is also working to get a research grant approved with Hightower Trail Elementary School. The research grant will allow Jung and Hightower Trail teachers and counselors the opportunity to work with students in order to better understand children's responses to an equine assisted learning atmosphere.

"There is a lack of research in this area, so that is what we are trying to do," Jung said.

A decision will not be made on the grant until late October.

Jung has been working with horses since she was 4 years old and has worked as a riding instructor and school counselor in the past. She originally owned a stable in Gwinnett County before moving to Conyers three years ago when she fell in love with the property where her stables are currently located.

"I feel like we're pretty new to Rockdale County," Jung said. "Now we're just trying to get known."

In addition to Winning Strides, Double Diamond Stables also offers summer camps, birthday parties, clinics and riding lessons. For more information on Jung's stable and the Winning Strides program, visit www.doublediamondstables.net.

Brittany Binowski can be reached at news.intern@rockdalecitizen.com.