POTOMAC, Ill. (WCIA) — An organization in central Illinois is taking a different approach to childhood counseling and it involves horses.

Right now, the Gateway is working with 11 school districts in the area, but they’re hoping to expand their coverage. They say interacting with the horses gets the kids to open up in a way they normally wouldn’t in a traditional setting.

“Because we know that when we people get here, there’s a lot of healing that takes place and we were like how awesome would it be for us to get the horses in the schools,” said founder Michael Remole.

And that’s exactly what this central Illinois mental health agency did.

Gateway Family Services merged their love for horses and healing to deliver a unique service to young students. Their miniature horses help kids better understand classroom behaviors.

“With the past three years being the way they’ve been this is a very much needed break from the– I want to say is norm but I don’t know if we know what that is anymore,” said Paige Rogge, a clinical psychologist with the agency.

Remole grew up with horses. He says he always felt there were benefits of interacting with the animals. But it wasn’t until he went off to college that he understood the science behind it.

“And then I got my master’s in clinical counseling and then found out about a model of therapy called ‘natural lifemanship,” which combines human and horse behavior and neuroscience to help people find healing,” added Remole.

They say by working with the horses, it takes off some of the pressure associated with traditional counseling. Simply brushing the animals while talking allows for students to open up without realizing it.  And for these post-pandemic kids it also teaches them non-verbal social cues.

“You don’t have to sit there and tell me about your deepest, darkest secrets or all your hard feelings. That naturally comes out through the process. But before that even happens, you’re getting a relational connection,” said Rogge.

Gateway Family Services is hoping to expand their work to bigger horses and more schools.

These services aren’t exclusive to students. Gateway works with teachers as well as the general public.