subscribe: Posts | Comments

Naples Players teams with Naples Therapeutic Riding Center to create ‘Expressive Theater Therapy with Horses’


The Naples Therapeutic Riding Center (NTRC) and The Naples Players (TNP) have teamed up to present a unique program to Southwest Florida. It is so unique in fact that it is the only one of its kind in the United States.

Called Expressive Theater Therapy with Horses, it is a free program offered to those who are eager to

  • reduce and manage stress,
  • deal with grief and loss,
  • ease symptoms of trauma, depression, or anxiety,
  • create healthier relationships, and
  • improve communications and increase self-awareness and trust.

Anyone who has endured trauma or who has struggled with mental health and emotional well-being should register for this class.  Families or caregivers are welcome! Four week sessions are held September through May on Thursdays from 5:45pm-7:00pm to 6 participants and are age-appropriate for people 10 years and older, teens, or adults.

To make these life-changing classes happen, Naples Therapeutic Riding Center Executive Director Missy Lamont works closely with a team that includes Program Director David McKenzie, Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor (Equine Specialist in Mental Health & Learning) Lea Haven, Education Specialist and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Dianne Durante, Ed.S, and Director of Community Education and Wellness at TNP Craig Price.

“TNP partners with over 20 nonprofits in Southwest Florida in order to deliver our mission and serve the community,” said Bryce Alexander, CEO and Executive Artistic Director at The Naples Players. “This is by far the most unique effort, and one of the most rewarding for the individuals we serve.”

Horses and improv are not only fun, but they make participants feel comfortable as a group and with oneself.  The experience allows participants to play, share, and heal with the help of a professional therapist.

“Horses are incredibly intuitive and understand where you are emotionally,” notes TNP’s Craig Price. “Horses can even feel a heartbeat from four feet away! I always knew that improv made me feel better and saw it help other people in the community – I was blown away by how effective and calming these horses are.  We had one participant walk in with severe anxiety and the horse immediately calmed her down.”

The horses at NTRC are special. Most are older – 10 and up. Most are neutered males, known as geldings. All possess that unique personality or temperament that enables them to connect with riders with special needs. They like working with humans.

When horses interact with humans, they tend to synchronize to our heartbeats, which is why they can sense slight adjustments in our moods. “The improv aspect of the classes acts as an ice breaker,” Craig adds. “We play improv games such as ‘dance diamond,’ where whoever is at the head of the diamond is in control and everyone else has to copy.  So, if the horse is at the lead, everyone imitates the horse.”

Participants also groom and talk with the calming, nonjudgmental horses during the classes.  “Dianne Durante and Lea Haven help the horses and humans connect,” Craig explains. “Dianne comes in with tools to help everyone process the emotions that they’re feeling – whether it’s something they’ve come in with or something that the therapy brings out.  Lea supports everyone so they know how to be safe with the horses.”

The Naples Therapeutic Riding Center seeks to improve the lives of children and adults with physical, social and mental health needs through therapeutic riding and other equine-related programs. From modest beginnings, NTRC has evolved into one of the top equine-assisted therapy centers in the entire Southeast. NTRC now serves more than 700 participants each year and provides more than 9,000 hours of service annually. With a herd of 12 to 14 horses and the assistance of 350 community volunteers, NTRC is one of the few organizations capable of providing unique equine-assisted therapies to a broad range of children and adults who show increasing benefits due to their interactions with horses, including people suffering from PTSD.

The Center was the subject of a short documentary made in 2018 to support NTRC’s annual Bootstrap Boogie Barn Dance Fundraiser. Titled Walk On, the 10 minute Big Pup film told the story of Kendra Johnson who has learned to overcome disabilities attributable to a genetic disorder known as arthrogryposis through her interactions with the staff and horses at the Naples Therapeutic Riding Center. Walk On took Best Short Documentary Honors at the 2020 Bonita Springs International Film Festival, Best Equestrian Documentary Mini honors at EQUUS Film Festival and was an Official Selection of the Prescott Film Festival, Focus On Ability Film Festival, Assim Vivemos (Brazil’s International Disability Film Festival), Melrose Film Festival, Respect Belfast Human Rights Film Festival and the Bluenose Ability Arts & Film Festival.

To learn more about the NTRC-TNP program or take part in it, please contact David McKenzie at or 239 596 2988.

October 30, 2021


Comments are closed.