"Equine-therapy programs, for example, are now helping an increasing number of teenagers who have severe emotional and behavioral issues, as well as children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome. At Aspen Ranch in Loa, Utah, troubled teenagers are being paired off with wild mustangs that have been adopted from the Bureau of Land Management, each species ultimately managing to temper the other, a dynamic that has also proved very effective in teaching patience and empathy to prisoners in correctional facilities. In the Los Angeles suburb of Compton, there is a youth equestrian program called the Compton Junior Posse. Teenagers clean stables, groom horses and then ride them in amateur equestrian events across Southern California. There are now bovine- and elephant-assisted therapy programs as well.
For Lockwood, animal-therapy programs draw on the same issues of power and control that can give rise to animal cruelty, but elegantly reverse them to more enlightened ends. “When you get an 80-pound kid controlling a 1,000-pound horse,” he said, “or a kid teaching a dog to obey you and to do tricks, that’s getting a sense of power and control in a positive way. We all have within us the agents of entropy, especially as kids. It’s easier to delight in knocking things down and blowing stuff up. Watch kids in a park and you see them throw rocks at birds to get a whole cloud of them to scatter. But to lure animals in and teach them to take food from your hand or to obey commands, that’s a slower process. Part of the whole enculturation and socialization process is learning that it’s also cool and empowering to build something. To do something constructive.”