The therapist will see you now — in the barn.
At Mountain Horse Farm, a 33-acre bed-and-breakfast in upstate New York, visitors can brush, pet, play and snuggle with therapy cows during hour-long "cow cuddling" sessions priced at $75 per couple. A trained equine therapist and and a farm employee join each therapy session. No prior experience with animals is necessary and participants are simply asked to sign a waiver and wear closed-toe shoes.
Suzanne Vullers, who co-owns the farm with her husband, tells CNBC Make It that while visitors range in age from 12 to 75, sessions with the cows are especially popular among millennials.
"The younger generation lives and has grown up in a technology-filled world where lots of interactions are via a screen," Vullers says. "It's easy to get disconnected from nature and animals, but we need those things to stay healthy and happy. Spending time on our farm where it's beautiful and quiet and where you can connect with soulful horses and cows can help [with] restoring that connection with the natural world."
The farm's Horse & Cow Experience also offers wellness sessions with miniature horses for people suffering from stress, anxiety, grief and loss. While horses tend to stand, the farm's two Scottish Highlander cross-bred cows, Bonnie and Bella, often lie down in the grass – and visitors are encouraged to join them.
Animal-based therapy overall continues to be an overwhelming wellness and mental health trend with businesses catering to goat yoga and emotional support animals extending beyond just the usual dog to ducks and alligators.
According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Health Center for Health Statistics, almost 60% of hospice care providers who offer complementary and alternative therapies suggested pet therapy to patients. That year, the National Service Animal Registry had 2,400 service and emotional support animals in its records. Today there are about 200,000 registered service and emotional support animals, The New York Times reported in June.
Human-animal interaction is known to lower stress and boost social skills, and science backs the benefits of specifically cuddling cows. Similar to meditation, hugging a cow can slow your heart rate and lower anxiety. According to NPR, "the body temperature of a cow is higher than humans', and their heart rate lower, so cuddling up with one is relaxing."
For those at Mountain Horse Farm, cow cuddling can be just what one needs to feel a bit more at ease. "It may bring relaxation, reduce anxiety, help you find answers to life questions and simply make you happy," Vullers says.
The farm's Horse & Cow Experience sessions are offered May 1st through October 31st.
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