Meet the Horses-Part Two
Equine Assisted Therapy
Part Two- Meet the Horses
We begin our work with clients by having them meet each horse in the herd. We currently have a herd of six horses, each of whom has a powerful story. Clients typically will feel drawn to a certain horse by something that they hear when the horse’s story is told. This will resonate with a client who has experienced his/her own trauma and help them to feel an emotional connection before they even begin to work with the horse.
Major is a 20 year old Paint stallion. He came to the ranch as a rescue horse about two years ago. When he unloaded off the trailer, we were shocked and saddened to see how emaciated he was. We also had no idea that he was a stallion when we agreed to take him in. However, there was no way we could refuse him after we saw the condition that he was in. We did some brainstorming about how we could care for him without impacting the other horses in a negative way. Fortunately, our outdoor runs are laid out so that he can be segregated away from, but within sight of, the rest of the herd.
Major has a very sweet, even-tempered nature. From time to time we see stallion-like behaviors, but for the most part he just seems very happy and very grateful for the opportunity to live in a place where he is loved and cared for. He does great work in the EAP program. His story touches clients who have felt neglected, unloved, and singled out for being different. Unfortunately, due to his age, we feel it is not safe to have him gelded at this point in his life. Since he can’t mingle with the rest of the herd, we make sure to give him lots of extra love and attention.
Willie is a 20 year old National Show Horse, who stands at 15.3 hands tall. In his prime he won several awards. However, somewhere along the way, someone abused him by hitting him with something in the lower jaw, hard enough to knock out many of his lower teeth. When Willie came to us about 8 years ago, it became very clear that his showing days were over. He exhibited extreme nervousness and anxiety in the show ring, to the point that he almost threw his rider and when led back to his stall, turned his face to the wall and shook uncontrollably. His attitude towards women in particular was aggressive, and riding him was a challenge not for the faint of heart.
After several months of being retired from the show ring, living on the ranch, and being shown gentleness and love, Willie’s personality returned. We now know him to be a big goof ball who likes to hang his head out of his stall and be kissed on the nose. He is sweet, gentle, and makes no difference between women and men. His size can be intimidating for clients, but they soon learn that his heart is as big as his stature. Willie has been one of the most empathic horses in the herd when it comes to recognizing trauma in clients.
Randa is an 18 year old Mustang mare. She stands only 14 hands tall, but don’t be fooled. This lady runs the herd and the big boys bow to her every whim. Randa was caught as a weanling during a BLM mustang roundup in Northwest Colorado. Unfortunately, her mother was killed during this roundup. Randa came to the ranch about 7 years ago. She is a solid, “bomb-proof” horse who will do anything that is asked of her. She is one of the horses in the herd that we use as a model for good boundary keeping. She never invades a client’s space, but when asked to come near, will easily oblige. Many clients choose to work with Randa when they identify setting healthy boundaries as a treatment goal.
Sorista a.k.a. “Rissy” is an 18 year old Arabian mare. Rissy was born on a ranch with many other horses. She was not abused to our knowledge, however she was neglected in the fact that she was not worked with or saddle trained until she was 13 years old. Rissy has a stand-offish personality. She is slow to trust and slow to warm up. The EAP program has been therapeutic for Rissy in that she has learned to trust people other than just the ones who take care of her each day. When she first came to the ranch she would turn her hind quarters to anyone who tried to come near. If you know horse behavior, you know that this is a clear signal that you are about to be kicked. After much patience and gentle persuasion, Rissy now comes to the front of her run to greet visitors and will allow them to pet her as long as they proceed slowly.
Rissy is also great for boundary work in that she shows clients how to set boundaries in a quiet way. Clients who feel neglected and unloved resonate with Rissy’s story and bond with her in a way that is meaningful for both horse and human.
Who Wouldn’t Want To Be Me a.k.a “Who”
“Who” is a champion 8 year old quarter horse standing 16 hands tall. “Who” was winning every competition he entered up until last year when he suddenly started stumbling. His owner sought medical attention for him, but the problem was not obvious to any of the veterinarians who saw him. It became clear that “Who” needed a battery of testing to determine what might be wrong with him, but one thing was for sure…he hurt from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. The prognosis was that he could no longer be ridden. With a broken heart, his owner donated him to the EAP program so that he could live in a place where he would have lots of love and attention, but most importantly, that he would still have a purpose to his life, to help others heal from their own trauma.
“Who” gets regular equine massage and acupuncture treatments. He still has days when he is very stiff and sore, but he is definitely having less trouble moving than he did when he first came to the ranch. Because of his size,“Who” makes a powerful impact on clients. He helps them to overcome their fears by showing them that just because he is big, it doesn’t mean he is scary or beyond their control. Clients can make a metaphor of this to apply to the challenges that they face in life, which may seem big, scary, and beyond their control.
Montego a.k.a “Tigger”
Tigger is the baby in the herd. He is a 4 year old Saddle Bred mix. At almost 16 hands tall, he may seem older and more mature than he actually is. Tigger was born on a horse rescue ranch. His mother was turned out to fend for herself while she was pregnant with him. Fortunately, she was rescued and foaled at the rescue ranch so Tigger has been well taken care of his whole life. However, his story could have ended much differently.
Tigger does not fully participate in the EAP program just yet, as he is still working on his own boundaries. However, he does participate in observation activities with the whole herd, where his young energy and pushing limits with the other horses results in some interesting dynamics within the herd. At the end of the sessions when the horses are turned out to the field, Tigger flies through the field in a long, elegant, effortless stride. Clients watch him in awe as he represents the freedom and joy of life that we all seek in our own lives.
Next time: How do we use the horses in the sessions?
If you're gonna get in the saddle, you'd better be ready for the ride.