I visited a horse therapy farm!


I think that about the most thrilling thing in the world is to ride a horse at full gallop. I'm no cowboy (my dress in the picture is intentionally ironic), but the experience beats riding a motorcycle, and even flying in an open-cockpit biplane under telephone wires. Yes, I have done that, and my reckless self would rather be in the saddle.

I had the privilege of visiting a new friend this past weekend, a PATH trained horse therapist. Horse therapy is a powerful method especially effective with early childhood trauma, in children and adults. While I am shown riding, horse therapy most often involves simply experiencing the horse's presence through grooming and learning about how horses think. Horses are powerful, difficult to understand, and very jumpy--just like a traumatic past. Once a client begins to gain the horse's trust through a guided experience, the client also learns that horses are very much like vulnerable children who need care and affirmation. As a client begins to become comfortable with the horse, the client begins to care for himself or herself in a profound manner that can reach back to wounds that occurred before the client could even speak, things that may be unremembered.

My introduction to horse therapy was through a former felon, when I lived in Nashville near the police mounted division stables, where at that time the public could interact with the horses. This man credited his caring for the horses--initially a reward for good behavior--for saving his life. He came to see the horses he had cared for each week, even though his prison time was very much in the past. The man learned to value himself, whereas he had thought that 1) the only way to deal with fear is to be "big and bad," and 2) that he belonged in prison. I didn't ask him, but like most felons, he probably suffered early childhood trauma. 70% of felons come from broken homes alone, not to mention other forms of trauma.

One of my current projects is developing a way in which horse therapy can prepare clients with complex trauma histories for EMDR, without using the overly-intellectual and complex methods usually used to deal with early childhood trauma. The horses do it better anyway. Experimentation is still in process, but I have developed a unique and highly effective manner of doing EMDR in a farm setting, and as the weather warms, my new friend the horse therapist and I hope to move beyond a few trials with volunteer clients, to treat specific populations in need of this sort of healing.