Here at the Equine Healing Collaborative we believe that telling stories of healing is an integral part of who we are and what we hope to achieve. Please read our testimonials and experience for yourself the healing power of equines or, if you have a story to share about how equines have made an impact in your life, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share.
Two days ago, with the permission of her mother, I sat down to write a story about
a little girl named Dorothy and her time with me and Shrinky Dink. When the tale
was complete, I told a story of inspiration and perseverance. I truly feel Dorothy is
an angel who was sent to The Equine Healing Collaborative to reassure us that the
work we do matters. Although she never uttered these words, they came across in
the massive hug her small frame gave me when we last met (according to her
mother I am one of three who have ever been blessed to hug Dorothy in this way).
I felt her tiny hand patting my back as she hugged me as if to say, “It’s okay, just don’t give up.” And as of late, I have felt like giving up often.
With the weight of a million tons tonight, I sit down to write a different more complete tale; one I did not expect. When I arrived at the barn tonight, I walked past Shrinky's stall, only to find him lying down, with labored breathing, sweating, and a look of tiny despair. We determined it was time to guide Shrink through the final stages of this life and let him go.
And so we did.
I have come to a place though this
process where I now believe in magic,
miracles, and a life force that guides us
through, and although I have attempted
to rationalize and find a concrete
explanation for how horses heal - I still do not know.
Here is what I am most certain of, I realized this morning as I was pondering the story of Dorothy and what I had penned to paper, at no time did it occur to me to tell my readers of Dorothy’s challenges. It is as if they melted from my consciousness when I replayed our time with Shrinky.
When Dorothy was in the presence of Shrinky, any barriers she may face disappeared and her soul and light shone in ways that made her glow, and it appeared as if her tiny feet floated across the rough terrain of the barn. She and Shrinky together were the purest form of beauty I have ever been witness to, and for that, I thanked Shrinky as he let go of this life under a slighty cloud covered moonlit night.
I Believe in Angels
There have been two times in my life I have been close to suffering so real, it peeled back every layer of defense I possess leaving me emotionally naked and exposed. The first was on the job while working for an ambulance company, and the second when I arrived at my cousin Kimberly’s house a few hours after she had found her daughter Erica hanging by her neck in her closet. Although it has been years since this night, I can still feel Kimberly’s pain; it is the kind of pain that stays with you much like a red scar that refuses to be unseen and will always be sensitive to the touch.
I arrived late that night after leaving my home and family behind with a feeling of desperation to reach her. I could not stand the thought of her being alone for one second. In many ways Kimberly understood me like no one else could as we were, for reasons that still baffle us to this day, the target of abuse in our family.
Several of my cousins, if not all, as adults, have spoken with me about this phenomenon; recognizing that of the nine of us, some were allowed to behave as they wished and others (mostly Kimberly and me) were harshly criticized, blamed or punished for everything. When I arrived Kimberly asked me to sleep with her and I did. What I remember most of that night was frequently waking in response to her pain, first unheard, and within a few moments being consumed by grief that left her gulping for air.
My pain, of course, is minuscule in comparison to the pain Kimberly and her son Reuben experience on a daily basis. I honestly can not imagine, and, unless you, dear reader, have found your child this way, neither can you. It is a grim reality none of us wish to discuss nor face; culturally we live in a state where mental illness is weakness, we do not feel responsible for the suffering of others, and we allow systems to destroy any chance for real change. Perhaps the most difficult thing for me to hear as a mental health provider was Kimberly’s explanation of Erica’s attempts to obtain mental health services. She was not ill enough to receive publicly funded mental health services and was too poor to afford a private therapist. Working in public health, I know this tragic reality intimately and have seen first hand the unmet need, the mass shootings, the fallout of successful suicides, and individuals so debilitated, they can no longer care for their own basic needs.
I assisted Kimberly through the maze of arranging the services and tried to make it as “nice” as I could, I wanted Erica’s life to be recognized for what it was, valuable, honored, and precious.
The night after her service, several of my cousins and I gathered around a large antique table and reminisced, laughed, and caught up with each other after so many years of tragic separation.
Reuben, Erica’s brother, mostly stayed to himself lost in his own grief and confusion. The day after her service and as Reuben and Kimberly departed, I reached in the car to hug Reuben good-bye. With vivid attention, Reuben looked me in the eye and thanked me for what I had done for his sister. It was an expression of gratitude that I believe Reuben only saved for those who truly earned his respect and trust. I returned his gaze and in that moment, it came to me, “I promise you Reuben, I don’t know how or what, but I promise you, I will never let what happened to you or your sister happen to anyone else again.”
And I meant it.
I hold no delusions, I do not believe I will save the world or that equine assisted psychotherapy is the solution for every person suffering from some kind of mental illness. But…yes…but…someone wise once told me, if you don’t like something see what you can do to change it, and at the very least, if you can’t change it, don’t participate. The greatest barrier people endure when attempting to get help is access and availability to get the services they need. I am frequently asked why I am offering our services as a non-profit. My response is simple, why not?
If I believe what I write here and I believe that Erica died from a treatable illness because she did not have access to life-saving treatment, the solution for me is elementary; create a program where these barriers do not exist.
I did not set out to create The Equine Healing Collaborative after Erica’s suicide. I can honestly say The Equine Healing Collaborative created itself. The series of events, the three am wake-ups where my best ideas just magically appear, and the willingness of so many to get this program going have created the energy behind it. I just happen to be here.
However, I would like it to be known that this is for Erica, for Reuben and her mother and in some ways women like me who rush to the sides of other mothers who lose children in such a horrid way. Suicide impacts millions of Americans and in fact twenty-two veterans successfully commit suicide everyday. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death and yet, Facebook does not prompt its users to change their photos a certain color in recognition of this tragedy, there are few, if any, sports events dedicated to “finding a cure”, and only a spattering of those with a public spotlight will address this issue in any meaningful way.
However small, in my own part of the world, I would like to make a modest shift and am driven by the pain I still feel when I think of Kimberly and Reuben; but more than anything I am motivated by the knowledge that Erica, the twenty-two veterans that will successfully commit suicide today, and the thousands of others like them succumbed to a state of anguish so severe, so desperate, that their basic primal drive for survival was extinguished. And that knowledge is what created The Equine Healing Collaborative, it is a place to heal without judgement or demands. As Tim Hayes graciously points out, “Horses connect us to the power of nature and of living in the moment. Something unimaginable and profound occurs when a human begins a meaningful, emotional, interactive relationship with a horse” , and it will be here at The Equine Healing collaborative where that healing will occur. Our goal is large and at some point, we would like to provide residential treatment for anyone who wants it and considering how easily everything has fallen into place, I suspect that goal will be achieved. I can feel the power of Kimberly’s pain, but more than anything
I can see and feel Erica.
I envision her atop a grand, blazing steed, galloping ahead, with arms outstretched free from all that bound her here, enveloped in grace and I am inspired to move my little pieces of earth in her honor.
The day Jaslyn was born was both terrifying and wondrous. Although I had given birth two times before and had two adolescent sons, this day seemed different. Looking back now I suppose it was the excitement I felt for her; so many people were waiting for her arrival. Day after day, friends and family looked at me as if I was carrying some kind of miracle who was soon to burst into this world, sure to bring longed for joy with her. And, she did just that. Born with huge blue eyes, a nose like a small piece of sweet candy, and legs that were meant to be gently squeezed by arthritic hands, she charmed people like Cupid himself. I suppose most people think this way about their children, that theirs are somehow special, that there is not, and never will be, a creation so amazing, again, ever, in the course of mankind but I have to admit, Jaslyn did emit a kind of light that drew people to her in ways that still leave me in awe today. She is good-natured, caring, kind, and inspirational; the kind of person I wish I was more like and fear I never will be.
At the age of five, Jaslyn began to have noticeable and concerning health problems. After numerous tests and the passing of years she was eventually diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. When we received the news, I was so relieved to not hear those dreaded words, “Your daughter has cancer.” I actually stopped listening and focused on her doctors appearance instead; bright green pants with the zipper down topped off with a red and blue plaid shirt. A few hours after leaving his office, I went home and googled “Ulcerative Colitis” so I could read up on all the information he gave us.
I was horrified.
Horrified by the symptoms; abdominal pain, leg cramps, headaches, fatigue, internal bleeding, anemia, frequent bowl movements, vision problems, joint pain, skin rashes, possible liver and kidney disease (I am sure there are more, but I just can’t keep going). And even worse than the symptoms was discovering the side effects of treatments available the worst being death. Death?! Really? Since when is death a side effect? I embarked on a search after my research on the disease that would take me on a roller coaster of insane diets, supplements, and homeopathic cures, none of which worked. Although I took the advice of her doctor and vigilantly administered prescribed medication; Jaslyn’s health continued to decline.
Perhaps most notable was the morning I went to wake her for school and when she lifted her head from her pillow she left behind a mass of hair so large she looked as if she had gone to a hairstylist, requested a short haircut, and the stylist didn’t finish. Bewildered, she watched me silently in the mirror as I brushed her hair. What I realize now is that due to her anemia, facing a day at school, she lacked the energy to ask me what had happened to her hair.
Years have passed since her initial diagnosis and we have struggled to come to terms with this disease and its treatments. I have lost all hope that she will ever be well, or in her words, “a normal kid.” That is important to her, to be what she deems , “a normal kid.” In our attempts at normalcy we have tried many things including having her try out for sports teams. When she entered the seventh grade she determined that she would try out for volleyball. All her friends were and she thought if she practiced hard enough, she would make it.
She cried when she heard the news; more determined than ever, I thought, “Screw that school and their teams, I will find a sport Jaslyn can do on her own and I’ll pay those bastards so they can’t turn her away.”
I offered to take her to Pebble Beach Equestrian Center for horseback riding lessons and in many ways it was like locating a vein of precious metals. It eventually led us to an eleven year old American Paint gelding with arthritis and a bad attitude to match his beauty. The second I watched Jaslyn ride him around the arena, I knew he was the right horse for us. Generous, kind, vigilant, protective, Nashville needed some tender loving care to unlock his potential. And that is exactly what he received.
And it has been amazing…for Jaslyn. After her last colonoscopy, we were quite alarmed when her doctor referred her to Stanford Children’s Medical Center for treatment he was unable to offer and the potential for the last two treatments we had left (It is scary when you begin the process of running out of treatment). We waited in his office playing “I Spy” discussing which of the two treatments we should choose. He arrived late, lab sheets and medical chart in hand, he began asking Jaslyn questions about hear health and after about five minutes he said, “You know what? Your insides look horrible, but you feel good, so we are not going to do anything.” We left his office vacillating between giddiness and exhaustion.
The next day we made our daily visit to the barn where Nashville made his usual nicker when we called “Piglet” about fifty yards from his stall. Grain in hand, Jaslyn made her way to feed him and pet him. He was so happy to see her and she was happy to see him. We completed our usual “work” with Nashville and ended our session with his favorite activity, massage. He has gotten so used to this as part of his routine, he enters the cross-ties and usually sighs with sweet relief before we even get started. With Jaslyn massaging one side and me the other, he shifts his weight from side to side, releasing tension, making faces, sticking out his tongue and taking deep cleansing breathes that let us know he feels like he has found horsey heaven. With each sigh of relief, I watch Jaslyn as her eyes soften and she concentrates on his back, rubbing out the pain, and she relaxes too.
Consumed by her task, it becomes clear to me, in that moment, that Ulcerative Colitis hangs suspended and is rendered meaningless in her mind.
And even clearer, I realize I am witness to the miraculous power of equines to heal.
Please read and celebrate this client's testimony for Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and how it transformed one life for the better.
I wasn’t sure what Equine Therapy was or what to expect from participating. After the first session I was amazed by how standing with the horses in the pasture and interacting or just observing their interactions with me and each other brought such real, tangible, and instant feedback on my own state of mind and on relationship dynamics.
I found Jennifer to be calm, confident, insightful, and skilled as a horse handler and an LMFT (Licensed Marriage Family Therapist). After my 4th session (7 sessions in the program), the lessons I’ve learned from observing and interacting with the horses have taught me volumes about communication, awareness, self-regulation, negotiation, and relationships. I have found this program design isn’t focusing specifically on today’s challenge, but about gaining tools for all challenges.
We all need tools to navigate our way physically and emotionally through the ups and downs of life. The ups and downs are dynamic; the tools are a constant. Often we think of tools for fixing things that are broken, but tools are also used for creating wonderful, beautiful, and useful things. Who knew spending one hour, in a sunny field, with a therapist and 2 horses, could be so life changing? … Jennifer knew, and for that I am forever grateful.