Horse therapy helps people surmount personal obstacles

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Working with horses can aid people dealing with anxiety, depression, grief and low self-esteem. There’s no riding involved.

TheStar.com, July 30, 2013, Carola Vyhnak Staff Reporter

Suki Tattersall, 17, has made such progress using horses to overcome her anxiety that she acquired her own horse, Teddy, in the spring. While she hopes to ride him one day, all her therapy sessions take place on the ground.

Suki Tattersall, 17, has made such progress using horses to overcome her anxiety that she acquired her own horse, Teddy, in the spring. While she hopes to ride him one day, all her therapy sessions take place on the ground.

HILLIER, ONT.—Deb Tattersall watches in amazement as her usually taciturn daughter chats easily with someone she’s just met.

“She’s completely found her voice,” Tattersall marvels. “That is totally the horses.”

Horses are Suki Tattersall’s therapist. By working with them in guided interaction, the 17-year-old is learning to overcome anxiety disorders that make her fearful of social situations and even of leaving the house.

Suki is one of a small but growing number of Canadians who are discovering the healing power of horses. In an emerging field called equine-assisted therapy and learning, horse and human are brought together to tackle a long list of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, anger, ADHD, substance abuse, eating disorders, bullying, lack of self-esteem, grief, post-traumatic stress disorder and autism.

Why horses? The intuitive animals are able to read and mirror the emotions and energy of the people around them, according to facilitators. Clients, in turn, learn to make positive changes in their lives. No riding is involved.

“It is nothing short of a miracle,” declares one GTA healing farm on its website.

Suki started equine therapy last year after conventional methods proved ineffective. Twice a week she visits Heal With Horses, a farm in Prince Edward County, two hours east of Toronto, where owner Suzanne Latchford-Kulker guides her through a series of activities.

During a recent session, Suki teams up with another client, 19-year-old Amanda Domenic, to coax a horse around an obstacle course that represents a challenge they’re working on in life. Using body language and what Latchford-Kulker calls their “voice of power,” they gain the horse’s trust and co-operation in navigating the obstacles.

The exercise is “empowering,” Suki says. “It’s like, ‘Oh, someone does listen to me.’”

Horses, she continues, “teach you a lot of self-confidence and to not let people push you around. You have to be honest. You can’t pretend with horses like (you can with) people.”

The two teens finish their session by draping themselves over a horse’s back to reduce stress and amp up the feel-good hormone oxytocin.

Suki’s four-legged teachers have become a “door to everything,” observes the online-schooled student who says she now has somewhere to go where she’s not judged.

Her mother has also noticed steady progress. “The changes are subtle yet extremely powerful,” says Deb. “I’m seeing bigger and bigger changes in her all the time.”

images-3Latchford-Kulker, a lifelong horsewoman who’s certified as an equine-facilitated learning practitioner, explains that “the horse acts as a conduit to the authentic self.”

With talk therapy, she says, “people look to the therapist to find answers. Here they’re forced to go deep inside to find their own answers.”

She charges clients, who range from youngsters to senior citizens, $50 an hour for individual, hands-on sessions. She also does group workshops and has added an autism program to her practice.

It was a horse that found and fixed the source of a Newmarket woman’s anxiety. Kym, an artist in her 50s with a lifelong fear of horses, stood a short distance from the animal during a session at the Healing With Horses Farm in Richmond Hill. As it moved toward her, she stepped back and the horse kept advancing. But if she stood her ground, the horse stopped, then walked away.

She realized her anxiety stemmed from her failure to set boundaries with a significant person in her life.

“It came to me in an instant. It was very powerful and a very positive experience,” recalls Kym, who requested anonymity, of her “equine healing” a year ago.

CONTINUED… Read the rest of this important article at The Star

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AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
11 Comments
  • Deb Schroer

    Brilliant! I believe this is going to be one of the ways we can save our horses and burros. The more we tout the benefits of partnering with them, the better our lives will be. Honestly, I am happy to feed, care and love these animals rather than pay a psychiatrist money any day of the week. They are certainly worth their weight in gold. Thank you for enlightening so many to this fact.

    July 30, 2013
  • Arlene

    I am an example of what horse therapy can accomplish, without telling the whole story, briefly i will explain…….In 1998 My Father in law died in February, My Mother died in May, and My Husband in August , I was completely devastated ….I thought my my life was over !!!!! for 2 years I did nothing but work and run the Business my Husband left behind, and once a week week i went to the Grocery store, I had no desire to do anything , my world was gone each one of them my world !!!!!!! I missed and Loved them dearly !!!!!! Everyone tried to get me to go places and do things my desire was gone !!!!!!! Until a wonderful friend who knew my passion for horses , she pleaded with me to Please come to where she boards her horse Blazer and help her groom him , until one day she insisted i go and help her and I went , OMG !!! it was so wonderful, after grooming her horse , my attention was directed to a Huge Pasture , I asked are there any Horses back there?????? The owner said YES there are , there are 6 Tennessee walkers back there probably down at the bottom of the ravine, theres a lake there they love to go there in the afternoon to escape the heat !!!! he explained they were all Broken and all are friendly and would love if someone would bring them carrots and peppermints, he said there is one non broken horse who will probably be shy ……… he said you are welcome to go see them !!!!! , but be careful of the Black mare out there , she maybe skidish !!!!!!!!!!!! I went out there , found the walkers just as he said, i stood at the top of the ravine until they saw me , they thundered up the hill to see who was in their pasture , it was an astonishing sight !!!!! When they came close they slowed down Thank Goodness, and walked over to me , all nosey, i started to talk to them and they seemed to understand everything i said , and then I met the mare , she was as he said skidish , but seemed like she wanted to met me also , but was afraid to approach, i visited them several times , and on one day , the mare came over to me , it was the day that My life would change forever ….. she let me touch her????? without incident , she was awesome , her mane was all tangled and sun bleached red on the ends , how I wanted to detangle her beautiful thick mane……with just my hands I did the best I could for her, she seemed so appreciative of just that small effort, through that summer she and I became very close, the owner was in awe ????? she loved when i would take Photos of her , she would even pose for them so it seemed !!!! the owner asked if i thought i could put a halter on her , he said he tried but wasnt successful, many weeks pasted with it on my shoulder when i would visit , she got used to seeing it there and would grab for it sometimes , finally i thought it is time to at least try , after several failures, one day I just thought im just going to surprise her at the gate with some carrots to give her over the gate , i had the halter in my hand and gave her a few carrots, then i went to give her a carrot and had the halter in hand with the carrot at the bottom,she went through the halter to get the carrot and to both of our surprise i quickly threw the halter over head and clicked the latch , OMG we both were amazed,she took off running , but came back a little while later , the halter was now apart of her , which she seemed not to mind !!!!! The owner Dennis was also shocked , he then brought her to the barn after awhile she was broken and trained !!! I wanted so to buy her but he didnt want to sell her she is beautiful and smart I couldnt blame him , he said she is mine everytime I come to see her !!!! He even let me name her !!!!! I named her Spirit for obvious reasons !!!!! Spirit is what she gave to me , and Spirit is what I gave back to her !!!!!!! Yes we are still great friends !!!!! Bonded forever !!!!!!!! in a bond Dennis still still admires !!!!!! I believe she was sent to me when I needed to live again !!!!!

    July 30, 2013
    • BlessUsAll

      Dear Arlene and Spirit, That is such a beautiful story of how you both bonded — with patience and trust and hope and love. And peace in your hearts. Yes, bonded forever!

      I read your every word in awe and understanding. The only one that made me pause and wince is the expression “broke.” It brings to mind insensitive old-timers who didn’t know better than to psychologically and physically HURT green horses to train them. They “broke” the horses’ spirits instead of bonding respectfully, trustingly with them.

      By contrast, I smile when I read the word “gentled.” I sense you do, too, dear restored-to-life-and-love-by-a-horse friend.

      July 30, 2013
    • Robyn

      Excellent story Arlene, Thanks for sharing…
      I have mine as well but it’s too long….I do know from experience how horses can change our emotional,& mental existence…
      Horses give us bigger than life endorphins, the ride, the bond, the connection.
      Any horse but especially mine can change my mood pretty quick.
      Mine sure love KISSES@@@@

      July 31, 2013
      • Arlene

        Dear Robyn , First of all Thank You !!!! I would love to read your story !!!I cried the entire time I wrote of her , those times saved my life … i am in awe of her ….. I shortened up the story of the Magnificent Tennessee walker ….. Shy Mare Spirit, there is so much more to it !!!! You can also !!! I wanted everyone to know of Spirit , she is a very Special Horse , I love her special ways !!!!!! She also loves Kisses and Neck caresses!!!!!!!

        July 31, 2013
    • Nina Eckhoff

      Dear Arlene, your story is very touching. I, too, was rescued by a horse, an OTTB that my sister and I rescued from slaughter. She was once considered a very scary ride, but, patience, the chiropractor, natural horsemanship … I rode her on the second anniversary of purchasing her from the #10 pen at an auction. It was a remarkably uneventful ride, thank God. Keep up loving on the horses and they will love right back. Oh, I also work with special needs children and adults and horses… and will soon also be working with wounded warriors. Horses have something very special that they know to share with certain people. It’s a blessing.

      August 1, 2013
  • We are seeing it every day Jerry. Thank you for posting this article. The more people start to hear about this type of work – Horses healing people – the more they will understand that treating horses badly is unacceptable.
    Our mission is clear at Healing Horses – and every miracle we witness, and every person we see move on purposefully with their lives – confirms and strengthens our commitment to keep investing in the Horse Nations future.
    Thanks again for being such a strong voice for them all. Ed

    July 30, 2013
  • Joanne Pluger

    Arlene….that was a very inspirational story… brought me to tears. So wonderful you found a faithful friend in Spirit. I adore horses and one day hope to have one of my own to develop a special bond with. Im glad your life has turned around . you sound like an amazing person.

    July 30, 2013
  • Arlene

    Dear BlessUsAll I too thought twice about using that word also , but for lack of a better one, she is gentled and loving and full of the Spirit she has always had !!! The Story of her is true, and she still also is a photo Ham , for some reason she loves the camera as soon as she sees it she finds a worthy pose !!!! I make them all 16×24 all worth it !!!!

    July 30, 2013
  • Arlene

    Dear Jane ,Thank You !!! i cried while I wrote it, those memories were so beautiful to remember .. She filled my empty soul, I thought at the time I was giving to her , but shes the one who gave to me !!!!!!! It was a wonderful twist !!!!! that happened all because of one sacred bond I didnt even realize was happening , till I was again ……………….

    July 30, 2013