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Equine-Assisted Therapy

We’ll be sharing more in the coming months about the ways our Sanctuary Horses are already blessing our local community.  One of the areas we are very focused on is a therapeutic modality that is often called Equine Therapy, Equine-Assisted Therapy, or Equine Assisted Mental Health.  We’ll get into those details and distinctions in future discussions.  For today, we wanted to share a story about two horses we were able to meet, and the eye-opening things we learned from them.  It’s a little glimpse into what these amazing animals have to teach us.

Not long ago, a team from The Sanctuary and Sanctuary Horses was able to visit a number of organizations that utilize Equine Therapy to care for their clients.  One of these locations offered to give us a demonstration of how much insight can be gleaned from simply observing the way horses act and interact.  Truthfully, some of us were thinking, “How much can you really learn just by watching horses?”  We were about to discover just how wrong we were!

First, we met Gigi.  Gigi is a beautiful mare with some attachment issues.  She is a little on the needy side and always needs a bestie.  Maybe we know people like this.  Maybe WE are like this!  More on that later…  Gigi’s best friend is a gorgeous horse named Heart.  These two get to pasture together and they’re quite the pair.  

For this exercise, one of the handlers brought Gigi from the pasture into a massive arena.  It was a beautiful day - not a cloud in the sky, and we were anxious to learn whether simply watching a horse could really teach us anything.  Boy were we in for a surprise!  The moment Gigi was ushered into the arena, she immediately headed for the far corner - not to get away from her handler, not to get away from us, but so that she could see her friend, Heart, as it was the corner of the arena closest to their pasture.

Our host asked us to carefully observe Gigi.  What did we notice?  How was she acting?  We started to share the things that indicated her agitation.  We could tell by the way she was stomping her feet and kicking up the dirt.  Her head was hanging over the fence, seemingly trying to get physically closer to Heart.  She was neighing and tossing her head up and down, pacing along the edge of the arena’s fence.  Gigi was not a happy girl.  

Then their handler brought Heart into the arena.  Gigi had her eyes glued on them the whole time and met them at the gate.  And quick as a flash, she was fine.  They walked together a bit around the arena, and then they both started doing their own thing - exploring, checking out other activities going on around them.  It was like all was right with the world.

At this point, the real conversation got started.  When asked how we felt watching Gigi in her discontentment, there were responses like, “I just wanted to comfort her!”  “I wanted to go give her a hug, or a treat!”  “I hated watching her be unhappy…”  And the like.  All perfectly reasonable responses.  Then she asked how it made us feel about our own friendships and relationships.  Were we the needy ones?  How do we respond when separated from friends?  Deeper questions, and deeper answers.  Then she asked one final question that made us all pause: “Did Gigi really need hugs or comfort or treats?  Those things might have made us feel better, but is that what she really needs?  Or does Gigi need to learn some healthy coping skills for when she starts to feel anxious?”  You could practically hear a pin drop.  It didn’t take us long at all to draw the connections between horses and people.  What we had witnessed in Gigi, we had also witnessed in ourselves at one point or another.  

We all sat there on the metal bleachers, in the warm sun, marveling over the depth of conversation that was sparked by simply watching two horses be led into an arena at different times.  Who knew that horses could be such amazing teachers and that an arena could be a valuable classroom?  For all of us, it was a little foretaste of what our Sanctuary Horses will be able to do to help their human friends learn and grow and heal.  In that instant, the significance of what we are working toward took on an even deeper magnitude.  We love the dream of seeing hearts truly heal as they get to know our rescued horses.  And we are so thankful to you for your part in helping this dream come to fruition!

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