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Horse Therapy ~ for People


Dealing with life issues?  My horse Lizzie and I can help!  It’s called Horse Therapy.  Check out this great article written by my journalist friend, Karen.

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“The cool thing about horses – they don’t have prejudice.  They don’t care if you’re tall or thin, dark or light, or if you’re rich or poor.  They don’t care about that.  They care about how you make them feel.” – Buck Brannaman

They say there are no coincidences.  I believe that’s true.

Part of the reason I believe it is that just a week or so after I had the privilege of visiting psychotherapist Lesley Hannell and her beautiful horse Lizzie for a taste of horse therapy, the local library sent me an email to say that my request for the movie “Buck” had come through.

“Buck” is a documentary about the legendary horseman Buck Brannaman.  He became known as “The Horse Whisperer” after working as a consultant on the film of the same name back in the 90’s.  (You may remember its star… a guy named Robert Redford.)

Brannaman suffered through a tragic childhood.  His mother died young.  His father was an alcoholic who beat Buck and his brother unmercifully.  Eventually, both children made their way into a loving foster home and began to rebuild their lives.  Through his love of horses, Buck found a way out of his pain.  He learned that if he could understand the way a horse thinks, he could help others to the do the same.

“Abused horses are like abused children. They trust no one and expect the worst. But patience, leadership, compassion and firmness can help them overcome their pasts.” – Buck Brannaman

These words resonated with me.  I think we can all agree that everyone has issues of one sort or another in their lives.  But Brannaman models for us the truth that we can successfully overcome our pasts.  And let’s face it, he had quite a past to overcome.  Buck says it’s possible… and horses can show us the way.

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to experience what Brannaman is talking about.  It was a cold January afternoon at a pretty country stable just a short ride away from my house.  Lesley and Lizzie were waiting for me.

Lesley – inside the barn.  Lizzie – a beautiful chestnut horse – was in the pasture hanging out with her friends in her heavy winter coat.

Full disclosure here… I don’t have lots of riding experience.  But I do have a keen interest in the energy of the horse… the communication that takes place between an animal and a human – often without any words being spoken.

Lesley asked if I had any issues I wanted to work on.  It’s the question she asks all of her clients before they begin.  I thought about it for a few seconds, and said “No”, but immediately wondered if there was something there I just wasn’t admitting to… something I needed to work on but was blissfully unaware of.  “Just get started,” I thought to myself.

We began by walking Lizzie into the barn and into her stall.  We took off her coat and I began to brush her body and her mane … being very quiet and still and doing my best to establish some trust and rapport with her.   Then, it was time to lead her into the arena to get to work.

Slowly, I walked with Lizzie and learned how to train her to keep pace with me.  “One step at a time,” I said to myself and to her at the same time.  I learned how to teach her to respect my command to “stay” while I walked out in front of her, and then around her in a circle.  (This, Lesley told me, is what cowboys and girls do to train their horses to stay whenever they have to jump out of the saddle to tend to something… cows… fences… you name it.)

As often as I could throughout the process, I rewarded Lizzie with carrots and horse treats for a job well done.  Reinforcement isn’t just for dogs, I quickly learned.  And then, back we went to the barn for a final grooming session.

There was time for a little energy work, too… Reiki.  Gingerly, I held my palms over Lizzie and focused on passing my energy to her.  I know that she was doing the same… There was healing going on in both directions.

Then, a few more carrots and it was time to say good-bye.

I looked into Lizzie’s eyes and she looked into mine.  Contact.

When it was all said and done, did I have some issues that needed tending to?  Oh, probably.  Even though I couldn’t put them into words at the time.

But here’s what I can tell you now.  When I looked into the eyes of that magnificent creature, and she looked back at me, I knew that we were talking.  We were connecting.  She was listening to me and I to her.  Animal to human, human to animal.  Sharing a piece of our souls in a stable with a Garth Brooks song floating out of a transistor radio in the corner.

Buck Brannaman knows all about this soul connection between horse and human.  So do Lesley Hannell and Lizzie.  You should go and visit them sometime.  And whatever you do, take some carrots with you.

– Karen Cumming