I was diagnosed with PTSD four years ago through a rape crisis center. While going through therapy, I discovered other programs that were offered, yoga classes, a photography class, and equine therapy in a group setting. Equine therapy?! I signed up. I mean, I AM lucky enough to live in central Kentucky surrounded by beautiful horses; I have to try this. I arrived the first day and we were given an introduction about what to expect and how equine therapy works. It was then time to choose our horse. I knew immediately the one I wanted. A Spotted Draft named Sargent, he stood 16.2 hands high and was massive. We had made eye contact during the introduction, quite frankly, he may have chosen me.
Sargent was matter-of-fact, yet gentle in his demeanor. He could be stubborn and he could be impatient, especially if he decided he would rather be grazing. Sometimes he would do as I ask and other times resist. He was just like…ME! I am certainly resistant to change and I can be stubborn. I definitely do not like being told what to do. Sargent was my spirit animal. We made a great team. There were times that my therapist and I would do individual EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) in a corral with Sargent grazing nearby. If I became emotional, he would come stand beside me to make sure I was ok. One evening we had to complete an exercise involving several rubber balls. Each ball represented parts of ourselves and they were to be sorted in different circles. There were various sized rubber balls, about five, to be sorted while we held onto them and walked our horse. Sound awkward? It was, but to make it even more challenging these balls had to be sorted while also carrying a balancing ball, this representing my trauma. So imagine one arm full of assorted sizes of 5-6 rubber balls, holding a lead rope to guide your horse, and keeping this huge balancing ball with you on top of that. I was dropping balls everywhere. I decided to just put down the “trauma” ball and guide it with my feet while sorting the others. Sargent decided he would help by moving my “trauma” with his nose as I dealt with the rest. We worked together so well.
Equine therapy was a real turning point in my healing. I’m not sure why exactly as there were several healing aspects. One was working with a large intimidating animal and the feeling of accomplishment in doing so. I had never been around horses so everything was a bit scary at first. The other was being in this “natural” setting. There is something therapeutic about being outside, being with animals; there is a purity about it. Sargent did not find me strange or over-emotional. He just enjoyed being groomed, getting attention and having a purpose. He sensed that I loved him…and he was right. For that moment, he was my best friend.
The program lasted for several weeks and was every Saturday. It interfered with family functions and limited my ability to schedule outside activities. No regrets, zero. It was the best thing I could have done for myself and for my healing. The experience inspired us to adopt a horse of our own. Tucker is not a trained therapy horse, but he is a beautiful Saddlebred rescue who is happy to be with a family. When I am struggling, I will go to the field and bring him into the stall for grooming. It still calms me. Tucker enjoys receiving love and gives it right back. He even gives “kisses” on the cheek!
My time spent with Sargent taught me that I am worthy of trust; that I can begin a work and finish it; that I can conquer my fears and insecurities or at least not have them control me. I also discovered that therapy is not just sitting in a room talking with your therapist; it can be multi-faceted and creative. It can certainly surprise you. I visit Sargent from time to time. He still lives at Central Kentucky Riding for Hope located in the Kentucky Horse Park. He still aids trauma survivors with their therapy as well as performs in the Special Olympics. He is quite the champion…
“I discovered that the horse is life itself, a metaphor but also an example of life’s mystery and unpredictability, of life’s generosity and beauty, a worthy object of repeated and ever-changing contemplation.” -Jane Smiley