I learned about equine therapy at a veteran retreat in Bluemont, Virginia. I immediately experienced a lot of anxiety around the large animals but as we worked more with the horses, I realized that I could work through that anxiety in many ways. As a result of the interest that had been sparked, I decided to continue the equine work here in my home state of Maine. I found Equine Journeys in Bridgton which is fairly close to the area which I reside. They offer Equine Assisted Therapy for Veterans. It felt like a perfect match the first time I met the horse, Rumor, so I made the 8 week commitment. The program was created by Rob Foley, US Navy veteran and founder of A Different Journey.
The ring at Equine Journeys is where Rumor and I do our work together. I love the location and tranquility of the spot in the western mountains of Maine. It is the perfect back drop for equine therapy which helps you work with the anxiety associated with Post Traumatic Stress. The therapy helps you recognize the anxiety and introduces different ways to combat that anxiety. For example, I find going around and around in the ring with Rumor to be very relaxing. When I mentioned it, I learned from one of the equine therapists that I am identifying with repetitive motion which can be calming for the mind. It made sense.
The barn at Equine Journeys is another tranquil setting. I enjoy meeting up at the barn, taking in the smell of fresh hay, and seeing Rumor on a weekly basis. I look forward to strengthening our bond and relationship. The first thing we do is groom the horse. We use a few different tools to get the job done. At first it gave me anxiety because I didn’t know what tools to use first and kept forgetting because I felt overwhelmed but after a few weeks of it, I started to get the hang of it. I recognized that the grooming process too is relaxing in nature. This too is repetitive and helps calm my mind. What at first gave me anxiety because I wasn’t sure of the reaction of the horse eventually became something relaxing for both of us. This task builds on itself over time. As you trust the horse more, you begin to enjoy taking care of the horse. The horse responds positively to your gentle and caring way.
Dark Rumor is a retired racing horse from here in Maine. We are both retired. We put in good runs. We gave it all we got. But before Rumor was retired, he earned over $100,000 in winnings for his previous owner. I have a mutual respect with Rumor because he too was castaway and replaced with someone younger after years of service. Once we started showing signs of injury, we were no longer needed. The ironic part is that it is because of the way we were treated (as expendable tools) that we had the injury to begin with. Rumor and I can enjoy retirement together and be thankful for where we are now. Rumor has a good home at his current location. We both have learned that when one door closes, another one opens.
I met the creator of the Equine Assisted Therapy for Veterans program at Equine Journeys. Rob Foley is a retired US Navy Seal. He promotes the equine assisted therapy, created a documentary about equine therapy as an effective tool for healing PTSD, and is pushing legislation that would make this kind of therapy available to both veterans and military. He came to visit me on my first official day of therapy to introduce himself and to thank me for my service. I could immediately tell that he is a very kind, gentle man who truly cares about healing our veterans. He practices what he preaches. He wants others to benefit from the healing power of working with horses. We can still be warriors, but there is nothing wrong with a gentle warrior. If you would like to learn more about Rob Foley’s efforts, please visit his Facebook page: A Different Journey
Everything you do with the horse helps establish the relationship. The grooming and the work in the ring are both integral to the relationship between you and the horse. As time goes on and the bond strengthens, you begin to relax more, notice when the anxiety hits, and then can use the horse to help you work through it. These practices help us build trust and teach us that we can be gentle with the horses and with each other. Practicing gentleness helps us keep our own anxieties in check and forces us to find ways to lower it so that we can maintain that gentleness, or calm demeanor. When I am in fight or flight, I go right into defensive posture which is counter-intuitive with a horse. They are herd animals and can sense your uneasiness and anxieties. They can sense when they give you anxiety and when you are anxious. I practice meditation regularly before attending equine therapy. I want to be less anxious when I am with Rumor so that we can enjoy the quality time that we have together. I look forward to grooming him and working with him. He makes me feel like a part of the herd. He is loyal and protective. He is big and powerful yet he would never hurt me intentionally. He is all the qualities one wants in a relationship with another: Trust, Respect, Honor.