Last week I laid out the journey that brought me to found Healing Through Horses with my friend and business partner, Sandy Fletcher. This week I would like to continue that narrative. I will attempt to capture what this new phase of my life has meant to me and the people that we serve.
Years ago I realized that I wanted to dedicate my life to serving the needs of others. I did this first through my volunteer work at Maine Audubon, leading nature walks for them. This led me to become certified to be a public school teacher. This morphed into my becoming certified as a therapeutic riding instructor at Riding To The Top in Windham. After eleven years there, Sandy and I founded Healing Through Horses here in New Gloucester.
Healing Through Horses (HTH) differs from Riding To The Top (RTT) in one key way. HTH partners with mental health professionals to offer counseling to people seeking help with their challenges in life. RTT teaches riding to disabled children and adults but offers no mental health services. At HTH I sometimes teach riding to clients if that fits with their treatment goals but not always. Some clients prefer to just learn how to take care of horses. The work at HTH is always done with two providers and the client My therapist partner, Susannah Harnden, works with the client to address their mental health needs. My job is to keep everyone safe as we partner with thousand pound animals that are hard wired to always be on alert as prey animals for danger.
I will begin to reflect on what this works has meant to me with the fact that I love to relate to those I talk to about HTH. I live a mile from where we do our work. My two horses, Cyra and PJ have their own clients in the practice who look forward to seeing them every week. On Tuesdays I ride PJ to work. On Thursdays I ride Cyra to work. Being a life long horse person to be able to not only do this work in partnership with my horses but also to ride them every week, all year round in the day and at night (our Thursday sessions in the winter end at 6:00 when it is fully dark) is a dream come true for me.
At this time of year when the weather is cool and the bugs are gone, I leave my house with plenty of time to be able to wander through my seven miles of trails on our land to make my way to HTH. This never gets old for me. Every time I throw my legs over a horse, it is magic for me. It is such an privilege to be on the back of these magnificent animals. I never take that for granted. That they allow me to be on them and that they are willing to thread their way through Norumbega’s woods through mud, over stone walls and across streams never ceases to amaze me.
When we arrive at HTH, a different kind of magic begins to happen. In the three years we have been in operation, we have gone from Sandy and me partnering with three horses in service to three clients to the present where we have four mental health professionals working with ten equine partners and eighty clients. Not only to we offer mental health counseling we also have a partnership with Avita of Stroudwater, a facility for elders with dementia. Twice a month Avita brings residents to HTH for interaction with Sammy, one of our Quarter-horses, and Cookie, our miniature horse mare. With the addition of the elders we have clients who range in age from six to ninety-six. We also have a small but growing program for veterans struggling with adjustment back to civilian life.
Before I began this work at HTH I had a deep respect for my horses. I knew how they enriched my life. I knew what joy they brought me in all aspects of my journey with them. To be able to fly across an open field on the back of a galloping horse is an experience that I hope I am able to have in my life for years to come. At age sixty-four, it seems nothing short of astounding that I am still able to do that (bareback on my mare Cyra!). Now that I share my equines with others and am witness to what they are able to do in other people’s lives it has deepened my love and respect for them beyond measure.
I will close with a story about just how profound this work can be. We had a client who I will call Mark (not his real name). A vet who suffered from PTSD, depression and anxiety, he came to us heavily medicated, suicidal, house bound and estranged from his two sons. In six weeks with my mare Cyra under Sandy’s and my guidance, he completely turned his life around. He got off his meds, reconnected with his sons, moved to a better place and enrolled in school. When asked how he was able to make such a miraculous transformation in his life, he replied, “It was all because Cyra accepted me as I was and helped me see who I could become.” I feel so blessed to be able to do work that flows from my heart in service to others and in partnership with my equine companions.