Learning about the role of horses in the healing process is part of what’s new at Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler.
Some staff have recently undergone certification training with Equine Assisted Learning Canada (EAL).
“We are really excited that three of us from Spirit’s Respite Ranch are becoming certified to be able to provide to community members some equine-assisted, personal development coaches,” said Janelle Robinson, who owns and operates the facility with her husband Kent.
The Ranch is an animal therapy ranch that helps those with special needs and conditions ranging from PTSD to anxiety.
As to the training with EAL, Janelle said it will help staff better assist clients with a range of issues from anxiety to loss to dealing with PTSD.
The course explored the basics of how much horses can help people in what they are feeling every day, explained Janelle.
“The emotions you have are mirrored directly back to you through a horse. It’s incredible. It’s another way to show people that they have another tool in their kit.”
Horses have a calming presence, she added. And even an activity such as leading a horse through an obstacle course can bolster one’s own sense of confidence and self-esteem.
Ross MacInnes served as instructor for the sessions. He and his wife Dee run Higher Trails Ranch near Calgary where they have 27 horses.
“What we are doing is we are taking the use of horses in more of a coaching session for people dealing with trauma or high anxiety – we are trying to help them work out where they are at in life and where they want to go,” explained
After he and his wife retired, they started working with high-risk youth mainly in the area of addictions. “From there, we branched into families and just kept on going.”
Ross, who has also penned a book called I am Cadillac – Life Lessons from a Horse, had experience with horses from his training days with the RCMP many years prior. “I started to integrate it with the healing process.”
“There can also be some goal-setting – there are a number of different applications for it,” he said.
“We were really just focused on addictions and trauma, and now we also deal with early onset dementia, family breakdown and things like that. Horses have an incredible ability to touch human lives,” he said. For example, take the heartbeat of a horse – about eight to 10 times more powerful than ours.
“You may go down to the barn, and your heart is going pitter-patter because of anxiety or the day’s stress. So you go to the barn and all of a sudden you have this drumbeat of a slower heartbeat. It slows you down.
“Horses are also a ‘prey’ animal – not a predator animal, so they are actually closer in temperament to a bunny rabbit,’ he added with a smile.
“Because of the environment with a horse, and the quietness, it can start to bring out the issues that you really want to talk about,” he said. “What’s happening at this moment? What are you thinking about? The horse can also give you, as a coach, a clue as to what might be going on.
“With that, the coach learns to ask questions. And sometimes we need a coach to help us verbalize things, and to set goals.”
Horses, in a way, can also act as a catalyst to spark conversations about painful or challenging topics.
”I love seeing the change, and seeing those ‘a-ha’ moments,” he said, referring to what continues to inspire him in his work.
According to MacInnes’s web site, horses, “Have traits that encourage us to be open, ready to discover more about ourselves, and face the future with a sense of purpose.
“Horses do not lie. There is nothing artificial about a horse. They don’t care who is looking at them, or what the person thinks about them. Horses make no judgments. They value and accept each person as they are. Horses listen when you speak. They will look at you and, regardless of your fears, accept you for who you are.”
Meanwhile, in the overall mission at the ranch, volunteers and staff incorporate games that help kids work on strategies that they are working on at home or with their occupational/physical/speech therapists.
“It’s incredible. The feedback we are getting from people is so positive,” said Janelle. “We have an incredible number of special needs families coming out, and that’s been really great to see – a community of special needs parents coming here who can support each other and just get together.”
For more, find Spirit’s Respite Ranch on Facebook.