Horses and Healing

A couple of years ago I received a picture of a handsome horse leaning out of a barn door. Around the picture were these words, “There is something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a person.” From personal experience, and helping others participating in equine-assisted therapy, I know this is true. The Parade magazine insert from the February 17 Indian River Press Journal featured an article titled, “The Healing Power of Horses.” It chronicled heart-touching stories from people who needed help recovering from PTSD, abuse, eating disorders, war, addiction, and other special needs. Cancer also qualifies for extra help.

The first story was about Jaycee Lee Dugurd, who was abducted at her school bus stop at age 11 and kept away from her family for 18 years. When she left her kidnappers, with two daughters born during her captivity, she needed a lot of help! How do you recover from that? Jaycee worked with a counselor who incorporated equine-assisted therapy into a recovery program that also included her daughters and mother. Horses were her best therapist! Jaycee was so deeply affected by her activities with the horses that she founded the JAYC Foundation (Just Ask Yourself to Care). The goal of this foundation is to give more people access to the healing power of horses.

Ron Hathaway, a veteran from the US Air Force, went into a deep depression from what he experienced during his military service. He sat in a chair in his garage, smoking cigars and thinking about ways to kill himself. His wife, desperate to get help for him, got him into a VA Medical Center. Ron felt he couldn’t open up to anyone, and when filling out forms randomly marked two activities just to complete the form. He had signed up for equestrian activities at Brave Heart, the largest equestrian program for veterans in the country. Ron eventually agreed to ride a horse named Boone and, for the first time in many years, a release happened allowing him to finally relax and believe he was going to be alright. Opening up to the horse enabled him to open up to his family, so his healing went beyond himself to everyone around him. Ron calls it a “miracle.”

Rupert Isaacson wrote, “Horses lend you their power, which helps when you’re trying to heal. The moment you’re on the horse, you’re bigger, stronger, more powerful, more beautiful.” When Rupert’s autistic son Rowan was five years old, Rupert spent a lot of time on horseback with him. He noticed Rowan’s symptoms diminished when he was riding and began to keep track of the movements that made the difference. From personal experience he put together a program for other autistic children called the Horse Boy Method that is having excellent results.

Closer to home, Friends After Diagnosis offers an eight-week equine-assisted therapy program called Ride Beyond Diagnosis. It’s free for anyone recovering from cancer. I was part of the first group to experience this program, and all of us were deeply affected by the calmness and sensitivity of the horses. Each one of us developed a surprisingly tender relationship with the horses. They were eager to work with us and seemed to know what we needed almost before we did. Cancer is about more than just our bodies – we process it on all levels. All of us had unexpected emotional releases, which helped calm fears, renew mental health, and heal what can’t be seen. After thinking I had fully processed my journey through cancer, I discovered some deeply stored emotions from the trauma of my experience. There was a remnant of grief not yet acknowledged, a sense of loss unaddressed, and the last bit of making peace with my changed body image. It felt wonderfully freeing and healing as the letting go process took over. If this sounds like something you would like to try, just contact Fran Basso ( or Mary Nolan ( to learn more. You have four-legged friends just waiting to be part of your healing journey.

Until Next Time – Sylvia

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