By Sue Schleifer
When I suggested to Roslyn Fouin that I wanted to interview her for an article about her work using horses in counseling, she suggested that I come out to the ranch for a hands-on experience. Just being out in the country with the big, wide, open sky dusted with billowing white clouds was calming. Roslyn, a counselor in private practice and Bill Langford, owner of Cherokee Ridge Horse Farm in Carencro, greeted me as I stepped from my car. In quiet, comforting voices they led me to a fenced field where four horses and one donkey chomped on the grasses.
They asked me to say a bit about my experience with horses. I shared that my first few experiences were at Rancho Oso in the hills northeast of Santa Barbara, CA where my family went on a few guided trail rides. One time my horse bucked, but I didn’t fall off. On a family vacation in Sequoia National Park we joined a trail ride that included riding on narrow trails with big drop offs. On that trip my horse kicked the horse behind it, and that was scary too.
The last horse story I related was as an adult on a ride in the hills outside of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. My friend Lisa wanted to go riding and I agreed. We joined two other younger women and one guide. Lisa and one of the other women were experienced riders who immediately took off galloping and our horses followed suit. I held on for dear life. I remember our guide saying, “I hope no one falls off.” You might say my experience with horses was limited and a bit scary.
Bill asked me to rate how anxious I felt being with the horses today, 10 being anxious. Despite my past experiences, I felt pretty relaxed, and said “3.”
At A Stable Journey, they offer two kinds of work with the horses, Equine Assisted Counseling (EAC) and Equine Assisted Learning (EAL). The latter is for groups or businesses who want to explore team work, group dynamics and leadership. In both types, the experience is on the human’s two-feet. No riding is involved and no experience with horses is necessary.
Bill gave me a few simple rules for interacting with the horses, handed me a brush, and then told me to meet the herd. I went up to each horse, said hello and gave them a brushing. A couple of the horses seemed interested in me and others ignored me, just like humans. And this is what the horses can teach us. How do we act and react in our lives similarly to how we act and react with the horses? When do we persevere on a task and when do we give up in frustration? Roz and Bill asked me questions to help me integrate my experience with the horses.
Roz told me, “We work in one hour sessions at Cherokee Ridge Horse Farm. One day we may have five sessions following each other. The horses behave differently each session because they instinctively reflect the client’s mood.”
EAC helps people who are dealing with all kinds of issues from grief or depression to marital problems or eating disorders. “This therapeutic approach is a powerful and effective way to bring about needed change because as clients change themselves, the horses respond differently. Horses are honest. They can mirror exactly what human body language is telling them. This makes them especially valuable messengers.”
EAL is effective for stress and anger management as well as creating better communication and building teams. “Horses cannot be emotionally manipulated or intimidated. Their size and power alone are naturally intimidating to many people. So accomplishing a task involving the horse, in spite of those fears, creates confidence and provides for relevant metaphors when dealing with other intimidating and challenging situations in life.” (Quotes from website, http://astablejourney.com/Services.html)
Roz and Bill and the other therapists associated with A Stable Journey have each been trained and certified through EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association).
When I returned home, my cat Sapphire gave me a thorough sniffing. That night I had a long, detailed, and convoluted dream. I wrote it down the next morning and continue to reflect upon it. Roz says that this is not uncommon.
To learn more about horse therapy, check out the following websites or book yourself some sessions.
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Editors: Sue Schleifer, Sally O. Donlon, Jim Phillips Consultant: Shane K. Bernard