There can be a particular intimacy woven into the relationship between a person...and a horse.
Nancy Maurer has seen the healing that can grow out of that connection.
Nancy made the decision to transform her farm into 'Discovery Ranch' not long after she retired.
"The ranch has been in our family forever. We used to be a mixed farm and dairy operation. After that ended...we were left with this place...three dogs...and the horses. When I retired form my 'paying job', I decided that I really wanted to do something with the horses."
Along with her riding horses, Nancy owns miniature horses. It was the 'minis' that first gave Nancy a glimpse of what her horses might be capable of doing.
"I had been taking my minis to the care home. When I saw the way that the people there reacted to them, I was inspired to look into what I might be able to do that involved the therapeutic use of horses."
Her on-line research led Nancy to EAGALA...an organization that promotes the use of horses to assist people in healing a variety of emotional and psychological hurts. Nancy decided that this was the 'right fit'...and the process of transforming Mainline Holsteins...into Discovery Ranch...began.
"Making this happen involved travelling along a HUGE learning curve," Nancy says with a laugh. "There were a lot of choices that had to be made. For example, I had to decide whether I was going to do this for profit...or go the not-for-profit route. I actually tried doing it for profit at first, and it didn't go well. So, we became a not-for profit organization. It means that we rely completely on grants, donations and fees for service. But, it seems to work much better this way."
Nancy says that working with horses can be therapeutic for people facing a variety of different challenges.
"This type of therapy can be applied to so many different kinds of issues. People with mental health issues...PTSD...behavioural problems...eating disorders...grief...communication difficulties...and a range of other issues...can ALL benefit from this kind of therapy."
She notes that a person's age does not create any barriers in this sort of therapy either.
"The youngest client that we've had so far, was six. The oldest, so far, was in their fifties. We do approach therapy differently for a child than an adult. With a child, we lean more towards making it a learning session. With adults, there is more metaphorical learning. We encourage them to visualize how what happens in the arena can apply to their lives outside of it. It helps them look at their lives from a different perspective and gain some new ideas about how to move through their challenges."
The results of this therapy can be striking.
"I remember one young man in particularî says Nancy. ìHe'd been in foster care since he was four. By the time he came here, he was into drugs and self harm. He cared nothing about school. When he first came, he wasn't very willing to open up. One of the first exercise we had him go through was to set up various obstacles into an obstacle course. We told him that he wasn't to tell us what each obstacle was...but each one was to represent an obstacle or challenge that was preventing him from moving forward in his life. We then had him take the horse through the obstacle course."
"He was able to take the horse through every obstacle...until he came to the last one. The horse absolutely REFUSED to have ANYTHING to do with that last obstacle...wouldn't even go near it. That refusal made a huge impact on the young man. He told us afterwards that that particular obstacle represented his thoughts of suicide."
Nancy pauses...remembering the moment. Then she continues, "How did the horse know? We don't interpret things like that for people. But the impact of that moment was very powerful. That young man has been with us for two years now. He's moved away from the negative influences that were damaging him. He's no longer engaging in self-destructive behaviour. There are still some issues that he's working through...but he IS working through them. He's loves coming here. He tells us that this is his 'Happy Place'."
For Nancy...moments like those validate her decision to launch Discovery Ranch...and are the best reward that all the hard work could ever bring.
"That's what I do this for...those 'goose-bump moments'. That's when you really know that you're having an impact on somebody's future."
Although Nancy admits that there may come a day when she and her family are no longer involved in this work...she remains certain that Discovery Ranch will continue.
"The farm itself belongs to Darryl and I. Discovery Ranch operates out of our facility and uses our horses for its work. Someday, this place might be sold. None of our kids are involved in farming, so it's not likely that it will stay in the family. But even if that happened...Discovery Ranch WILL continue to exist somewhere else. It has to. The work that's done through Discovery Ranch is just too important."
© Kipling Citizen