Healing with horses

Mankind’s partnership with the horse was a daily necessity, up until the early 1900s.  After automotive transportation took over, most of us have likely viewed the equestrian world as a recreational luxury, using terms such as “horseplay” or “horsing around” to describe the less productive time. Perhaps horse-sense would be how Licensed Professional Counselor, Kim Mills, owner of KMK Counseling, would view it, from her “office” in the pastures her practice shares with Ranch Hand Rescue and American Pet Spa and Resort on Hwy 377 in Argyle. 

Mills, who grew up in the White Rock area of Dallas, and graduated from the University of North Texas, also holds certifications with PATH, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship and EAGALA, the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association. 

Whereas many of us have heard about horse riding therapies employed to provide benefit to children who are suffering various maladies, the program Mills uses, not only assists people of all ages, but gives benefits back to severely abused horses, as well.

“This past September, I met Bob Williams, (of Ranch Hand Rescue fame), and thought, What a great combination we could have – helping the horses he’s adopted along with my patients!”

However, this is not riding therapy, as the horses are not well.  “The kids and adults I work with just take care of the horses, interacting with them and grooming them.  The combined energy and calmness of the animals and human patients feed off of each other.  Horses can really pick up your feelings.”

The abused horses that are partnered with Mills’ patients have been rescued by Bob Williams, who runs Ranch Hand Rescue Sanctuary housed on the grounds of the American Pet Spa.  You may have seen Midnite or Phoenix, horses that have been fitted with prosthetic legs donated by Prosthetic Care of Ft. Worth and are able to gallop again.

So, you might say that the horses are the actual therapists.

“To a great degree, they are,” Mills agrees.  “My patients are suffering from high anxiety, grief and loss, low self-esteem, substance abuse, perhaps the loss of a parent.”

Any success stories?

“Absolutely.  A 10 year old boy had lost his father.  He was suffering lots of grief and depression, and was having frequent emotional meltdowns.  After just two weeks of interaction with a horse, the meltdowns had almost completely vanished.  He and his mother were able to cope with the situation much better.”

“An adult was afflicted with severe alcoholism.  The person was extremely defensive about the condition – in complete denial.  The first time the patient entered the pasture, EVERY HORSE ran away.  But, by the third session, the improvement was dramatic.  My patient had bonded with a horse and could approach it, and even brush the horse. 

“This therapy works really well with people who don’t do well in traditional office settings,” said Williams.  “Based on how the patient responds to the animals, Kim is able to discuss issues and start a dialogue. It’s fascinating how it works. This therapy works especially well with kids, young adults and families.”

“We’re successful with about 90% of our patients of all ages,” Mills affirms.  “I can usually tell how well it’s going to work within two sessions.  We did have one girl who literally couldn’t pick up the horse’s hoof the first time.  The horse could sense that she was angry.  The girl then threw her pick on the ground.

“I had to tell her, It’s because you’re irritated. The horses’ calm breathing and heartbeat seem to help the patients to relax, inwardly and outwardly, as well.  It was documented in a story called HEART MATH.  (Yes, you can find out more about it at www.Heartmath.org  along with other information if you Google it).  The girl in question was able to let go of her anger and the horse relaxed when she approached it on a later visit.”

Williams sees plenty of people, as well as animals, with problems, but focuses instead on the goals, “There’s a solution to every problem.  I recommend that the parents of children who will be having horse therapy come see it for themselves first.  It’s really an anger management treatment, and I see improvement every day.”

What else should we know about your program?

“We’re trying to help many people who are waiting to get into the program, but are lacking funds.  We have an ongoing scholarship, but can always use help.  I see miracles in the pasture every day.

“We try to help everyone who needs therapy.  We use sliding financial scales and apply for grants.  There are patients and would-be patients with addiction and emotional problems.  Often, grief therapy is needed, especially if family members have suffered the loss of a sibling, even a newborn.  Besides the immediately tangible costs, such as for an unexpected child’s funeral, comes both the associated emotional stress and the financial hole this has put them in.  Families just can’t afford this.  If people can donate any money to help one program or another, they can earmark which of the causes they want to support.”

As for the (three and) four-legged animals, Williams observes, “We’re told we should euthanize these animals.  We beat the odds daily, here, too.”

“Midnite, a miniature horse, has been requested to attend over 200 events.  But he needs a custom built trailer to be transported,” Williams adds.  “He will be going to the Scottish Rite Children’s Camp in Killeen in June.  Sometimes, kids who are going to undergo leg amputations get to meet and bond with Midnite and it really helps them cope with their situations.

Williams doesn’t just talk the talk, he trots the trot, if you will.  They not only help with animals that have had problems, but also step up and employ people who’ve run afoul of the law, giving them an opportunity to work, rejoin society, and lead productive lives, rather than fall into the system.

American Pet Spa and Resort owner Marty Polasko expounds, “It’s really a blessing – on top of a blessing.  We see the calmness and serenity of the animals and the people here in every direction.  We’ve been chosen and it’s a wonderful thing to witness.”

John LaVine can be reached at [email protected]

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