Hugs and healing by a horse

Horse therapy offered in Columbia Valley

Not to brag, but I’m a something of an expert at going to therapy. Even so, up until this morning I had exclusively seen human counsellors. Today my therapist came with hooves.

“(The horses) are the teachers. I’m just the listener and the observer,” said Luraina Oddy, who runs Heart and Soul Medicine Horse near Brisco and facilitates healing sessions between her clients and her horses.

Ms. Oddy doesn’t pick the horse to match the client. Instead she lets the horses choose.

As we walked toward her herd of 11 horses, one backed away. Then Boots, a tall boy with a star running the length of his face, “volunteered” to take me on. He dipped his head into a halter and walked into a corral where Ms. Oddy and I joined him.

“The horse is going to know what to do,” she said, reassuring me.

People are typically either overjoyed or spooked about entering the arena when they get started, depending on their past experiences with horses, she said. I definitely was in the latter category. Horses are big!

Ms. Oddy said one of her earlier clients, a non-verbal boy with autism, was also frightened at the start of his session but the horse understood and empathized with the boy’s emotions.

“The horse comes up to him and just puts his cheek on his cheek,” she said.

The boy’s mother was amazed to see what happened next. The horse began gently licking the boy’s neck like he was kissing a wound.

Unbeknownst to Ms. Oddy, the boy had been dealing with medical issues related to his neck.

“Whenever I have a client here that has any kind of pain, the horses can sense it,” she said. “They can (also) pick up conscious and sub-conscious emotions.”

Ms. Oddy, a homeschooling mother of four, is especially interested in working with children that have special needs.

“Autism and horses really go hand in hand,” she said. “They almost get each other.”

Unlike in a traditional therapy session, she said talking and reliving the past isn’t necessary in the corral. All her clients need to do is focus on their hearts and let the horses do what they will.

During my session – which took place while standing – I felt a lot of the same emotions as I used to in standard therapy. Boots seemed to empathize, and wrapped his body around mine in a horse-shoe shaped hug. He nibbled on my wrists, rolled in the hay and nuzzled my neck.

Throughout the session, Ms. Oddy stayed at my side – at my request – offering possible interpretations for me to take or leave about the significance of Boot’s behaviour.

By the end I felt refreshed. I was also mystified. How was it possible that hanging out with Boots could be healing?

Ms. Oddy said it’s because the horses offer her clients a heartfelt, non-judgemental and authentic connection and help them release their emotions.

“Sometimes healing from emotional scaring isn’t an easy road,” she said, but she and her empathetic herd are eager to support their clients during the process.

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