This is just a short entry, but I want to share with you this quote from Joell Dunlap, spoken during her presentation at Square Peg Foundation’s fundraiser this past month. Square Peg Foundation has been mentioned on this blog before for their use of Thoroughbreds in innovative horse-assisted therapy, which is one of my very favorite things, and their work continues to impress me, as they help children and adults deal with emotional and physical barriers, all with a team of rescued horses.
“You see, when you train a horse, not with the intention of winning ribbons or of re-selling the animal to the highest bidder, but instead, if you train him to carry a child who can’t speak for himself, a child who might have forgotten what joy is, if you can train that horse to bear those children into an adventure, anything is possible.”
Equine therapy is the noblest form of horsemanship. Horses are expensive, and the things that we love to do with them are expensive, like horse showing, or eventing… even trail riding can be expensive, with all the gear and interesting rubber horseshoes to give your horse comfortable traction in the backwoods hinterlands and of course the gas that it takes just to haul your awesome rig to the fabulous mountains where you are going to go on a two-week epic horseback adventure (this may be a fantasy of mine peeping into this blog post).
Horses as a pastime are expensive; just as horses as a business are expensive, and so we tend to put price-tags on our horses even when we never really bought them as an “investment.” Buy a buddy, train him into a valuable commodity, that seems to be the unfortunate side effect of all those clinics and chiropractics sessions and thousand dollar weekends in pursuit of a two dollar grand champion bow. When push comes to shove, nearly every horse has a price. (I would say every horse, but I have a feeling a few readers will fight me tooth and nail on this and, indeed, there has been a horse in my life who had no price tag, and never could have.)
But most readers are going to agree with me on this: their horses are their therapy. Their horses are their friends, their decompression time, their shoulder to cry on, their refuge from the outside world, their pride and their joy. And that’s true before the training, before the saddle-fitting sessions, before the longe-line lessons (and, tellingly, still true after the longe-line lessons). One could argue that all horses are therapy horses.
Dunlap’s statement rings true, though, because it takes all that one step further. Step away from the pursuit of the ribbon, step away from the chase for the cup, and ignore the questions of value, and train that horse for one purpose: to give pleasure. To give comfort to the sad. To give closure to the hurt. To give understanding to the damaged. To give friendship to the lonely. To give happiness to the unhappy. To let the horse do what he is truly best at: not at galloping, or jumping, or complicated dressage movements, but to share his nobility and simplicity with the people who need it.
On Tuesdays we spend time with three little boys who happen to be African refugees. They’re orphans and suffer from PTSD. Two of the three have learning difficulties and show tenets of autism. What these boys have seen, we can’t imagine. What’s important is that they boys and they are bursting with boy energy. Rather than force on them the finer points of equitation, we need them to feel powerful and able. We put bareback pads on three of our trustiest horses and Greg, Sigourney and I hopped on and put he boys in our lap. We had the rowdiest, squealing, gallopingest game of tag on horseback our arena has ever seen!
Or maybe just lend them a feeling of power and a fun afternoon.
I love horse sports. I have a wall full of ribbons and I have a dressage coat in my closet that hasn’t been worn in years but, I reason, dressage coats never really change in style, and eventually, I’ll shrug it on again and go out, heart in my mouth, weight in my seat-bones, to see if I can collect a few more of those worthless blues. I love the horse business. But all of you people engaging in equine therapy? I salute you. That’s where the true value of a horse shines brightly, and there are no dollar signs.
Learn more about Square Peg Foundation, and their assorted horses and OTTBs, at their website, squarepegfoundation.org
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