By: Molly Cook, Meadows Equine Therapist
(Photo: Cinder and Dusty - Meadows' equine therapy horses)
The "Western Experience" is a 5th week patient activity and is an opportunity for the patients to learn the biographies of the horses they have worked with while sharing their own stories and memories. After we strolled through the barn, shared trivia about horses and a few horse jokes, the patients practiced roping a fake calf and made s'mores in the outdoors, all the while, discovering fun facts about some of their favorite Meadows staff - like Ray. Did you know that Ray never had the tasty experience of eating a s'more until this week?! Amazing!
A common question asked about the horses is what makes up a good equine therapy horse? Are they specially trained for this kind of work? The horses are not specially trained although it takes certain characteristics to be voted the horse of the month.
From my perspective Cinder is always ready for his job as he waits at the gate in the morning tugging on the rope and halter waiting to greet everyone. He reflects what is going on in individuals or the group by walking away from uncertainty when approached with doubt about their ability to do the task at hand. He encourages participants to say affirmations and breathe before he is willing to let himself be haltered. He will stop in the middle of the arena when someone is leading him because they are either not in the present moment or they are not being direct when communicating their needs and wants. He respects boundaries when others demonstrate them and picks up the tools used to physically show boundaries during sessions to remind us that our boundaries should be flexible. He demonstrates setting boundaries as he moves the other horses by pinning his ears and giving them the stink eye without worrying about whether they will like him or not. He knows they will respect him.
Cinder lets the group know when someone is stressed out by grinding his teeth and he nudges the patients when he knows they need to use their voice to speak out. He initiates a relationship with others as he rubs his head against them to let them know he is present for them and wants to connect. He demonstrates self care by standing in the shade and deciding not to move when he knows the group has issues they need to work out.
Cinder gives subtle hints through his body language about what needs to be done to maintain recovery and will move around the recovery circle when in session when there is no reason to do it except that he wants to guide patients to a lesson they need to learn. He is a great mediator and demonstrates leadership abilities as he runs interference between the patients and the other horses when there is an unpredictable situation that could result into something hazardous. The other horses want to follow him especially his closest friend Dusty. He enjoys his companionship and takes care of himself, he negotiates his relationship with Dusty as they swat off flies from each other's face with their tails and nicker to greet each other.
Cinder maintains good relations and doesn't surround himself with dysfunctional situations. He just walks away from it. These are a few of the characteristics that are significant to his personality and make him a precious horse of God and that are unique to him. If you have had the experience of being around Cinder than you have an inner knowing about it, however if you haven't then this might be an opportunity you can't pass up to come meet him.
This capstone experience allows bonding and sharing under the desert sky, with passing visits from local deer, and learning what sober fun is all about. Happy Trails!