It may be hard to imagine healing can take place in a horse barn.
But for military veterans who have spent time with horses in a program led by a Sanborn woman, a horse can assist the warrior in finding peace and healing from mental, physical and spiritual battle wounds.
Nancy Proulx, a long-time equestrian coach and horse whisperer, is a certified equine facilitated learning coach who helps people heal from life's challenges by teaching mindfulness, increasing body awareness and sparking intuition through interaction with horses. Surprisingly, no actual riding is involved. Participants work with the horses by standing near them, walking with them, petting them and interacting with them.
The Sanborn woman has been working with Maggie Keller of Lothlorien Therapeutic Riding Center in East Aurora and Karen Arrison of Wisdom Farm in Clarence, to provide healing sessions for area veterans through the Wounded Warrior Project and the Buffalo Vet Center. The trio call the program "The Way of the Horse."
Proulx, a longtime horsewoman and trainer explains that "Horses are prey animals so they have to use a different form of power in order to not only survive in life, but thrive. They'll choose relationships over territory, they'll choose cooperation over competition and they also will chose their inner knowing, their intuition, over logic. Which is huge. They can really connect people back to their inner GPS."
One of her two partners in the veteran project, Karen Arrison, got involved with horses and healing when her husband suffered a devastating head injury. In the months that followed, she was amazed to see his mental and physical abilities grow stronger when he was around her horses.
"When he was with the horses, he did much better," she said. "He was significantly more interactive, significantly more communicative and his speech improved dramatically."
One abused horse in particular with a reputation for being aloof and difficult, would come barreling to the fence and stand guard over her husband. "It was just shocking," Arrison said of both her husband's horse-centered improvement and that horse's intense reaction to him.
Research on the odd phenomenon led her to Maggie Keller, executive director of Lothlorien Therapeutic Riding Center, an East Aurora facility where horses are used to aid healing of mentally and physically challenged riders, and Proulx, of Equine Essence, who uses horses to spur evolutionary growth in humans. Together the three created a program they have shared with area businesses, Boys and Girls Club reading programs, hospice workers, refugees and now, area veterans, in a program called Way of the Horse.
The Buffalo Vet Center sessions take place at Arrison's Clarence Center farm and include eight horses that reside there, seven of whom were rescued from dire situations, as well as a rescued miniature donkey named Colonel B and a rescued goat named April. The Wounded Warrior Project vets attend programs at Lothlorean Therapeutic Riding Center in East Aurora.
The vets, who may often be handling a 2,000-some pound horse for the first time in their life, seem to thrive in the safe environment of the barn, which can provide them a place, possibly for the first time since their service, to feel safe and really breath.
One particularly impressive healing took place at Lothlorien, Keller said, with an Afghanistan vet whose best friend died in the war. "He had such a huge breakthrough he had tears in his eyes." The vet noted on the Lothlorien website that the horse he worked with "shook the core of my foundation."
Bobby Hodge of Lockport, who left the U.S. Army as a sergeant first class with 20 years of service, participated in a recent session with the horses and said "I feel a sense of calmness and serenity being around the animals at the barn. They accept me as I am and it's amazing to watch what happens with other veterans at the workshops."
Little miracles seem to happen frequently when the horses are involved with humans. The rescue horses, especially, seem to recognize and respond to the pain they appear to feel within the humans they interact with, and sometimes the animals mirror emotions back to their human partners, which increases human awareness of the exact issues they are facing, the women explained.
"It's a transformational experience," Proulx noted, adding, "If your ready for it, it happens. The horse facilitates it."
For more information about the programs visit Lothlorien online at www.lothlorientrc.org.; call the Buffalo Vet Center at 862-7350; visit Nancy Proulx online at www.nancyproulx.com; or learn more about Wisdom Farm at www.wisdomfarm.org.