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Equine-assisted psychotherapy: Horses as healers

CNN has done an excellent report on equine-assisted psychotherapy. Here’s an excerpt:

AT THE PEAK of her ballroom prowess, the lights began to dim and the music came to a stuttering stop as her health seriously deteriorated.

Aged 19, May had been diagnosed with systemic lupus, a chronic condition that causes the body’s immune system to attack healthy tissue. Although its symptoms can often be mild and manageable, hers gradually become more severe.

By her early 20s, arthritis had set in and ulcers soon appeared all over her body. Her skin, hair, joints and lungs were all affected. She was bedridden for months at a time, barely able to breathe. There were even painful episodes of chemotherapy to save her kidneys.

“I was in the hospital for long periods and I thought I was going to die many times,” she reveals.

Twice a month, May attends healing sessions run by Otra Mas at the Ortega Equestrian Center in San Juan Capistrano, near Los Angeles. The EAP program is owned and operated by the company’s president Katherine Holman.

All of the horses involved have been donated to Otra Mas, Holman explains. Many are old show horses that have succumbed to injury or would have otherwise been put down.

Yet despite their advancing age, these horses can still live fruitful and purposeful lives and are the ideal companions for therapy, says Carol Caddes, a licensed marriage and family therapist who runs the program.

[May] cites forging a connection with an old show horse named Demi — who, like her, suffers from severe arthritis — as a particular breakthrough. She has also benefited from exercises designed to challenge maintaining the relationship she had built with various horses.

Read full report »