Healing Through Horses (HTH) is an Abiquiu, New Mexico-based program dedicated to healing the human spirit through the horse. “Horses have the ability to read you without saying a word,” says Judith Schneider, HTH’s director. “The horse has a way of deeply touching people’s hearts and spirits. The experience can have a profound effect on one’s healing process.” HTH offers a collaborative and alternative approach for those who have a desire to resolve past traumas, are willing to take an honest look at limiting beliefs, wish to embrace their mental and spiritual health in courageous manner, and are ready to make changes to create a fulfilling life.
Most equine sessions at the ranch are two hours in duration. Over the years, Healing Through Horses has witnessed life-changing events in children, teens, adults, families and groups. Here are a few examples:
Equine Assisted Counseling
A mother and son arrive for their first session. They are introduced to the horses and enter the arena to begin their journey. They are asked to simply walk up to the horse and say hello. The dynamics begin: Mom tells her son what to do and how to do it—without giving him an opportunity to explore and discover his own style. The child gives her “the look” and walks away angry. She, in turn, yells, “Come back and finish what you started.” The family is observed and meets up with the coach in the middle of the arena.
The mother is asked, “Where else does this appear in your life with your son?” She begins to cry. Her son says, “Every time I try to do something, she corrects me, and I hate it!” Because they have a difficult time communicating, a suggestion is made for them to come up with one word that will signal when someone is interfering with their forward motion of self-discovery. The son figures that if you can tell a horse to “whoa” and he stops, then his mother will know what this means and will follow the verbal cue. They both laugh and give each other a pinky shake to seal the deal.
They are offered another opportunity to walk up to the horse and say hello. This time they negotiate how they will approach the horse, and in essence develop a cooperative relationship with a mutual goal.
In a very short amount of time, they are able to identify how they get into power struggles that fuel arguments and unnecessary stress in their family. As their therapy progresses, they are more successful in speaking with each other and have perfected their “magic word,” which has meaning to both of them and allows for a bit of humor to decrease tension in their relationship.
Equine Retreats for Women
Healing Through Horses offers daylong or weekend retreats for women. These experiences allow them to get away from everyday demands and explore the extraordinary ways their interactions with the horses can rejuvenate their spirits and assist them in personal growth. Time is provided for personal reflection with like-minded women.
As the day begins, each woman is offered an opportunity to create a sacred space for herself by sharing a sage blessing. Throughout the day they listen to what each has discovered about herself. For example, some women share they were afraid when they arrived. This is explored, and it is not only related to the horses, but, in essence, how they walk in fear every day.
This awareness is taken into the horse arena. A woman volunteers, saying that she wants to become less fearful of horses. She hesitates, begins to shake and cry. She is encouraged to feel her fear in her body, recognize the somatic sensations and embrace it. As she approaches, her horse turns, looks at her and patiently waits for her arrival. She slowly places her body next to the horse and without hesitation, embraces the horse and sobs. Her healing partner remains with her until she is able to speak. She looks up to the sky and says out loud “What is the big deal? It is only a horse!” At this moment, she realizes she created barriers and limiting beliefs that have prevented her from doing things she has longed to do. Why? Because she makes it larger than life! Continuing to share her thoughts, she says she fears that the horse will run her over, step on her, and she will end up in the hospital. She then is asked to put her “true” experience into words. She describes a sense of freedom she has never before experienced.
Equine Assisted Coaching
During a recent equine-assisted coaching session, a woman wanted to explore why she felt stuck and depressed. She described her experience: “Recently I spent time with Judith Schneider and her three horses. It was a pivotal experience. I had been dealing with feelings of loss and anxiety. I knew a lot about my situation, but I was still stuck and it was really painful. I am a good talker and thinker. I can talk and think my way into and out of any number of situations, but I didn’t seem to be able to talk or think my way out of this one. With the help of Judy’s compassion and the innate wisdom of the horses, their gut feelings and reflection, I came to know myself better, and best of all, to accept my feelings. The result? Hope. By the time I left Healing Through Horses, I had made some genuine shifts in my thinking; but even more important, the way I felt had shifted. I felt heard and I felt hope.”
Healing Through Horses’ season has begun. “The horses,” Schneider says, “have been eager to get back to work.”