Do you have a pet or other opportunity to know an animal? The human-animal bond can be a powerful connection, and, in some cases, it works magic. Suzanne Hodges has seen it happen many times through her work as a therapeutic riding instructor, offering horsemanship and therapeutic riding lessons to those with disabilities.
Just as therapy dogs provide comfort and guidance for their owners, so therapy horses can help their riders in many ways. Increasing evidence shows that horseback therapy is an excellent way to increase muscle control and balance as well as improve mental and emotional health.
Suzanne has devoted her life to enabling humans and horses to bond – to the benefit of both. After she persuaded her parents to get her a horse, Suzanne began learning horsemanship under Buck Brannaman. Brannaman was the inspiration for the character of the novel The Horse Whisperer, which was made into a movie starring Robert Redford.
During her training she experienced what she describes as “becoming one with the horse.” It was magical and powerful and motivated her to learn more until she eventually earned her PATH certification. PATH stands for the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship.
She now teaches children to connect with the horse and begin a healing process.
Some of the transformation is difficult to describe, but it happens. Sometimes it has to do with her students learning to be gentle with horses, and then learning that they can be gentle with people, too. They learn patience, and by learning to communicate with the horse, they learn to communicate with people, too. One child, who struggles with cerebral palsy, learned that she could stop her horse by relaxing her energy – a self-control that benefits her when she’s off the horse, too.
To enable her to work with a growing number of disabled children, Suzanne organized EQUU8 (www.equu8.org) – which is a combination of equus (meaning horse) and equate (meaning to be the same or equivalent in value) and the infinity symbol 8 (for endless learning and healing opportunities).
In August of this year, we had the privilege of being in Big Bear, California, where Equu8 is located. We witnessed residents of the area donating over $10,000 to help Suzanne expand her work.
Dave Stamey put on a concert that was preceded by a live auction. This was no small endeavor. Dave Stamey is a nationally acclaimed cowboy singer and songwriter and one of the most popular Western entertainers working today. Local supporters donated valuable art, handmade furniture, wine baskets and vacation packages, and residents came to bid on these items, with the help of a professional auctioneer. The funds raised will enable Equu8 to increase its staff and serve an increased number of students.
The music was stimulating, the gifts stunning, but the highlight of the evening was learning about the power of the human-animal bond.
That’s it for today.
Carolyn and John
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