Unusual Therapy

It’s typical for a little girl growing up to look up to her mom and attempt to follow in her footsteps. After a long day at work, my mom would spend hours at the barn with the horses. Despite the long hours she spent outside, she would always return inside, rejuvenated. As a youngster, I insisted to know what was so special about the massive animals that stole her time away from me. Not only did I envy the horses for taking my mom’s time, I was also jealous of her connection to the horses. As a curious and willing child, my mom would throw me on the horses bareback. Little did she know at the time, but throwing me on horses bareback and beginning my connection with them has changed my life forever. I have learned through experience that building a relationship with such a captivating species is time-consuming, complex, and holds utmost value in my life.

My admiration for the hefty, dazzling animals began when I was only a few years old, and it has only continued to grow stronger since. Red, owned by my mom, is the most mischievous horse there ever was, but also, the most loving, adorable one. Building a relationship with Red provided many hardships, because the silly horse decided he wanted to attempt biting my toes every time I rode him. Meanwhile, Red gave off a complete sense of love on the ground, and even after a few toe nips, while riding. I couldn’t get mad at this horse, no matter the snarky decisions he made, something kept drawing me closer to him. After years of competing at a mediocre level, Red was ready for real competition. He took me everywhere, and we became so in tune together that we were hard to beat. The continual winning performances mixed with his unconditional love began my obsession with horses, as well as my ability to grow a relationship with them.

Although we had three different horses belonging to my siblings in our barn at the time I was competing on Red, my mom decided it was time for my very own first horse. We began the long journey hoping to find a sound, young horse started on barrels with heart bigger than the size of Texas. Of course I’m a huge fanatic over horses, and fell “in love” with each and every horse I met. There was something mom did not like about the first four horses we looked at, and mom urged to continue searching. It only took looking at approximately five different horses for me to decide which horse I absolutely could not resist, as well as one that my mom adored.

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The morning was early in May, perfectly lit by the sun, with a slight breeze, maintaining a chill vibe. We pulled up at a mutual friend’s small ranch, and I spotted my forever-best friend, one horse that absolutely changed my life, Millie. I’m completely convinced that Millie knew from the moment I pulled up, that she found her best friend as well, and no one can tell me otherwise. Millie, the muscular, stunning, golden-brown horse stood with such an elegant long, shimmering, black mane and tail. But what caught my attention the most were her large, soulful brown eyes. They were eyes that anyone could look into and get lost, boasting pure love, innocence, and acceptance. I couldn’t take her home soon enough, I kept begging mom, ensuring her that I didn’t even need to ride her because I felt she was the one. As any sane mom would enforce, I had to ride the “green broke” three-year-old mare before any decision was made.

After I got on Millie, no one could get me off of her. However, “green broke” was an extreme understatement. She acted up at this young age, but her quirky misunderstandings drew me toward her. It took days of convincing and a test trial period with Millie before mom finally caved, falling in love with the golden mare herself. A week after we brought Millie home, I decided to take her on the trails with family and friends. When they display big gaudy signs reeking caution of wild animals displayed before a trail, it should never be taken lightly. Anyways, Millie graciously followed the herd, when her and Pepsi showed a strong interest in the trees. As Corey (Pepsi’s owner) and I cautiously walked towards the trees, fear struck Millie and Pepsi simultaneously. Unfortunately, a dark, wicked snake struck Millie just enough to alarm her. I immediately jumped off, screaming for help, as I didn’t know how bad it was, not worrying about the snake or it’s whereabouts. Millie was a nervous ball of fire, shaking and breathing heavily, as we exhausted every option for calming her nerves.

After the vet arrived giving news that Millie would be ok, my heart rate was finally able to slow to normal levels. Luckily, the snake wasn’t able to fully penetrate her ankle. She was given antibiotics and anti-inflammatories for the bite, and did not need anti-venom. Interestingly, the vet assumed that her “freak out” caused more damage than the snakebite did, leaving her with a sprained ankle. However, when Millie arrived back home she was on lockdown when I wasn’t around. I spent countless hours doctoring her swollen ankle with a loose bandage for the abrasion, worrying if she’d ever heal completely, and without knowing it building the strongest relationship I’ve ever had with an animal. The rehabilitation period after the snakebite was lengthy, and I didn’t dare miss any of my free time with her. Since I was losing time in the saddle, I began groundwork for months, putting in a countless stream of hours each day. While starting on the basics with Millie I was able to pinpoint one of her biggest fears, the water hose. I instantly linked the water hose fear to that of the slithering snake. I slowly worked to reduce her fear of hoses, building a strong understanding between the two of us. Overcoming her fear took teamwork, so each day I would undergo some sort of activity with the water hose. As Millie understood my reasoning and that it wasn’t going to hurt her, she accepted the hose to please me.

After passing a nerve-racking vet check, Millie was cleared to ride and work at a competitive level. By this time, her groundwork was amazing, and we had bonded so much that she’d wait for me at the pasture gaits nickering when I got home from school. She was my sane place, my confidant, the one I had such a strong base with that I believed in 100%. I told her everything from my newest gushy romance, to my last heart-wrenching breakup. She was there for all my up and downs, taking me on thrill rides when needed, as well as showing pure love on the ground. No matter how bad my day, spending time with this gorgeous mare changed my state of mind. I never left the barn unhappy, and that’s when it clicked. I now understood why my mom had such a love and passion for horses.

Training Millie was by no means a breeze, and I spent three years really finishing her out. She aimed to please me, and the hours upon hours I spent on her back she attentively learned, begging to begin competition. When Millie was approximately six, I couldn’t hold her back any longer. I decided to enter a few playdays and jackpots to see where she was. Everywhere I went Millie was clocking 2D times as a beginner barrel racer. Thrilled by the heart she gave during competition and her love for the sport, I knew she was a pro caliber barrel horse. With high hopes I began seasoning her. The training journey was abruptly halted when I was struck by a copperhead at my friend’s 16th birthday party. The sharp pain grew so intense that applying the slightest pressure to my ankle made me nauseous, and right then I knew how Millie felt. I was aching for her, as I was drowning in pain being rushed to the Emergency Room. Due to my leg swelling from my ankle to my thigh, they feared a worse case scenario of amputation if I was not treated quickly and efficiently. What I feared most was the separation from my horse and the time I would not be able to ride. After five long days in the hospital receiving anti-venom, I was finally able to be reunited with my best friend. Opposing mom’s plan, I’d slowly “crutch” my way out to the barn, catch Millie, and sit on the ground beside her as she grazed. While she grazed, I just be stood with her thinking of how amazing she was, and how building a relationship with her was growing me into a well-rounded responsible person. Not only was I learning responsibility, she was teaching me patience.

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She felt my pain, and her eyes exhibited pity. My dreams were being crushed, as the Whitesboro rodeo approached, and Millie still needed training to compete at top level. But, as I found out 2 days later, that was the least of my worries. I received news that I lost my uncle to a long battle with Pancreatic Cancer, and my life suddenly crammed into a big blob of misunderstanding. Throughout it all, Millie sucked the sadness right out of me by never leaving my side and slowly resting her sweet head upon my shoulder giving me strength. The stability that she gave me no matter the circumstance is such a heartwarming feeling that can’t even begin to be explained, nor understood. The unconditional love she granted me with during this time had no comparison, and I worry what I would have done without Millie by my side.

On a relational ground, many people are actually unaware of the impact a horse can make on a person and their mental stability. Jessica Holbrook covers a heart-wrenching story about a young girl, Morgan, who has childhood-onset schizophrenia and struggles to find peace with the disease and her family. Before Morgan was introduced to horses, Schizophrenia was consuming her life (1). She wasn’t able to attend school; her mind was constantly distracted, she had major tantrums, and finding the correct medication for this mental disorder was tough (1). After initiation and therapy with horses, and finally her very own horse, Morgan drastically improved mentally and emotionally. Although she still struggles with Schizophrenia, she can now develop clear sentences, make eye contact, carry conversations, and maintain positive emotions (1). The drastic change of Morgan’s mental state suggests that the therapeutic use of horses can change lives, and develop such a strong, positive, re-assuring trust, love and acceptance.

In another equine therapy study, Mara Klecker followed an outstanding horse, Archie, and his effect on people in need. Archie has many scars of his own, making him easy to relate to (2). Due to Archie’s past, many people in the program feel that they can connect with him on an emotional level. One client, Sharon, underwent an extreme situation of rape while serving in the military (2). After the second session with Archie, Sharon began to break down. Archie gave her such a strong sense of hope, trust, and justice that Sharon discovered she could stand strong; she was not alone (2). She reported that equine therapy made her feel safe enough to seek justice (2). She was able to come forward and now resembles a strong woman with utmost gratitude for Archie and equine therapy (2). Sharon once lived life in constant fear, but equine therapy provided her with a reason to move forward.

Morgan and Sharon’s stories are just two of the hundreds of thousands in which a horse has changed a persons life. Horses have been known to soothe people with acute mental disorders, chronic mental disorders, a wide range of physical disorders, or even just a typical “bad day-need love.” The trust and judgmental free love a horse gives is one reason that a horse can be utilized in a wide variety of therapeutic treatments. Trust is such a simple word, but underneath it lays a complex meaning. Besides family, typically the thought of trusting someone is very frightening. My strong relationship with Millie allowed my full and honest trust with her. I know a thousand and one things can go wrong while on a horse, but trust is what keeps me going. After my ankle was healed from the snakebite, I entered Millie in the FRPS, not knowing our trust for each other was about to be tested.

It was a bright afternoon with the sun shining and a cool breeze passing through. I tacked Millie up while consistently pampering her. After tacking her up, we headed to the warm-up arena and slowly got her muscles ready to compete. Her prance boasted confidence, and her body language and eyes read extreme excitement.

“Chelle Davis, come running,” were the next words from the announcer.

As my heart began to race, I sent Millie straight down the alley way with my confidence. We ran to the right barrel first, and it was perfect. I pushed on with the reins forward and pulled her up for the second barrel, when suddenly the ride fell apart. Millie collapsed to her side straight to the ground, with my body lying underneath her. My mind immediately raced to the worst conclusion, as my leg was twisted in the stirrup beneath her and couldn’t move. As the first responders rushed towards Millie, she laid there completely still. All I wanted was for Millie to get up and move as a way to tell me she was ok. I could not lose my best friend.

“My horse! Is she ok? Please help her, I’m fine,” I squealed in a jumbled manner.
The lead EMT replied, “Honey, your horse is fine, she just lost her footing around the barrel. She’s waiting for us to safely unlatch your foot from the stirrup.”

As they slowly began to take off the saddle, they rubbed Millie’s coat telling her that everything was ok, and continually assuring her that she was a good girl. After they got the saddle off, they helped Millie up while cautiously trying to avoid my body. I jumped up immediately hugging Millie. In that moment of fear, she knew that I was in more danger if she got up, rather than her lying there waiting for help. In that moment, she saved my life. The trust she had for me was obvious as she lye on her side in fear, trusting the EMT’s and I to make everything okay. In accordance, the trust I had for her was displayed by trusting her not to step on me, and by letting her do the job she loves each and every day with me astride.

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To this day, Millie is still my number one horse. I have a backup barrel horse, Tebow, who clocks right there with Millie, and whom I love dearly. However, when I can’t run both of them in a rodeo, Millie is the first option, as she’s been there through it all with me. Barrel racing is Millie’s passion, and she will forever give her all in each competition. It’s apparent that she loves rodeo, as the emotions she shows before competition relate to sheer excitement. Not only does she love her job, she loves her best friend leading the way. She’s won many rodeos, buckles, 2 saddles, and a great deal of money. She’s worth her weight in gold, and she’ll live with me the rest of her life.

There’s something special about having a relationship with horses, so special that the feeling can’t quite be explained. Horses change many lives in therapeutic situations by listening and being gentle giants for those in physical need. Although I don’t struggle with mental or physical disorders, horses have changed my life, and Millie has been my therapist throughout everything. The relationship I built with Millie through training and everyday life has formed me into a stronger, more loving and understanding person. The emotional effect she’s had on me is incomparable, as she understands me on a level that no one else does. The main role she’s played in my life is being my strength, always giving me an escape. She’s my rock through any type of hardship, and she’s my pride and joy each and every day. I plan to hit the rodeo road with Millie when I’m financially able to, and I believe that this horse can and will take me to the National Finals Rodeo. She keeps my hopes and dreams alive, and her heart for pleasing is one of the most inspiring aspects in my life. Her strength amazes me, and I am always reminded how blessed I am to compete on my best friend and push towards my goals with her. And for that reason, I am forever grateful for my relationship with Millie.

References
1. Holbrook, J. 2015. A Girl and Her Horse: Connection With Animal Changes a Life. The Canton Repository. Accessed online: http://www.cantonrep.com/article/20150616/NEWS/150619557/?Start=1
2. Klecker, M. 2014. Four-legged therapist making a difference. Lincoln Journal Star. Accessed online: http://journalstar.com/news/local/four-legged-therapist-making-a-difference/article_005be769-839f-5624-8f81-5376643f371e.html

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