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Therapeutic Horsemanship

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She Had Me at Her First Blink

My Experience with Therapeutic Horsemanship

Beautiful Horse

She had me at her first blink, as her chocolate brown eyes with lashes the length any woman would envy, gazed into the very depths of my soul. Her calming aura lent a remarkable dignity for a newbie such as myself.  Asking her permission, I reached out my hand to be rewarded with a warm rub of her baby soft muzzle. How could I not fall in love? This was my introduction to the world of Therapeutic Horsemanship (TH). Grateful to be present, I was ready to experience the healing power of these remarkable creatures.

Thanks to Ginger Reitz, Therapeutic Horsemanship Coordinator, and Pam Whims, Volunteer Coordinator at Warm Beach Therapeutic Horsemanship Program, I found myself standing before 1,500 pounds of a formidable, yet remarkable animal.

For Ginger, whom I quote, “This program has been directly from my Father’s heart straight into mine. He planted the seed several years ago, and it brings me such joy to see the fruit beginning to ripen!”


South of Stanwood, Washington, nestled amongst the towering verdant evergreens along the shores of an inland pacific waterway, lays the faith-based camp and stables. Providing individualized attention, the staff and volunteers are ready to assist people with physical, cognitive, and social challenges. With their years of horsemanship knowledge, the staff welcomed me and others like me into their inner circle to educate and nurture our desire to be a part of this praiseworthy organization. Although it had been a very long time since I’d ridden, my love for these incredible creatures had never diminished.

I was entranced as the caring staff readied ‘Moon.’ Bridle and saddle in place, she was led by a light hand through the driving rain into the covered arena. Once safely inside this nurturing environment, with the yielding sand beneath her hoofs, I eagerly followed, observed, and learned, soaking in all that I could.

 As ‘Moon’ and ‘Cocoa’ slowly approached the ramp, it was as if they knew their purpose this damp wintery afternoon, was to stand patiently, awaiting acceptance of their precious cargo. Once seated, the changes I witnessed in Jenny and Caleb’s faces, both non-verbal children, were, to say the least, heartwarming.

Child and Adult Feeding Horse

Focus changing away from their daily challenges, with beaming smiles, Jenny and Caleb’s journey around the arena began. Each was accompanied by volunteers, one to lead their mount and one to walk by each side. Their trust was evident for both horse and helper. Ready to move swiftly if the need arose, the security of a volunteer’s gentle touch could ease each child’s unspoken anxiety.

With so much to take in around the arena, contracted muscles soon relaxed, as the gentle swaying motion of their mounts lulled their bodies into being one with their horse. The purpose of their ride was not only to strengthen core body muscles, but to bring joy to their hearts. If the smiles on their face were any indication, that purpose had been achieved.

According to the writings of Hippocrates, history indicates that in ancient Greek times, around 460 BC, people with disabilities began riding horses. They realized that horseback riding was not only a mode of transportation but a mode of therapy that could improve one’s health and well-being. Fast forward to the 20th century, where during World War I, England offered TH to its wounded soldiers. Then, when poliomyelitis broke out in 1946, one of its victims, a Scandinavian woman named Lis Hartel, used riding therapy to improve her coordination and muscle strength.  She eventually went on to win the Silver Medal for Dressage at the 1952 Olympics.

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Horses do not trust easily, and therefore demand respect in order to provide respect. Sound familiar? They are not easily bullied or manipulated and live by their own set of rules, as I was soon to find out. As our stalwart companions, horses are amazingly intuitive creatures who can perceive their human riders’ emotions through our body language and voice tones. They have the ability to help those individuals with physical, emotional, and mental health issues heal. Studies have shown that despite a horse’s inability to rationalize feelings, they basically feel emotion without reasoning.  My scientific background may agree, but who are we to really know what goes on in these beautiful creatures’ minds. When I’m standing next to one of these gentle giants, the analytical side of my brain goes out the window, allowing the creative nurturing side to blast forward.

Amazingly, horses can increase a human’s self-confidence and relieve our stress, something that I think all of us can use. Each time I enter the stable, I feel the tension from days past lift off my shoulders. They teach us patience, something I’m afraid at times to admit I need help with. In their presence, my actions, my words, are calmer and focused, despite what’s going on in my life or in the world around me.

Ginger, Pam, Marsha, Denise, Joshua, and Heidi.
Ginger, Pam, Marsha, Denise, Joshua, and Heidi.

According to Webster, the definition of volunteering is “to freely offer to do something, without expecting payment or reward.” I had no idea the rewards I would be given in the few short weeks since I’ve volunteered. My reward has been an intense sense of inner peace and gratitude that I haven’t felt in years. I believe that God led me to this place and these people. Where not only have I found the opportunity to learn horsemanship and volunteer for a fantastic program, but I have the great pleasure to be with people of like minds serving Christ.




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