As a community builder, Kim Watt-Senner has put in relentless effort to make Fraser Lake and the surrounding areas a better place to live in economically and socially.
Kim wears multiple hats — director at the regional district, Fraser Lake municipal councillor, retired RCMP officer and she also runs multiple businesses in the community.
One such business that truly encapsulates the thought of community building is an equine therapeutic centre.
Kim was diagnosed with PTSD over 15 years ago and at the time she was working for the RCMP. She said the family has always had horses but they didn’t really look at them as therapeutic.
“So this was way before anything to do with horse therapy was widely known. But we had horses and what I noticed is that I would go and spend time with our horses and I would feel better. Fast forward, several years later horse therapy became a thing and we put two and two together. But at the time I was still a serving member and I didn’t have the time to start a program,” Kim said.
About three years ago, Kim said she and her partner decided that they would move to Fraser Lake and the thought of starting a therapy program has always been in the back of her mind.
After she moved to Fraser Lake, Kim also took up political roles with her involvement in the regional district and municipal politics.
“So in both those entities we talk a lot about economic diversity and we talk about how do small communities bring people into the communities not only to make money for a business but also to be putting funds into the area for spin-off businesses.”
“I ended up at an economic development seminar at the RDBN and it so happened that we were talking about the same thing. So I thought here we are. We are in the perfect position. We have a ranch, five horses and I have been in remission with my PTSD for years, so I have a lot of first hand knowledge in regard to signs and symptoms whether it is diagnosed or un-diagnosed.”
After that, Kim said she spoke to her partner and they decided to open the therapeutic program ranch because she said they are passionate about it.
“We absolutely treaure our community. And we want to have lots of very interesting, very diverse businesses that are unique so when people come to Fraser Lake they can go — ‘you know what? this is amazing, it is a very very small town, but my gosh do they have a lot to offer.”
When people are interacting with horses, our heart rate starts to mimic the horse’s heart rate, Kim explained, adding horses are sensitive animals and their heart rate tends to be slower. This in turn leads to decompression. “And that’s the fascinating thing about horses and how they manipulate our physiological responses in a positive manner.”
Kim however does not have a degree in psychology, however her life experiences dealing with PTSD and being involved with horses helps. And if there are clients that she feels want to continue on their mental health journey, she has a social worker, clinical councillor and psychologist on staff.
To make the therapy session best suit everyone, Kim said they ask participants for third party consent to get in touch with either their GP, family doctor, therapist or psychiatrist. She said they talk to the health practitioner to understand whether equine therapy is right for the client, and if there are any triggers associated with the participant.
“So it could be a fear of open spaces. In that case then I need to mitigate the stressors that come with that particular condition. So once I get the okay from the medical practitioner, we do a meet and greet with the horses which is an hour long and we bring out all the horses.”
After that, depending on how comfortable the client is with a horse, they put halters on the horse and then the participant gets to meet and spend time with each of the horses.
“What is neat is that the client just doesn’t select the horse, the horse also selects the client.”
Kim narrates a story of a massive horse they have, named Maximus, who she said is a gentle giant. One of her clients is autistic and Maximus wrapped his neck around the body of the client and drew him in for a hug.
“The client was afraid of horses and that is our largest horse, but Maximus totally broke down those barriers and it was incredible to watch. And then the client giggled and laughed and it was so incredible to watch,” she said.
A person doesn’t need to be comfortable with horses to enroll in the program. Sometimes clients take over an hour to select the horse they want and that works fine too, Kim said.
“Some clients just want to touch the horse, some only want to groom, some want to participate further. It is about communication and about learning trust. Most people who come to the ranch have trust concerns and it is amazing to see the result of the interaction.”
The team also works with critical illness clients who may suffer from heart disease, cancer, leukemia and others. They have specialized anxiety blankets and mattresses to help with the process. So clients can lay on the bed while spending time with their equine partner, Kim said.
Meanwhile, Kim retired from the RCMP eight years ago and she said she still has friends who are serving members in the force. In her opinion, the RCMP could do more when it comes to combating mental health issues that officers and first responders face.
“Unfortunately a lot of the mental health issues that first responders face are swept under the rug because no one is comfortable talking about it.”
She said her life experiences have helped her relate to others who may be going through trauma, stress or even PTSD.
“There is this barrier that is broken down in a good way. People see I am not broken, I am functioning and I run different businesses, wear a political hat. Does it mean everything is perfect? Or does it mean that I don’t have goof and bad days? Of course I do. Everybody does.”
“How I describe it is that I can take a photo in black and white and then turn it into colour. You see the same picture, just the experience is different,” Kim said.
For people struggling with talking about mental illness, Kim said don’t be afraid to talk about it.
“Don’t shut yourself in a house, a room with the curtains drawn, because you are afraid of being judged. Stand tall. Be proud. Say, yes I am struggling and at some points in our life we are all there. All of us. Nobody goes through this life unscathed.”
She said the therapeutic ranch has helped her with her PTSD. “I didn’t do it all on my own and what my psychologist has said for years. You know that you are in remission when you are doing well and when you want to help others. It is a pretty pivotal thing in my life.”