Northern B.C. women moves on from trauma with horse therapy

Traumatized women in northern B.C. got a leg up from new hoofed friends this summer.

Volunteer Lenna Pittenger exchanged hugs with an equine therapy facilitator on June 9 at Cranbrook Hill Equestrian Centre Prince George.

Volunteer Lenna Pittenger exchanged hugs with an equine therapy facilitator on June 9 at Cranbrook Hill Equestrian Centre Prince George.

Traumatized women in northern B.C. got a leg up from new hoofed friends this summer.

Partnering with local equine-facilitated wellness therapist Lisa Loewen, the Northern John Howard Society hosted three monthly equine-facilitated wellness therapy sessions for women in Prince George from June to August, with a focus on those who suffered from domestic violence.

Horses, as prey animals that can be hunted at any moment, can relate to those who underwent trauma in their lives, vigilant and always on guard, Loewen explained.

“The thing about horses is they are so sensitive that they can feel a fly land on their skin,” she said. “When we’ve experienced trauma in our lives, we begin to operate the same way.

“It’s about getting back in touch with those sensitivities and realizing, ‘Hey, it’s okay to be sensitive, it’s okay to be who I am.’”

Despite their innate role in the animal kingdom, horses with their size compared to humans pose a potential danger, a presence that contributes to the therapeutic process for participants.

“They are able to form this connection with something that is so big and yet so gentle,” Loewen added. “You come up to horses and they tell you they need a scratch here, or give a horse hug, where they wrap their head around.”

The outdoor environment of equine therapy also helps participants open up to the new connection.

“We’re able to interact not just with the horses….the feel of the turf, the smell of the hay, the sound of the horses,” Loewen added.

Limited to eight women per workshop, the funded series were well received, with waitlisted registrations and positive feedback gathered from post-event evaluations.

“One of the biggest things was overcoming fear, creating connection, and being more aware of boundaries and issues that are coming up within them,” she said. “And what’s most surprising for me was that, as these workshops are catered, the fact that the women are able to be nourished was huge.”

As some participants reflected in their feedback, the animals were a fear.

“Now their arms are around these 1,200-pound animals, but when they first entered the arena they couldn’t even go within 20 feet,” Loewen said. “How empowering that was for them to overcome their fears and deal with personal things that came up during the course of the workshop.”

For counsellor Christina Bianchini, it was an opportunity to not only overcome her fear of horses, but become more in touch with herself.

“First of all, I have been terrified of horses since I was a kid when I was kicked by one, and so was a bit nervous about what the interaction with the horses would be like,” Bianchini said. “It was so caring and welcoming that by the end of the day I was at ease handling and being next to the horses.”

The animals provided a safe and neutral energy to the environment for her to engage, she added.

“As a trauma survivor, I sometimes find it difficult to allow myself to be vulnerable with others,” she said. “It’s like we were taking care of each other without obligation.

“I also reinforced valuable self care skills and felt more grounded.”

Regina Thomas, one of the workshop attendees, found the experience liberating, as she learned more about herself within a few hours.

“I am super grateful I took the chance and attended that day as I have been released of so many thoughts, and the unconsciousness of living in your head, and not in the present,” Thomas said. “I laughed, and I still do, at the fact I was able to sit in the dirt, and be calm while a 1200 pound animal was inches away from me, trotting around and around.

“Our mind is a powerhouse which we rarely do use for the reason it was created, and that was to live!”