Horses Provide Supportive Therapy Through ‘Spirit Reins’ | Small Business Revolution (Story #20)

(Tim) Horses thrive off relationships. They’re meant to be herd animals just like humans. A kid that’s been through trauma is like a horse he’s gonna be at his worst when he’s off by himself. We believe that all healing comes from the relationship and we want our clients to learn that relationships are where both of you get to feel safe and nurtured and trusted and respected. With horses a lot of people think it’s magic or something. That’s one thing we really have to help the kids understand It’s not magic, we’re not magicians, and it’s not the relationship with that horse that they need. That’s the one that’s going to help them find the relationships they need We had an 8 year old client tell us that: “This is like a practice for real life” and it is. (Susan) What I have found since Andrew was diagnosed with depression when he was nine, is that almost everybody underestimates the complexity of my kid. At the beginning of what would have been his sophomore year of high school he was so depressed and withdrawn that he withdrew from school during the first quarter. He tried all different kinds of medications, he had been to a lot of different therapists but he was too shut down. It’s just like, all emotion was turned off. Andrew had never been around horses before but I reached the point where I was thinking that I was gonna have to put him in a residential treatment program. So I thought “Well, if I’m facing that, then I’ll try anything” (Rhonda) The story of why this place exists is very personal In 1999 I was climbing the corporate ladder and on my way to the airport for an out-of-town gig my car was run over by an 18 wheeler. I literally walked away from an accident I shouldn’t have survived and I very clearly heard inside of me that I did not survive to cry on my way to work. So I quit, not really knowing what I was gonna do but I had a dream of helping people and running a ranch. I grew up in the corporate world, I have a degree in finance but I never believed I was gonna be starting and running a small business. We’ve effectively implemented a model of therapy using horses that’s based on the neuroscience of how a child’s brain develops and how trauma interrupts that development but it takes a lot to keep this place running. Not only do I spend a ton of time on the ranch just driving the tractor, plowing the arena the majority of my day is spent in meetings telling people that Spirit Reins is here. And I talked to Jason and it looks like we’re gonna need to move our meeting location (Rhonda) I do have a staff of therapists and equine specialists and administrative staff that works to keep this place moving. They’re incredible at what they do and could work anywhere, quite frankly, and have chosen to work at Spirit Reins. It takes a great deal of effort to be a good steward of not only people that we serve, but the people who work for this non-profit, but also for the donors, who put their trust in us. The kids that we work with come from really hard places. Those kids need an opportunity to build a relationship and horses are honest with them They’ll give them that opportunity to do it differently (Bettina) The model of therapy that we use is natural lifemanship and it’s all about the relationships. A prey animal like a horse, the survival part of their brain is what develops because they’re in survival mode all the time. Clients who’ve experienced complex trauma that’s also what happens to them and that affects the manner in which we build relationships. We believe that being in positive relationships is a basic need. It’s a basic need for humans and it’s also a basic need for horses The idea being that trauma has to be healed through a relationship (Tim) In their herd, the horses are either the leader or a follower They’ve never got to experience a relationship where they appropriately control themselves and the other one does too. It’s always, I control you or you control me and those are the kinds of relationships our clients are in too. When I worked with that horse in the round pen I had no control over that horse No halter on him, no rope or anything. All I did is ask for what I needed and he was at a place in that relationship where that’s what he wanted to do. It’s not about controlling other people or controlling situations It’s about controlling yourself. The chaos inside you is what needs to be controlled (Bettina) A client who is struggling with severe anxiety and depression traditional talk therapy is probably not going to be really effective for them. The majority of our clients neurobiologically cannot do that We have to back up and get them the regulation and the relationships that they need. (Tim) I can’t build that relationship for them Only they can. And we have no roadmap for doing that They do. And we have to help them find that map for themselves (Rhonda) When the kids first come here, their very first experience is going to choose a horse They go out to the big herd and we tell them the stories of the horses out there We’re using those stories that the horses have to help them find themselves in the stories of the horses so they know they’re not alone. Joey’s a horse that I’ve had, personally, for almost ten years and I’ve never touched him. He was always alone in a field because he didn’t have friends even in his herd (Susan) I don’t think on that first day Andrew got any closer than maybe 30 yards but he said that’s who he wanted to work with. (Bettina) The first many, many sessions, Joey would just run away and we could not get Andrew to answer a question. They were just stuck. (Bettina) Every now and then there’s a kid that you work with and after many many difficult sessions there are things that happen out there with the horses and with the kid where it’s amazing. It’s not magic, I think it’s just a really amazing relationship that most of our kids have never had. (Susan) It’s not that I got Andrew back, it’s that I got the Andrew that was always there but I’ve never seen before. He smiles and he laughs all the time because he’s figured out that “It’s okay to feel good about myself” He’s getting good at happy. (Tim) Good job Andrew. Good job Joey. (Bettina) Good job both of ya’ll. (Tim) You feel like you’re making a difference, you feel like you count. (Bettina) Those moments when I’m watching major change happen that’s going to be generational, I absolutely believe we’re standing on sacred ground. (Rhonda) Seeing a kid who started every day in fear stand in a space with a horse that I haven’t even touched and touch him, calmly, and that be okay for both of them Getting to witness that was the greatest day of my career. I get to see everyday the changes that that relationship has made in Joey’s life I watch him in the herd, but getting to hear from a mom or a kid how that made a difference in their life that’s why I wake up and do what I do everyday.

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