In 2009 I began developing the equine therapy program that would become the central focus of my career as a substance abuse counselor. Little did I know then what a powerful, effective treatment modality it would become! Back then I didn’t know about “limbic resonance” or that this was the event that made the sessions working with my equine partners so fruitful. But as time went on and more information became available it became clear that the limbic resonance that occurred or did not occur in the human/horse connection was what informed me, the therapist, what questions to ask the client that helped him or her discover within themselves their wholeness or lack of wholeness. It was an amazing adventure developing the skills I needed to “read the horse” and then allow the questions to emerge that would transform lives in their answering.
As the years went by the equine program gained a reputation for being the therapeutic modality that could identify treatment issues in the shortest amount of time in chemical dependency treatment. It also began to gain a reputation for being able to help most clients release the past and begin healing past traumas. What was happening between the horse and the client seemed almost magical at first but soon studies began to show its clinical efficacy and as research programs in this field expanded, it became an established, evidence based therapy.
In 2012 a young woman came to work with me at the Arbor Treatment Program as my assistant. Kris Gonzalez was a certified therapeutic riding instructor with many years of experience teaching children to ride who were challenged by various issues such as autism, cerebral palsy, and down syndrome, but she wanted more. Kris loved the horses as much as she loved helping others and she wanted to learn about the heart and soul of what we were doing at the Arbor. Kris was passionate about this work and an outstanding student. She asked every conceivable question and even became a certified substance abuse counselor to learn more about the population we were serving. A little over two years ago, I observed Kris working with a client and I realized she had become as effective as I had ever been. It was at that moment that I knew it was time for me to turn my work over to the “next generation” of equine therapists. It was also my opportunity to retire knowing that my program would continue and grow as Kris was still hungry to discover more ways to utilize the great resource that the horse was in this work.
Today, Kris has expanded the equine program by integrating Relationship Logic and Rhythmic Riding to her repertoire of skills. Studying under Tim and Betina Jobe founders of Natural Lifesmanship, Kris is learning how to utilize the horses in intense trauma centered work. She is recognizing in her “tough” clients problems in their proprioceptive and vestibular systems and is using rhythmic riding to help those clients improve their sensory processing and regulate the body’s awareness/interaction with its environment. Those “tough” clients come to treatment so locked in a flight or fight response to any kind of stimulus that they don’t know how to respond in any other way. They lack many of the neural pathways that would allow them to engage a thought process that would help them understand or learn how to live clean and sober lives. Kris is learning how to identify these issues early in treatment and finding the appropriate equine intervention to help improve sensory-emotional-relational-mental functioning so that even the “tough” client will have the ability to learn how to stay clean and sober.
I am so proud of this young woman who has taken my program and made it her own. I have no regrets leaving my work because it needed to be released to expand. I could never have taken it where Kris is taking it. I had reached the end of my desire to continue to build. Today, in retirement, I am enjoying a whole new life with my husband and family and there’s not a horse in sight!