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Horse sense helps healing

Equine facilitated therapy - 'What the heck is that?' you may wonder. And while we may think of this as cutting-edge therapy, it's more like a new relationship with an animal that has been a godsend to humans for many years.

Equine facilitated therapy - 'What the heck is that?' you may wonder. And while we may think of this as cutting-edge therapy, it's more like a new relationship with an animal that has been a godsend to humans for many years.

For self-proclaimed city kid, the youthful Rev. Terri Scallon, a registered therapist, came to her love of horses and subsequently this therapy in mid-life.

As with many great changes in our lives, this one came to Scallon in a serendipitous way. First a friend who knew that the Gibsons United Church minister is the consummate animal lover told Scallon, "You have to read The Tao of Equus."

"So, long story short, not only did I read this book by Linda Kohanov, but I went down to the author's ranch in Arizona to experience what she wrote about. It was my introduction to a relatively new field of animal assisted therapy known as EFT, equine facilitated therapy. It was transformative," Scallon shared.

What impressed her about this EFT experience was how in tune to her honesty the horse was.

"I quickly saw that the more authentic I was, the more relaxed the horse was in my presence," she explained.

Back home in Roberts Creek, Scallon chanced on the property of Lynn Chapman. A former lawyer, Chapman is also an instructor with the Certified Horsemanship Association. Chapman, who shares her beautiful bed and breakfast property with three equine beauties, soon became friends with Scallon.

"I've since spent many hours hanging out with Lynn's horses," she said.

At first Scallon had to overcome her initial fear of the big creatures. After much practice, she was able to groom the horses and eventually ride them.

But how did that come to be a new therapeutic calling for Scallon?

Recently, Scallon was on a sabbatical from her role at the Gibsons United Church. She spent part of it at a large recovery centre in Hazelden, Minn. where EFT was in use.

"In one particularly memorable EFT session, members of different street gangs were put on teams where they had to work together with horses on a planned task. I observed them move from a position of arms crossed in defiance to reaching out to touch the horses, to engaging [the horses] in the task, to laughing and finally enjoying the company of their human team mates as well," she remembered.

Seeing the impact the interaction with the horses had on the young men had a profound effect on Scallon and the other therapists.

"There was not a dry eye among us," she recalled.

This past fall Scallon discovered a program at the University of Guelph that could use both her belief in EFT and her passion for outreach in the Sunshine Coast community. Leadership through equine assisted discovery (LEAD) is the first university accredited equine-assisted personal development program in Canada. Based on treating both the horse and the person with respect, Scallon said, the program proved to be a gentle but powerful way to increase life skills through hands-on learning.

"Because of the underdeveloped trust and attachment, EFT is especially successful with youth and people in recovery from addiction. With people who have experienced abuse and who are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, EFT offers a non-threatening way to move through the trauma into a stronger place of well-being," Scallon stated.

In addition to the therapeutic applications for equine facilitated learning in its form of EFT, the learning can also be used for business training.

"In the corporate world where leadership is important, as it is in parenting, [equine facilitated learning] is a fun way to look at styles of communication and problem-solving skills in a team-building context," she said.

The main point to note in EFT is that the horse is treated as an equal with the person. The therapy, which takes place on Chapman's property in an outdoor arena, consists of Scallon working with the individual as a therapist while Chapman occupies a place off to the side affording the other pair the utmost privacy. Chapman is there to ensure safety for the wellbeing of all participants. Actual forms the EFT takes will vary with each person.

"This is a sacred area, nothing is shared that happens here," Scallon emphasized.

If you or someone you know could benefit from this therapy, contact Scallon at [email protected] or 604-885-6777 for more information; or email Chapman at [email protected] or call 604-885-8980.