EQUINE INSIGHT: HORSES HELP HEAL
Kimberly Clarke sure thinks so—she uses horses as healing and therapy tools. “I don’t profess to be a therapist,” Clarke said. “Here we do healing work and experiential learning.” Clarke’s post-graduate work focused on wellness, stress management and training and development programs. After learning and experimenting with out-of-the-box strategies, Clarke started Life Management, Inc. and a Wellness Center in Charlotte, which later developed into the Farm’s Healing With Horses program.
HOCHOKA (formerly Avalon Farm) aims to improve the health of a person or family unit with experiential learning. Participants learn to communicate, respect feelings, emotion and positivity with their horse and take on farm chores in order to care for the horse. Healing, just like the program itself, is specific to each individual and can take the form of physical, behavioral, mental, spiritual and emotional. Clarke also works with genetic healing, which focuses on healing traumatic events or feelings in someone’s family history.
While working with the horses, the process is about losing control, connecting with the environment and learning from the animal to allow it to be used as a conduit of healing from God, Clarke said. “It’s a different kind of work – very out-of-the-box,” she said. “A lot of people don’t understand it, and I don’t understand it a lot either, because the mind can get in the way.” Healing with Horses welcomes all ages, all behaviors and all life challenges to come bond with the animals. “Horses have insight that humans don’t have,” Clarke said.
For children who participate in the weekly camps, Clarke takes away their “tech toys” for the week so they can more fully experience the setting and focus on growth. The Farm not only helps participants of the Healing with Horses program but also helps the animals and other charities as well. All the animals on the farm are rescue animals: horses, dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, pigs and goats. The farm gives the animals a home while capitalizing on the benefits program participants can gain while working with them. Church groups and other volunteers come to help out on the farm with service projects as well.
When your child is born, you have a set of preconceived notions. Whether you intend to or not, you project onto your new baby all of the things you want for him in life. He will not be a picky eater. He will have excellent manners. He will be athletic. You feel these accomplishments indicate your ability to parent, are a measure of your parenting skills.
Then your child grows and becomes the person they are intended to be. They have thoughts, feelings and emotions that may not always fit in line with what you imagined. Even well intentioned people can be left struggling, trying to fill the void between their preconceptions and reality.
In 2011 my child was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. It was at once a relief and a frustration. Therapist after therapist and doctor after doctor each gave me tiny pieces to the puzzle that is parenting a child with Autism, but a huge gap remained.
When I met Kimberly Clarke at the farm the puzzle suddenly clicked into place. It was the first place that I ever felt my son was accepted entirely for who he is. His quirks and idiosyncrasies were not foreign at the farm, they were accepted. He was immediately at peace with the horses and animals and open fields, and Kimberly was there to guide him through every encounter. The farm gave him confidence and freedom and affirmed his importance to society and the universe.
At the farm, he learned hard skills, such as feeding the animals and planting a garden. He also gained soft skills, such as being present in the moment without being anxious about the future, and how to keep your personal energy low when meeting a new animal or a person. Even better are the parenting lessons. I learned how to require adherence to social norms and not give in to tantrums. I stopped feeling anxious about the awkwardness that is Asperger’s and allowed my child to just be a kid.
The Farm is a unique and beautiful place. It must be experienced firsthand to be understood fully. The healing effect of the property has a long lasting reach that will endear it forever in my heart and soul. I will never be able to repay what Kimberly and the farm have both done for our family. I know that given the chance, the farm will have that same effect on many families to come.