Horses as healers: Why a local ranch is offering Equine Assisted Learning
REGINA -- Journey isn’t your typical workhorse.
Instead of spending her time in the fields, she puts in her hours in the arena.
Journey is part of Double T Ranch's Equine Assisted Learning program — offering help to people recovering from addictions, trauma, or anyone wanting to get to know themselves a little bit better.
Horses and recovery
Tanya and Todd McNeice, co-owners of Double T Ranch, started using horses as healers to help with their own addictions. Todd has been in recovery for 18 years, and Tanya for six years.
"Part of our recovery is to give back and help others find their best selves," Tanya said. "There's no better teacher than (horses) to do that.
"(It's) bringing in our passion of both horses and helping others."
Both Tanya and Todd are certified members of the Equine Assisted Learning Network. The ranch offers one-day, two-day and weekly programming, along with customized sessions for the couple's community partners, including the Regina Sexual Assault Centre. They're also in contact with Ranch Ehrlo and social services. The curriculum was developed with the help of psychologists at the Universities of Saskatchewan, Calgary and Regina.
'I felt lost'
Randi Belliveau enrolled in a weekend program because she wanted to find herself.
"I came here because I felt lost," she explained while working with Journey in Double T Ranch's indoor arena.
Looking back on the retreat, she says the experience helped her better understand her feelings.
"We were able to just really work together and release a lot of emotions that I'd been holding," Belliveau explained. "Through talking with (the horses), I've come to a lot of realizations about myself, which maybe if I would have learned from another person, I probably wouldn’t have been able to embrace the way I did here."
Horses choose their people
Tanya and Todd say it's up to each horse to decide who they want to work with.
The horses are the therapists and the McNeices are just there to act as facilitators.
Todd says when the sessions begin, the horses and clients head into the arena and pair up from there.
"We don’t choose the horse for them," he said. "The horses choose them."
Relationship building from the ground up
All the courses offered at Double T Ranch show people how to work with horses on the ground.
"Anybody who needs a little bit of help can get support from the horses," Tanya said.
Clients learn to read their horse's body language, and in turn learn to read what their horse is telling them, while working through obstacles in the arena.
"The horses will speak to them," Tanya said. "It sounds kind of crazy, but we help them interpret what the horse is saying. Our energy reflects through the horse."
Some people are quiet, while others are constantly speaking to their equine partners. The animals are very in tune to the people working with them, Tanya says.
"If you're stressed, that horse is going to show it in a very big way," she said.
Breaking down barriers
Tanya and Todd hope all of their clients can bond with their horses and find what they're looking for.
"This is a different way of doing things," Todd said. "People seem to open up a lot more."
Belliveau says she gained self-acceptance from her weekend at the ranch.
"The horses, they can see through your barriers, through your masks," she said. "They just take it all away, you don’t have to hide, you can just be your true self."