Authors: Catherine Madera
For the young women I met while working at the Whatcom County
Pregnancy Clinic: I have forgotten most of your names, but your stories
changed me forever.
Last, but never least, to my family: My husband, Mark, who inspires
the good traits in every male character I create and loves me despite the inconvenience of a writing wife, and my children Nicholas and Haley. Being your mother renovated my life and heart in beautiful ways. I love you all.
Note to Readers
While this is a work of fiction, the character of Rain and certain plot details were inspired by a true story. In the fall of 2009, an Arabian gelding was taken into the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, shot twice in the head, and left for dead. There is no medical explanation for his survival. Like Rain, he has a special ability to minister to those who are hurting. To learn more about a horse named Hero please visit Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch: www.cpyr.org.
Hero with Crystal Peaks co-founder Kim Meeder.
Photo courtesy of Emily Green: http://www.shadesofgreenphotography.
…God has chosen the weak things of the world
to put to shame the things which are mighty,
the insignificant things …
the things which are despised God has chosen.
1 Corinthians 1:27-28
Rain in Real Life: Treating Trauma with Horses
Insight into the growing field of Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy from author and licensed mental health counselor Leigh Shambo.
How do therapists define and categorize trauma?
As a mental health therapist I am trained to help people recover from the emotional aspects of trauma. Trauma begins with an event in which
the person experienced or witnessed actual or threatened death or serious
injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others. The response to trauma is very subjective. For instance, a parent’s highly emotional outburst may be emotionally traumatic to a child, although it did not involve a real threat of physical harm. In some cases trauma is repetitive, such as abuse that occurs over a number of years. This is more serious than a one-time episode, especially when this prolonged trauma occurs during developmental periods such as early childhood or puberty. Therapists who specialize in trauma recognize many factors: the severity of the experience, whether it was a single episode or prolonged, the age at which it occurred, the nature of the events and reactions of other people who were involved. One of the most important factors has to do with trauma resilience—has the person had a chance to develop the healthy coping strategies and strong relationships that help us recover more easily from life’s traumatic experiences?
What is the difference between Acute Stress Reaction and
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Trauma affects people differently. It is expected that a truly traumatic
experience will have lingering effects. These may involve flashbacks, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, emotional numbing or avoidance of any reminders of the trauma. These effects should diminish over time; typically they should diminish over a period of 3 months or so. During this time a person is said to be experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress or Acute Stress Reaction. It is when the effects of traumatic stress do not
diminish naturally, leaving the person unable to resume their previ
ous state of normal functioning, that the person is said to have Post-Traumatic Stres
. Traumatic experiences do not always
lead to PTSD;
many people recover quite quickly due to strong resilience factors—productive
ways of coping including the healthy expression of emotions
and strong social support from family and friends.
Post-traumatic stress disorder generally does not resolve on its own, with quite serious symptoms including flashbacks, nightmares and sleep disturbances, mood and anxiety symptoms which may go on for
years, significantly interfering with life functioning and negatively impacting
the person’s family and professional relationships. This is where professional help from a therapist is indicated.
Reactions similar to PTSD may be caused by conditions that resemble trauma. The effects of a hostile divorce, chronic family dysfunction such as toxic anger, addictions, or emotional abuse in the family can impact one’s ability to thrive as well. If you feel that you are stuck in unhealthy patterns that have their origin in an experience that is past, a mental health therapist may be able to help you.
What sorts of situations benefit from EFP?
EFP—Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy—is a targeted intervention applied by a trained psychotherapist. Carefully designed exercises with
horses allow for emotional growth and learning in participants. The focus
of EFP/L programs is not recreational riding, but the moment-to-moment opportunities to practice self-awareness, emotional honesty, and constructive relationship skills. The abilities developed translate
readily to human relationships and environments. EFP/L can be especially
effective for participants who have difficulty engaging in traditional office
therapy. Office therapy is often more cognitively or thinking based, while EFP is more feeling and experience based. In this type of therapy, horses are employed to help people resolve the symptoms of post-traumatic stress or post-traumatic stress disorder. This involves helping the person process the traumatic incident and understand how and why it continues to impact life in the here and now. The person often has to build new, more appropriate responses instead of relying on the “survival reactions” that may have carried the person through the traumatic episode or time.
In a nutshell, what do horses bring to the process of trauma recovery?
Horses possess keen intuition regarding human emotional states and are exceedingly responsive to the level of self-awareness and emotional congruence of people. Their imposing size and tremendous strength require respect, attention to safety and a great deal of sensitivity. Once
a good relationship is established with a horse, the interactions are exhilarating
and liberating—engaging the mind, body and spirit in ways that are profoundly transformative.
Horses display unparalleled sensitivity to non-verbal communicationand behavioral consistency. They display confusion in the face of incongruities
in thought, feeling and behavior, and they are incapable
of masking emotion or lying, making them powerful therapeutic mirrors.As the person sorts out feelings and learns to express them appropriately
the horse responds with cooperation and generosity, providing immediate reinforcement for positive changes in affect, cognition and behavior.
has her Masters in social work and maintains a private
practice counseling both children and adults at her ranch, Human
Equine Alliances for Learning (HEAL). She is the first person to formally
study the long term results of using horses to treat those suffering
from PTSD and currently teaches on this topic in the United States
She lives in Washington State with her husband, David Young, and a small herd of horses. To learn more about this work and
Leigh’s book on the subject, please visit: www.humanequinealliance.org.
writes and rides in the Pacific Northwest where she lives with her family and a trio of horses. She is the author o
editor of th
Northwest Horse Sourc
and the recipient
of the Merial Human-Animal Bond award, given by American Horse Publications for
“A Hero’s Work,” the true story behin
To read the story and for more information, visit: www.catherinemadera.com.