As a grief group facilitator, I strive to be creative within my sessions to help the bereaved understand their grief using tools such as music, painting, card-making, game-playing and comedy.
So when a counseling service in our area started providing equine therapy, including grief therapy, I was interested.
Equine therapy helps those who are grieving rebuild trust, awaken opportunity, and balance emotions. Change occurs as the horse becomes the therapeutic emotional exchange.
Working alongside a horse, in spite of our fears, creates confidence and provides wonderful insight when dealing with other intimidating and challenging situations in life. The horse was the magic piece that became the “change agent.”
Compassus of Casa Grande, Arizona collaborated with the counseling service to offer equine therapy workshops for members of its four Grief Journey Support Groups. The one-day Saturday workshops were provided free of charge to all participants by the Hospice Charitable Fund of Central Arizona.
Equine therapy was an extraordinary thing for me, as the grief group facilitator, to watch, particularly because I know the background, the loss and the grief stories of each participant.
And though they have shared their unique grief stories within my groups verbally and emotionally, many of the activities with the horses and equine specialist did not involve verbal expressions. Rather, it was a soul-searching, deeply personal experience between their internal thoughts and interactions with the horse.
I was moved as the participants and the horses built rapport with one another and their comfort level and mutual respect grew. Many of the participants’ behaviors illustrated their current stage within the grief process. For example, those who struggled in the arena were also struggling to be honest with themselves about where they were in their own grief journey.
I observed the horses nudging certain participants, pulling them along, or simply standing still together. I can’t explain how the horse “knew” anything about how that particular participant was handling their grief but it’s as if they did, and it was amazing to watch.
Participants from each of the workshops acknowledged healing and growth when reflecting on their sessions. One woke up the next day with calmness and clarity, while another called it, “an eye-opener.”
Equine therapy was a definite success for our grief support group members. The pairing of the bereaved and horses together started or rebooted the progress of healing without it feeling like therapy.