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Not Just Horsing Around
Horses were once our primary mode of transportation but now they're being used to heal. Read on as we take a look at the therapy behind Wild Horse Redemption.Read More
Not Just Horsing Around
The next time you’re out for a walk, take a look around. I mean, really look around.
Much of civilization and what we have today is due in part to our relationship with horses. Economy and infrastructure are largely dependent upon transportation and for thousands of years horses were used for that very purpose. The animals have played an invaluable role in shaping the world around us and while the use of horses has been largely sidelined by machines, they’re finding a new role in making the world a better place; through therapy.
The Wild Horse Redemption is a documentary by local filmmaker John Zaritsky looking at the use of horses in rehabilitating Colorado inmates. In the film, convicted drug dealers, thieves and other offenders are offered an unconventional form of rehabilitation as they attempt to tame wild mustangs from the Colorado wilderness.
The goal of the program is two-fold – the horses are tamed and eventually taken on by local police forces, and the inmates themselves learn patience, understanding and a greater appreciation for life in their dealings with the animals.
Many of the inmates have no experience with horses and the film captures the emotional journey of both the inmates and the horses as they learn from one another.
Here in British Columbia, the use of horses for therapeutic purposes is nothing new. While there are no provincial restorative justice programs featuring horses, there are various programs aimed at helping those with physical and mental disabilities as well as those struggling to overcome difficult social backgrounds.
One such organization is Langley’s Pacific Riding for Developing Abilities (PRDA), which has been offering therapeutic horse programs since 1973.
Founded to provide “physical, psychological, social and recreational benefits to children and adults,” alike, PRDA is the largest horse therapy organization in BC. While some programs focus on the act of riding in order to aid those with physical disabilities, others explore socialization, communication and personal skills similar to that of the inmates in The Wild Horse Redemption.
“Why this is so useful, for the inmates in Colorado and everyone else, is that horses basically mimic you – they mirror what you’re thinking and feeling and how they react is directly in relation to how you’re acting and feeling,” explained PRDA executive director Michelle Ingall. “So the horse will absolutely tell them what they need and what they can’t do and people can learn about their communication style, their skills and what they need to work on.
“For example, if the inmates come on too strong and think they’re powerful and need to dominate the horse there’s no way that’s going to happen, so you have to take a more respectful, open-minded approach and let the horse into your vulnerable areas. Horses can tell when you’re being honest and it’s amazing to watch.”
While PRDA does not have an inmate program, it does interact with the justice system in other ways.
According to Ingall, PRDA sometimes takes on probationary offenders looking to serve their community hours by performing maintenance roles at the site.
“We run criminal record checks and are very picky about which ones we do have here,” she explained. “They work when we don’t have classes going.”
And just like The Wild Horse Redemption, Ingall has seen firsthand the effect horses can have with those coming from a troubled past.
“(Those on probation) might not necessarily be here willingly, but we have had a few that have continued to come back and volunteer in some capacity because of the horses. They’ll be in with the horses doing this or that and the horses will come up as if asking, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ For some of these big tough guys it’s humbling to have this horse walk up and nudge them, it’s really cool.”