Wendy Elrick. (Photo contributed)

Wendy Elrick. (Photo contributed)

Healing through horses at Equine Connection in Vernon

The Healing Healers retreat takes place next month at the Equine Connection in Vernon.

Wendy Elrick had been a councillor for more than 10 years when she learned about equine therapy, which she says is the perfect opportunity to combine her two passions: human behaviour and horses.

Now, 14 years later, she still practices traditional therapy but said her real passion is healing through horses at The Equine Connection.

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Equine-assisted therapy encompasses a range of treatments that involve activities with horses to promote human physical and mental health.

“It’s a really nice balance between understanding trauma and self-discovery so it’s always impactful,” said Elrick. “Until you actually experience it, it sounds a bit weird but basically its based on the fact that horses are very sensitive to energy and unlike when you’re riding, they’re often loose and they have a voice.”

She said she got quite lucky when the program began because, at the time, she worked at the Family Resource Centre in Vernon and, looking for funding, wrote a proposal. It was soon signed off on and her core program Healing with Horses began. Eventually, she bought her own property and quickly began accumulating horses.

“It was really weird how easy it was to acquire horses because people tend to put them down when their legs go.”

She explained that because of the nature of the therapy — riding isn’t a part of the therapeutic curriculum — she takes in horses that can no longer be ridden. She said that this actually helps create ideal conditions for this type of therapy.

“Because most of the horses are elderly, they’ve seen and done it for a long time so they’re pretty quiet and they’re non-judgmental. This is very non-threatening work because you don’t have some human giving their opinion and there’s no textbook so you can’t be wrong,” she said. “It’s truly a very intimate experience between a person and a horse. It’s a very safe, non-judgmental, nourishing way to do some self-development work.”

She noted it’s much different than traditional therapy because of the nature of the work — literally. It takes place outdoors, meaning some external factors will be out of the therapist’s control.

“It’s a very different setting than sitting in a room with closed doors. Interestingly, metaphorically what’s happening around us with the weather and the animals are very much a reflection of what’s going on in the group and the energy of the group.”

She said that while some are skeptics going in, this often quickly changes after learning a horses story it becomes clear why certain individuals are attracted to certain horses.

“Take Vienna [horse] for example,” she said. “She tends to attract women who have lost children.”

Wanting to know why that was, Elrick did some digging.

She said that when she acquired the horse, Vienna was a natural leader but hardened, very stand-offish and reserved. It wasn’t until a younger horse joined the herd that she began softening, taking it under her wing. Unfortunately, the baby had a disease that caused her ligaments to deteriorate and, without a treatment option, it eventually had to be put down. Vienna was noticeably bothered — which, she notes, is uncharacteristic behaviour in horses.

Hypothesizing that Vienna had likely lost a foal, Elrick asked a vet to do an internal exam. The results came back: Vienna had carried a baby to about nine months before she lost it — the gestation period is 11 months for horses. Sustaining injuries to her sexual organs, she would unable to conceive again.

“So for me, that’s when I realized that it was real and I wasn’t imagining it. So of course, women who lost babies or children seem to be very attracted to her without knowing her story.”

She said one of the biggest advantages of equine therapy is you increase your body awareness. Similar to meditation, it forces the individual to look inward and reflect.

And although Elrick continues to practice traditional therapy, she holds equine-therapy sessions frequently. Spring and fall group meetings are offered about three times a week, depending on interest. One-on-one therapy sessions are also available for those interested.

Though Elrick also hosts a group therapy session for veterans every two months, the hallmark program is still Healing with Horses and focuses on trauma recovery. For the last 10 years, this program has been held by the Vernon Women’s transition house. In the past, Canadian Mental Health has funded some programs through donations.

“We have some very generous people in the community who donate and the transition households the money and then I work for a reduced rate and that’s how we run that program.”

Her next event takes place next month with a focus on healing healers. Elrick said the term “healers” is a broad topic but in all-encompassing.

“A healer could be a teacher, it could be a nurse — it could be anyone who considers themselves a part of the healing community so is basically anyone working with people in some fashion,” she said. “Because there’s a lot of burnout in the healing profession, it’s easy to give and give and never look at yourself. This is an opportunity to take some time to take care of yourself.”

The retreat runs from Oct. 12-14 at The Equine Connection in Vernon. For those interested, the deadline to register is Monday, Oct. 1. To register visit https://equinecoaching.ca/healers-weekend-retreat-october-14-15-2017/ or call 778-475-6077.

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Healing through horses at Equine Connection in Vernon