Vernon-based counsellor Wendy Elrick runs The Equine Connection and finds that her clients benefit when horses are used in therapy sessions.

Vernon-based counsellor Wendy Elrick runs The Equine Connection and finds that her clients benefit when horses are used in therapy sessions.

Horses help make the ‘Connection’

Wendy Elrick and her six horses offer a different kind of therapy

Alana Cheyne

Special to The Morning Star

We’ve all heard of “horse whisperers,” people who have an uncanny ability to connect and communicate with horses. But can horses whisper back?

According to Wendy Elrick, they can. As a certified counsellor and founder of The Equine Connection, Elrick includes horses in her therapy sessions because of their ability to help clients increase their self-awareness and reconnect with themselves. On her eight-acre rural property in Vernon, clients experience a hands-on form of counselling, where a typical exercise might involve directing a horse over a hurdle in order to learn leadership and personal power.

Elrick, a longtime horse-lover, discovered equine-assisted therapy several years ago while attending an open house for a new riding stable and finding a handout on the subject.

“I was immediately excited that I could combine my two passions: horses and self-development,” she said.

And so began her mission to help people alongside horses, whom she calls her “associates” or “co-counsellors.”

Client Shauna Paynter learned to acknowledge and accept her anger. During a counselling session, Elrick invited her to use one of the horses, Bandit, as a metaphor for her anger, and to nurture the emotion rather than repress it.

“I decided to mount Bandit bareback,” Paynter said. “Once upon him, I laid down on him and embraced him. The warmth that I felt, our hearts, our breath, our connection seemed so raw, palpable and charged with energy. My whole body experienced a release.”

Another client, a young boy, was being bullied at school. After teaching him some coping skills, Elrick decided to enhance the message in the ring. While the horses roamed loose, Elrick began to role-play, assuming the role of the bully. Soon after, one of the horses stepped between them like a shield.

“The boy expressed a sense of being protected and was able to use his imagination when at school,” said Elrick. “He would imagine the horse beside him, supporting him when he had to deal with the bully.”

Elrick is particularly proud of her work with the Vernon Women’s Transition House, a society helping women and children recover from domestic violence. Elrick’s Healing through Horses program offers two 10-week trauma recovery programs for women, addressing everything from coping skills to assertiveness and helping set the foundation for happier futures.

“They are available to any women in the community focusing on trauma recovery,” Elrick said, adding that when funds are available, children’s groups are offered as well.

Healing through Horses operates entirely through donations from sponsors such as Daryl and Karin O’Brian of The Paddock, The Horsey Ladies Banquet, Nature’s Fare, Arise Chiropractic, and generous private donors.

Counsellor Deon Soukeroff was working with the Transition House when she met Elrick and saw first-hand how Healing through Horses helped the victimized women.

“I was in awe at how quickly these women therapeutically were able to move through their trauma,” she said.

She soon began attending workshops for her own benefit.

“Just being on Wendy’s property and in the presence of other women and these amazing horses, I was able to connect with myself in a way that I

hadn’t before,” said Soukeroff.

Those with little horse experience need not worry — most of the exercises take place on the ground, the horses are well-trained, and facilitators are nearby to ensure comfort and security.

“Every person who has come here scared leaves having groomed and touched a horse,” Elrick said. “This is because the horses are gentle and the people are taught to respect their feelings.”

She added that her six horses love what they do. They are all getting older, and some have health issues, so they are grateful to have a job instead of the alternative — being put down.

“Without intending to, this program has also become a semi-horse-rescue operation,” said Elrick.

Aside from Healing through Horses, Elrick offers a variety of equine-related services, such as team-building workshops for businesses and one-on-one counselling. She also provides traditional counselling.

For more information, visit her website at www.wendyelrick.com.