More and more Americans have begun to question conventional thinking regarding how to facilitate the healing process, both physical and psychological. It seems that we are presented with a new medication every day, only to find unpleasant, long-term side effects a few years later. And what do we hear about all the drugs people have taken that are later obsolete? “Oops”?
Thus, many of us are investigating alternative, non-drug tactics to facilitate and aid the conventional approach to treating disease. Rachael and Ted Gilmour, proprietors of Equine Escape in Goodrich, have found such an outside-the-box approach in the form of an old practice, hippotherapy, also known as equine therapy, which is finding new applications, benefiting veterans and at-risk youth.
The basic idea is straightforward enough: to help troubled people find personal insights through interacting with horses and thereby accelerate the healing process. But this is more than just a feel-good, ancillary treatment. Anecdotal evidence indicates that this kind of therapy can be very useful for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as a broad range of childhood learning disabilities. The horse provides a physically powerful presence, both intelligent and nonjudgmental, imbuing the client with a positive psychological environment.
The U.S. military participated in a recent study that indicated a broad range of positive results through the application of equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) to PTSD survivors. Horses can help heal because they respond without judgment. As large, highly intelligent animals, they react with no preconceptions and instead respond to the individual in that moment, despite the fact that they are far stronger than the rider. This has aided veterans in developing psychological balance in their own lives.
What makes Equine Escape of particular value is that both Rachael and Ted have bolstered this commonsense notion with some rigorous background training coupled with a “been there” mentality. Ted and Rachael themselves have undergone some serious life obstacles and discovered, in the love of horses, paths toward their own healing.
They are both enthusiastic and transparent about their own health issues and how this therapy has helped them personally. As Rachael puts it, when she employed equine therapy during the chemotherapy process, “They did not care if my hair was falling out, if I was still in my pajamas when I went into the barn, they accepted me for who I am. I got stronger and started giving some lessons and coaching our equestrian team.”
In April of 2017, Ted, who is also Equine Escape’s founder, received his certification in equine-assisted learning (EAL) and EAP so that he could facilitate the veterans program at Equine Escape. He has gotten the Welcome Home veterans program up and running. This program can also be used to help any first responders deal with PTSD and psychological issues that stem from their hectic and stressful occupations.
Rachael is a powerhouse of credentials, with over 30 years of experience working with horses. In 1992 she graduated from the horse management and science program at Michigan State University. She continued her education, receiving a Bachelor of Science in animal science, an MBA in leadership studies, and a veterinary technology degree. She is also the former director of the veterinary technology program at Baker College. Most recently, she received her EAL/EAP certification from Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association founder Greg Kersten of the O.K. Corral Series in December of 2016.
Rachael and Ted are assisted by Shelbie Edgett, who became certified in EAL and EAP in April of 2018 through Kersten’s O.K. Corral Series. She is experienced with horses and was a member and coach of the Goodrich High School equestrian team after showing and competing as a youth.
At the heart of Equine Escape’s program are the principles of EAP outlined by Kersten, in which he models the individual’s experience in terms of four primal experiential structures: Pressure/ Pain, Pressure/At-Ease, Push/Pull, and Recircling in the face of uncertainty. Through equine interaction, clients learn to see how an emotionally healthy animal works with these internal conflicts and, ultimately, to gain insight into their own psychological learning process. Through experiential learning, the client learns to see the extent to which their own primal responses are out of balance.
However, the theory comes alive only through practice, and Rachael’s enthusiasm for and commitment to her work radiates from her conversations about her clients. The positive results EAP has had are genuine and unique. When she describes the joy of a child who has been bullied mercilessly when she is around the horses, or the relief and radiance of a PTSD vet who finally overcomes his own scars when he gets on a horse, that is when the value of this kind of work is revealed.
EQUINE ESCAPE IS LOCATED ON 5880 BRIGHAM ROAD, GOODRICH,
AND CAN BE CONTACTED AT [email protected] OR 810-287-0519.