I drove to this rural outstate Minnesota town near Mora last week to see a man about a horse. But I also went to see the horse about this man.The article goes on to discuss Changing Gaits, a "faith-based organization dedicated to teaching, guiding, and encouraging positive attitudes and behaviors by using the powerful, therapeutic approach to substance abuse through the healing bond with horses." It is part of a network of many equine therapy programs represented by The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGLA), dedicated to improving the mental health of individuals, families, and groups around the world by setting the standard of excellence in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.
The man's name is Nile "Guy" Kaufman. The horse's name is Shadow. Me and my shadow. It fits. These two are bonded for life.
Shadow helped rescue Kaufman when the 48-year-old St. Paul native and divorced father of two was struggling mightily to overcome an alcohol dependency that had led to two suicide attempts.
Kaufman returned the favor several years later when most veterinarians recommended the strikingly beautiful Arabian horse be put down after a freak accident at a stable.
Both man and beast are still kicking. Call them miracles, if you like. But this story is not all about them.
It's also about how these two reclamation projects are trying to similarly rescue and pump hope into other bruised, scarred survivors of the two- and four-legged variety.
EAGLA's website explains the concept and purpose of "Equine Assisted Psychotherapy" and answers the question "Why horses? " as follows:
Horses are large and powerful, which creates a natural opportunity for some to overcome fear and develop confidence. The size and power of the horse are naturally intimidating to many people. Accomplishing a task involving the horse, in spite of those fears, creates confidence and provides for wonderful metaphors when dealing with other intimidating and challenging situations in life. Horses are very much like humans in that they are social animals. They have defined roles within their herds. They would rather be with their peers. They have distinct personalities, attitudes, and moods. An approach that seems to work with one horse, does not necessarily work with another. At times, they seem stubborn and defiant. They like to have fun. In other words, horses provide vast opportunities for metaphorical learning. Using metaphors, in discussion or activity, is an effective technique when working with even the most challenging individuals or groups. Horses require work, whether in caring for them or working with them. In an era when immediate gratification and the "easy way" are the norm, horses require people to be engaged in physical and mental work to be successful, a valuable characteristic in all aspects of life. Most importantly, horses have the ability to mirror exactly what human body language is telling them. Many people will complain, "The horse is stubborn. The horse doesn’t like me," etc. But the lesson to be learned is that if they change themselves, the horses respond differently. Horses are honest, which makes them especially powerful messengers.But does it really work? Back to Ruben Rosario's article on Changing Gaits -
At a minimum, this evidences the special connection that exists between people and horses. How the law should apply to regulate that connection, particularly when not everyone has experienced or even acknowledges it, is but one of the interesting issues debated in animal law courses springing up at law schools around the country.
On the day I showed up, Kaufman was working with a group of young adult residents from the Community Living Options complex.
One participant is Christopher H., a 28-year-old group-home resident who was abandoned by his biological parents and sexually abused from the age of 18 months.
In addition to Shadow, Kaufman has brought into the fold other abused or neglected animals, from dogs to a quartet of horses beaten to within an inch of their lives.
One of them is Akita, a gelding that was cross-tied and beaten with a metal pipe. I ran my finger on a deep scar where the pipe dug nearly into the bone.
"This was a horse that would not allow to be touched by anyone,'' Kaufman told me before the group visit.
Akita is Christopher H.'s horse of choice, his four-legged alter ago.
"I picked her because when I was younger, I was abused myself," said the man. "I see myself in Akita. To see her major turnaround, I also see myself in a couple of months being where she is now, able to come out emotionally and be with people.''
Kara Lundis, a group-home senior counselor, said she has seen a dramatic change in resident behavior this summer.
"They had a lot of built-up frustrations," Lundis said, while the eight residents labored to find a way to manipulate Shadow between poles.