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Healing with horses

From the Trojan Horse to The Horse Whisperer, our equine friends have figured in a lot of stories, legends and myths over the centuries.

Now, because of their big hearts and winning personalities, horses are being used as vehicles for new and emerging forms of therapy.

That's the gist of "Riding Into Your Mythic Life," a just-released book by Ashland trainer Trish Broersma, who is planning a center in the Rogue Valley based on her novel approach to emotional healing and personal growth, with horses as co-therapists.

Broersma, who is president of the Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association, based in Denver, knows it sounds strange that a non-verbal animal can understand and help humans, but that's how it works.

"Because of their instinctual nature and exquisite sensitivities, horses can help us become better communicators, experience awe and wonder and — from their roles in our lore and myth — give us access to our own personal mythic tales," says Broersma as she trots her horse, Mystic Moon, a seven-year-old Anglo-Arab, around a pen on East Evans Creek Road near Rogue River.

Horse therapy revolves around a person's personal myth and story, something that tends to suffer from "our preoccupation with the day-to-day struggle to make a better living," says Broersma. "We lose track of our deeper calling, what we're really here for — and working with horses gives you a chance to get hold of your deeper story."

What it looks like in practice is this: the horse, as a member of the therapeutic team, helps create breakthroughs as you explore, through story and myth, how ancient stories can be seen playing themselves out, unrecognized, in your daily life, she says.

"I saw it happen all the time with children and teens, some of whom have post-traumatic stress disorder or were in trouble with the law for drugs or were runaways from dysfunctional homes," Broersma says.

"With horses they didn't have authority issues. Working with horses was relevant to them. It became an aspect, not of a troubled life, but of an exciting hero's journey."

Broersma was director and head instructor at Hope Equestrian Center, working there for nine years. She often speaks on the subject, does weekend workshops, and hopes to establish a program in the valley based on her book.

A large portion of her clients are women in mid-life crises who remember horses from their youth as part of a "connection to a core passion, calling them to get back in touch with their heart's desire," she notes.

Therapeutic riding is being used to address a wide range of human problems, Broersma says. People in wheelchairs, for instance, have learned to walk, she says, because the complex motion of the horse stimulates nerves and muscles in the rhythmic pattern necessary for walking. Therapeutic riding has been used to intervene with teens who have committed homicides, as well as for corporate groups needing to develop teamwork and leadership skills, she says.

However, the cutting edge of therapeutic riding, she adds, is offering normal, successful people a path out of the stresses, overwork and demands for affluence of daily American lives.

"A sense of desperation quietly tightens its firm grip on their health and their lives," she says. "They know there is something is wrong, but they do not know what to do about it. The story out of which they live their lives has become outmoded. Knowing they were called to some adventure long ago — and lost their way — they are stuck in the cultural trance of our times."

Along with personal healing and growth, riding helps the planet have a "viable future" by creating human relationships with the animal world, she notes.

Broersma's book, "Riding Into Your Mythic Life" is published by New World Library, Novato, Calif, $23.95. She can be reached at 482-6210.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Horse trainer Trish Broersma, author of “Riding Into Your Mythic Life,” works with Mystic Moon inside a round pen on East Evans Creek Road near Rogue River. - Jamie Lusch