By Michael Piasetzki
Humans’ deeply rooted relationship with horses has been long and historical, one that has evolved over time both here in North America and other parts of the world.
Through the centuries, our relationship with these graceful yet gentle creatures has included transportation, work, military service, social status, sport, not to mention just riding for pleasure.
But in modern times, one of the key components in our association with them has simply been communication through companionship.
Out of this novel form of communication has risen an entirely new man/horse relationship called Equine Assisted Learning. In a nutshell, it is the non-verbal communication between humans of all ages and horses, a communication that can lead to better leadership skills, self-improvement and psychological healing for people of all ages, including children. As well, equine assisted learning has shown great success in working with and helping people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
“The horse will actually choose the human he or she wants to work with,” said Tamara Cinnamon, a certified equine assisted learning instructor who offers sessions for individuals and groups on the 350-acre Mica Mountain Ranch she and her husband Ken operate. It’s situated near the headwaters of the Fraser River, approximately 20 minutes north of Valemount. They have designated the equine-assisted instruction that is offered at the Mica Mountain Ranch the “Cimarron Way,” derived from the Spanish word Cimarrón meaning wild or untamed. The idea being that if clients peel off all their layers to find the “wild and untamed” part inside their hearts they will discover who they really are.
“You see, horses are prey animals, a category of animals that are hunted or eaten,” added Cinnamon. “There’s a scientific reason why we work with them. Horses are also herd animals. They live in the present. Their survival comes from their five senses and being completely present as to what’s going on. Because of that everything they do has a reason for it.”
Cinnamon said her role as a facilitator is to watch for those non-verbal cues.
“I’m looking to see why a horse is feeling agitated around a client,” she added. “Why is a horse even looking at a client? Why is a horse licking and chewing while seeming to be very happy? All of those things are mirroring what’s going on in the human, because the horse’s heart actually couples with the human heart.”
Cinnamon, who grew up in Valemount, said she’ll stand 40 feet away and watch the horse’s reaction as a new client enters their herd.
“If the person is telling us one thing and the horse is acting the opposite we can then have a conversation and start the healing process,” she said. “If the horse is putting his or her butt in your face or pushing you we know something is wrong. The client will often come to the realization it’s because he or she is not being honest or is scared about talking about an issue in their life. The horse will keep mirroring until the person”s mind will get to where it’s at.”
Cinnamon said every kind of horse breed, including ponies, will work in equine therapy except those that have been abused to the point where they’ve shut down.
“Every horse has a history,” she said. “Yet each horse will choose a client that mirrors their own heart.”
One of those clients who has connected with one of Cinnamon’s horses is a seven-year-old Valemount resident who has been diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. He has been under the equine therapy program for over a year.
“It’s been very successful for him,” said Valemount resident Lana MacNaughton, his grandmother and legal guardian. “He was very angry and aggressive before starting the program. He was lashing out. Now he’s much less aggressive and angry and is coping with life so much better. Nobody else was able to reach him but Tamara and her horse. We were trying other kinds of treatments with him and nothing seemed to be working. To be honest, Tamara and the equine therapy program has been a Godsend for him. He looks forward to it every week.”
She said she got funding to pay for part of the treatments, which are costly.
Some clients who find their way to Cimarron Way have been referred by the Robson Valley Community Services in Valemount.
“We try to make sure that whatever care plan we have for our clients in one setting can follow them to all other settings,” said Isla Jackman of the Robson Valley Community Services. “So it’s a matter of coordination. We make sure Tamara is satisfactorily informed about the mutual clients referred to her and then she gets to work her magic. We help support that transitional piece.”
Jackman’s involvement with Cimarron Way goes beyond the workplace, though. She has actually experienced equine assisted learning on a personal level.
“Other employees from community services along with myself were able to actually visit the ranch and work on leadership skills with the horses,” she said. “It’s really difficult to put words to understand the power of these horses,” she said. “You breathe on a different level when you’re that free and calm. It takes your armour down.”
It’s a sense of freedom Cinnamon offers 12 months a year.
“The main thing I always stress is I’m not a therapist,” Cinnamon said. “But our horses provide wonderful therapy.”
If you’d like more information on Equine Assisted Learning and the different programs offered at Cimarron Way go to www.cimarronway.com.