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On Saturday, June 15th, we held our 5th Annual Horse Whisperer Grief Camp. It was a day beyond words. Thank you to the many who helped make this day happen: 25 volunteers and our fantastic host White Dove Boarding Stables Ltd who provided a beautiful setting. Thanks also to Pipsqueak Paddocks for the minis, and the horse owners for the use of their much loved horses. Most importantly, thank you to the participants aged 3-17 who trusted us enough to join us. Horse Camp is not something that can be expressed in words, only experienced and it was WONDERFUL!!



Children's Grief Support Group: The group is for children ages 6-12 who have experienced a loss by death or have someone close to them dying. It relies heavily on the use of expressive arts for children to help process their losses. The group meets weekly after school for 1.5 hours and runs for 8 weeks when enrollment supports it.
Childrens Grief Support Group

Chilliwack Hospice Society's inaugural Children's Grief group ends with the healing ritual of releasing Doves in memory of their loved one.
(Photo by Kyle Gehmlich)


Teen Grief Support Group:
The group is for teens 13-19 who have experienced a loss by death or have someone close to them dying. The group meets weekly after school for 1.5 hours and runs for 8 weeks when enrollment supports it.
Teen Grief Support

Horses help to heal grief
Mike Chouinard, The Times
Published: Friday, June 19, 2009

The novel and film, The Horse Whisperer, focused on a talented horse trainer with a gift for communicating with the animals.

At a Chilliwack stable this past weekend, hospice groups were working on the same principle with their first-ever Horse Whisperer Grief Camp. Organized by Chilliwack Hospice and Langley Hospice, in conjunction with Val Jackson and Wayne Pelletier of White Dove Stables, the camp offered 30 kids the chance to communicate with these animals as part of their grieving process. Chilliwack Hospice executive director Geri McGrath said that while there are other horse camps for kids, a horse grief camp for kids in this country is a new thing.

"This is a first for hospice in Canada," she said.

She, herself, boards a horse at the stables and understands the power of a relationship with these animals.

"They're just so intuitive," she said.

They have had other therapy programs at White Dove, and Jackson is pleased the horses can help kids who need to work through some tough emotions.

"I know how much kids love horses," she said.

For Jackson, being with the horses sometimes feels like being in a dream and she knows that spending time with an animal can create special a bond for people, especially ones facing difficult circumstances.

"It has worked amazingly well when nothing else has," she said.

There were five stations set up at the stables, most of which involved horses to some degree. At one, the kids were busy on artwork with an equine theme.

"They're just drawing horses and talking about whatever comes up," said artist and teacher Diane Williams, who, with colleague Lesley Garratt, was helping the kids with their artistic expressions.

At another station, some kids made mandalas--typically circular diagrams with strong spiritual connections common to many cultures--while others sewed a button blanket with the hospice butterfly logo or took part in First Nations drumming.

"With the expressive arts, it just taps into different feelings," said hospice program director Lucy Fraser.

At other stations, the participants had the chance to write in journals or simply reflect on things while they were with the horses. At another, the equine spa, the kids were able to help groom the animals. At the fifth station, the kids visited Lucy, a yearling, and Shorty and Rapunzel, a couple of two-year-olds. When McGrath asks the kids if they like visiting the baby horses, one yells out, "It was awesome. . . . I like Shorty."

Logan Burns, 12, went through the hospice grief support program after his grandmother died, and he decided to volunteer as a helper for the hospice camp. He realizes first hand how important it is for kids to have objects or activities like memory boxes, photographs or even just talking about their loss, and he thinks using horses to help with grief can only help all the more.

"I think it's a great idea," he said. "I think this is like them talking to their parents or whoever died."

While the camp was a first for hospice groups, they hope to make it a regular thing. The program was mostly limited to kids, on a lottery basis, who have gone through hospice grief support group, rather than kids who are still dealing with raw grief. For the participants, it's a chance for them to step out of their regular lives and reflect.

"I know for me, when I'm down here, time moves differently," McGrath said.

© Chilliwack Times 2009

Horse Whisperer Grief Camp
Horse camps for children are not uncommon, but the Horse Whisperer Grief Camp in Chilliwack, B.C., is special - each child has lost someone close to them.

View Video

CBC Video

View the video and interview by CTV news

Children's Grief Group BBQ - June 2008

On June 26, children from our Grief Groups and their family members came to our Centre for a BBQ and rock-painting event. The children took the smaller painted rocks home with them and the larger rocks will be placed in our memory garden.

Dove release - 2008