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.
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.
The camp was organized by the Chilliwack and Langley Hospice Society in hopes it would encourage more conversation and reflection about their losses. View the video and interview by CTV news