An Indescribable Connection
By Shelby Pauka
When we think about support and helping others, we often envision a young man helping his neighbor move or a wise woman giving advice to an eager mentee. We think about Boy Scouts troops volunteering to collect used Christmas trees or student groups raising money for the local animal shelter, and when we think about supporting others’ mental health or developmental needs we think of therapists’ offices and long chats over coffee. However, the importance and power in our connection to our four-legged friends is often taken for granted, and I’m not only talking about our favorite pets. I’m talking about equines; the horses, ponies, donkeys and more that rely on us for care and to which we often look for our own healing and support.
In November 2020, the Sally Beck Fund team at El Pomar Foundation had the privilege of speaking to a few grantee partners about their work within their communities and the impact on not only the people they serve but the equines they care for. The Sally Beck Fund supports the direct care of equines for organizations engaged in rescue and rehabilitation, therapeutic riding and equine education programs. Kathy Hamm, founder of Dream Catcher Therapy Center and End of the Trail Rescue in Olathe, CO, uses both organizations to collaboratively benefit the community. Equines are rescued and rehabilitated through End of the Trail Rescue and, in some cases, trained to be therapy horses to support Dream Catcher Therapy Center. Kathy told us a few powerful stories about the interactions she’s witnessed from this collaboration and one story in particular stuck with me:
A young child visited Dream Catcher Therapy Center for equine-assisted therapy. Kathy and a few others discussed the child’s therapy plan when she saw the young girl walk towards a horse that was alone in a corral. This horse was rehabilitated by End of the Trail Rescue but had not let anyone except the trainer close and was unpredictable. Nervous for the child’s safety, Kathy and the trainer rushed to get to the corral to stop the child from getting near the horse, but by the time they got there, the horse and young girl had connected. While usually skittish, the horse remained calm as the child pet it and even lowered its head to get closer. Kathy recalls the child commenting that this was the horse she wanted to be with.
What’s remarkable about this story is that the child and horse had experienced similar backgrounds with abuse and neglect and while there is no way to prove this was the reason they were drawn to each other, it is important to note. Horses are intuitive animals with a particular sensitivity to peoples’ feelings and this horse perhaps knew that the child needed it just as much as it needed her. These stories show how individuals can exhibit remarkable improvements that sometimes are not seen through traditional psychotherapy.
Equine-assisted therapy is a growing treatment option for individuals with many different types of mental health or developmental concerns that can provide meaningful connections between the individual and the therapist/horse. The Sally Beck Fund acknowledges the impact such treatments can have on both humans and equines and is committed to supporting organizations that rescue mistreated, emotionally intelligent animals and provide life-changing treatments to individuals that need it most. Without the exposure of the Sally Beck Fund, I would not have known of this powerful mental health resource or the incredible work equine-related nonprofits are doing for people and equine alike every day.
Shelby Pauka joined El Pomar Foundation as a member of the 2019 Fellowship class. As a Fellow, Shelby works with the Police Foundation of Colorado Springs, Awards for Excellence, the Karl E. Eitel Fund, the William J. Hybl Fund and the Sally Beck Fund. She also supports the Southeast and San Juan regions. Read more about Shelby here.