Therapy: Forget The Couch Think Horses

Abigail Hornik, the founder of Chinook Horses: Changing Lives Through Equine Partnerships, has loved horses all her life. It always has been a “must have” sport even while she was working in New York City as an online advertising and marketing person. Taking a break from her demanding career, Abigail came to Montana in 2001 to breed Spanish Mustangs and work with children on the Blackfeet Reservation. A year later, she met her husband, a native Montanan. Abigail fell in love not only with her husband but also with Montana. For 8 years, she owned and designed for her high-end home accessories company, WesternWare Goods with an equine theme appearing in the majority of her product line. In her free time, she did dressage and jumping with her two treasured horses. Observing her horses and fellow riders she realized more and more that horses are amazing creatures who take in and respond to situations, and because, they live in the wild in groups, naturally demarcate relationships.

In 2014, Abigail returned to her passion and prepared to open, Chinook Horses: Changing Lives Through Equine Partnerships. Listed today as founder and director, Abigail earned certifications from the recognized Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, Inc. (EAGALA) and Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning & Therapeutic Riding Instructor from the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International and is pursuing further affidavits.

Abigail likes to describe the operation of Chinook Horses as a four pointed star. There are, of course, the client(s) and the horses. The other point represents the certified equine therapist. The fourth point represents a licensed therapist and/or special education professional.

Clients do not ride the horses but interact with the horses at will on the ground which allows difficult, anxious, insecure or resistant clients to approach and reveal their problems in a different way. The therapists are in the arena with the client(s) but invite the client(s) to interact and observe the horses. Clients who feel useless because their condition doesn’t permit them to hold a job, all of a sudden develop a sense of themselves in relation to the horses.

Robert Bakko, a licensed clinical professional for 42 years, over a year ago got certified in the EAGALA modality. Bob finds that you can observe in one session many aspects important to the therapy.

For example, Bob and Abigail prepared a designated area in the rink to which a horse had to be lead. It was a mindful exercise. A couple in therapy trying to improve their relationship were asked to lead a horse through the course. It was how the husband and wife each undertook the problem that revealed each one’s attitude and solving-problem methods.

Kelly Melius, whose specialty is Autism and other special needs, is a licensed and certified PLAY (Play and Language for Autistic Youngsters) Project and Autism Specialist. Kelly explains that allowing these children and young adults to interact with horses teaches them leadership qualities, and the all important social thinking rules and tools. The group is taught the all important “think with your eyes,” “Start positive chain reactions,” “keep your body in the group,” and “whole body listening,” and “follow the leader.” For instance, this group was asked to lead a horse through an obstacle course without a lead-rope and halter. After many tries, a group discussion on how to do it ensued. Finally, the group decided that they would get the horse to follow one of the participants by shaking a bucket as if food were in it. The designated leader, a 13-year-old boy, got the horse to move by shaking the bucket and another 18-year-old young man provided support. Everyone in the group felt that each person had helped to meet the challenge.

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