J & J’s Gibberish: The Power of Animals and Healing with Horses

Like a true ADHD person, I know I was supposed to offer you part 2 of ADHD is Real but actually this week I want to talk about the calming effects of animals.  Part 2 of adult ADHD will be next week.  Maybe. If I don’t get distracted. Ok, bad joke.

If you are a regular reader of J and J Gibberish, then you know Jacob is unable to touch humans other than me because of his OCD (he thinks he will be contaminated by people).  However, he can touch animals. So we have a little reptile zoo going on at home.  We have a gecko named Chuckie Norris, we have a hermit crab (I can never remember his name), a 14 or 15-year-old bearded dragon named Theo (inherited from my cousin in Nova Scotia), a dog named Cooper and a horse named Sebastien.  Yes a horse (who lives 30 km away at Riverview Stables in Cumberland). 

This may seem excessive since we live in downtown Ottawa.  However, animals have this incredible ability to calm nerves, alleviate stress and make anxiety disappear instantly.  I didn’t need a magazine or doctors to tell me that.  Jacob’s reaction is all the proof I needed. 

Still, interestingly, the medical community has studied the effect animals can have on people suffering from mental health issues and other health problems. The basics are that being around animals releases “feel good” hormones, serotonin and oxytocin, which calm the individual. Psychology Today reported that in 49 separate studies, “animal-assisted therapy found positive outcomes and overall improved emotional well-being in those with autism, medical conditions, or behavioral issues. Another review of randomized, controlled studies found that animal-assisted therapy can be helpful for those battling illnesses like depression, schizophrenia, or addiction.”

This makes sense. When a furry friend (or in Jacob’s case when Theo lays on his chest) snuggles up to you, you just feel good. 

Crank that up to 11 (Spinal Tap movie fans will get that joke…) with horse therapy.

I took Jacob to a place called Healing With Horses in Prince Edward County a few years ago.  It is a phenomenally calm, beautiful environment where they practice animal therapy and in particular, equine therapy. Horses are beautifully serene and peaceful creatures. The minute you arrive, you relax.  Even a high-strung, high-energy adult like me after driving for three hours to get there, can’t help but chill.

Not all equine therapy involves riding.  For example, Jacob laid on the horse backwards to get to feel the horse, fed him and brushed him.  They walked together, and he stroked the horse’s side and back. What was astounding was how empathetic Jacob was towards the animal and how he felt he had an instant bond with the massive creature. And that stuck with me. 

You might think Sebastien became a member of my clan for Jacob’s sake, but it is in fact for the family as it is actually Jacob’s sister for whom Sebastien has become an oasis of support, comfort and joy. She is the one who takes care of him, rides him, learns from and with him,  and has formed an incredible bond with him.  It is beautiful to watch them together. The smiles that come from my daughter when she rides Sebastien and the incredible aura and rhythm they have together is breathtaking to witness and it is calming just watching her.

But not everyone needs to buy a horse and take weekly lessons.  Healing with Horses is a mere 3 hours away and in the heart of wine country in Prince Edward County (an added bonus!) 

Maybe this March Break, head there and experience a session or two with Healing with Horses.  You don’t have to have a mental health challenge to experience the benefits of horses, but if you do, you can only come away with a fantastic experience that will help you relax, chill and realize that there is help for you in many ways, including in the form of a 2,000 pound beautiful creature.