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Therapeutic horse centers show how horses can help heal

Horses have been used throughout history for therapeutic benefits

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The words "equine assisted therapy" may sound odd to some, but for two horse therapeutic centers in Central Oregon, it's a special, effective (and heartwarming) way for people to heal and learn.

The Broken H Rescue Ranch, a horse therapy ranch in Terrebonne, opened this year, while Healing Reins in Bend was founded in 1999. The history of equine assisted therapy goes back much farther than that.

The earliest documentation of using horses for therapeutic benefits goes back to 1946 in Scandinavia, where horses were used to treat people afflicted with polio.

Dannyele Usher of Terrebonne opened her barn doors in May to create Broken H Rescue Ranch. The 'H' stands for hearts.

Broken H provides riding classes for free to kids ages 5 to 18. Usher wanted to create a place for kids to learn from and about horses.

“We wanted to start this, because horses accept these kids for exactly who they are," Usher said recently. "I think that is really important for kids to be loved and accepted for their specific uniqueness. They are important to me, because I was that kid.”

One of those kids is 13-year-old,Courtney Fowler. Courtney was one of the first kids to join the ranch.

“It is scary, the first time you ride," Courtney said. "But then the more you get used to it and the more you ride, the more you know this horse isn’t going to let you fall, and it’s not going to let you get hurt. They trust you enough to know that you can control them.”

Courtney learned to mount, saddle and ride horses at Broken H, but there’s a lot more to learn from horses.

“I have learned to control my temper and not get super-aggressive towards the horse,” Courtney said.

What Courtney has learned is not exclusive to horses. Her younger brother lives with autism, so some of the skills she’s learned, like patience, she can use at home.   

“With her younger brother, she’s just such a huge help with him," said Jennifer, Courtney's mom. "I’ve just noticed that she is more patient and more kind and more understanding to his needs.”

Horses are typically known for their work on farms, or even their speed on a race track, but what often goes unnoticed is just how smart they can be.

In fact, a 2018 study observing the connection between humans and horses was published in the journal Current Biology. It said the results of the experiment "provide clear evidence that some non-human animals can effectively eavesdrop on the emotional state cues that humans reveal on a moment-to-moment basis, using their memory of these to guide future interactions with particular individuals."

“That is interspecies communication," said Leif Hallberg, a licensed counseling professional. "It’s literally like learning Spanish or any other language. Humans can learn equine communication and can understand when the horse is communicating something important.”

Healing Reins in Bend is currently working with Juniper Mountain Counseling to create more opportunities for equine assisted therapy. the riding center has ten separate therapists. that includes health, physical, occupational and speech and language therapists.  The therapists will help guide kids and adults through life's hardships, with the help of horses.

"We have made them a companion. I think they were probably put on Earth to be a companion for us, because it works so well," Usher said. "It really works so well between horses and humans.”

That connection can be physical or verbal, creating a long-lasting bond.

“You have a friend or something," Courtney said. "A horse is like a friend. A horse is like a best friend.”

Maybe after all, a horse is man's best friend.

Bend / Central Oregon / Special Reports

Jordan Williams

Jordan Williams is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Jordan here.

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