Saturday, March 27, 2010

Horses as healers

Note: This is unscientific and unproven, only smatterings of my own observations.



Thoroughbreds:

"They're hot."

"They don't think."

"They're dangerous."

"They're crazy."

Yeah, they can be. But as pointed out in this post on the Retired Racehorse blog, they can be amazingly patient and kind and careful. Check out Zenyatta and her autistic friend Jack.

Now I don't know a lot about autism (though I did just start reading Horse Boy and have read a book called Speed of Dark) but what I've read often mentions sensory overload--basically too much for the brain to deal with at any given moment and not having the neural processes in place to channel that energy and frustration in what are considered "normal" ways.

Sound a little bit like horses in general and what people consider typical in Thoroughbreds.

Bar seems to have a sensitivity and responsiveness to energy around him that often surprises me. At first, I thought it was just horse energy--other horses setting him off, making him nervous--which made sense from the track background. It's almost like getting outside the pattern and routine of the track presents that horse brain with more options than they can figure out how to deal with, so they do what works for them and over-react.

In working with him, I've seen that it's not just other horses and it absolutely is affected by whatever is going on around him, including and particularly my emotions and energy. The calmer I am, the more confident I am, the better he is.

I've also seen both Bar and Lena bring their own energy down when another horse is acting out, becoming an anchor while another horse spins out of control. Maybe that's what horses sense with autistic people somehow.

No, Thoroughbreds--especially those right off the track--are not for the absolutely green beginner--though sometimes I think I came really close to that description when we got Bar--and they do present challenges and hurdles even for experienced riders. I certainly don't advocate an OTTB as a cure-all, either.

But if Zenyatta is a typical racehorse--a hot, crazy, Thoroughbred--she also has a side Jack can reach. Perhaps it is only that Jack doesn't expect her to be anything but what he perceives--grace, beauty, and gentle power.

5 comments:

Natalie Keller Reinert said...

Well said! She is exactly what she is supposed to be to Jack - not hot or crazy or something dangerous - just beauty and grace and love.

Kate said...

Our Dawn is an OTTB, and I know just what you mean - she is exquisitely sensitive to everything, and is therefore both a delight and a challenge to work with, and I wouldn't have it any other way. My Maisie is half TB, so things are somewhat different with her, but she's plenty sensitive too - in fact all horses are given half a chance - I think TBs are less able to "shut down" when there's too much stimulus whereas other horses may be able to.

Kate said...

Our Dawn is an OTTB, and I know just what you mean - she is exquisitely sensitive to everything, and is therefore both a delight and a challenge to work with, and I wouldn't have it any other way. My Maisie is half TB, so things are somewhat different with her, but she's plenty sensitive too - in fact all horses are given half a chance - I think TBs are less able to "shut down" when there's too much stimulus whereas other horses may be able to.

Buckskins Rule said...

I suspect that many of the stereotypes are rooted in a lack of understanding of OTTB's. Of course they aren't like many other breeds, because they were trained to go fast in a circle. A lot of pressure is placed on them. I suspect it takes a time and patience to bring them down to the level that many other horses are at. Almost like equine PTSD.

Don't let the naysayers discourage you.

Padre said...

Howdy - I am Jacks father the autistic boy who connected with Zenyatta. Ya'll are absoloutely correct thoroughbreds , they respond to the energy being projected upon them. We adopted a racehorse named Spot The Diplomat who was recently retired at the age of six and was ridden by Mike Smith as well. He is completely gentle with our entire family. We have two autistic boys they run and grab his hind legs - under his belly - pull his tail - ride him bareback. Spot doesn't even flinch and smiles while they do it. He is a part of our family and very happy helping the boys. He has completely mellowed from thier energy to the extreme. Thank you for all the kind words about healing and autism. The horse connection is real! God Bless " Grant Hays ".