Survivors of trauma, loss, illness, abuse, stress, and depression can face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. But today, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that horses play a crucial role in therapy for those struggling with significant psychological and emotional challenges. Horses respond to angry, inhibited, heartbroken, defiant, terrified clients in many different ways, often breaking through defensive barriers via their physical presence, or by pointing to areas of psychological distress not immediately apparent. The horse’s response guides the treatment team, as well as the client, in the healing process.
Inspired by her own childhood trauma when she spent seven days in a coma, awakened to a severely compromised body and brain, and rebuilt her life with the help of a horse, Michelle Holling-Brooks founded Unbridled Change, a non-profit equine-partnered therapy organization that helps match horses to individuals in need. Here she shares the amazing stories of the horses that play active roles in counseling sessions: Ashley was locked in closets as punishment, and physically and sexually abused, resulting in an angry and violent child who threatened her adoptive family—until she met Cocoa and Radar, the horses that helped her learn to trust again. Brenda was diagnosed bipolar and lived through humiliating domestic abuse, but three horses—Delilah, Wisky, and Diesel—helped her establish a sense of self-worth, hope for the future, and ultimately, the will to go on. Nick was an angry, suicidal veteran with combat PTSD, who eventually acknowledged, "The horses literally saved my life."