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Unbridled Hope Research Project

Written by Sonja Wingard

Aletha Williams is a retired Naval Officer of Jamaican descent who did her own healing work here at this farm some ten years ago. Now she is finishing her PhD in Integrative Medicine. For her research she chose to study the efficacy of Equine Therapy on those who have experienced trauma. It is a six week project for ten participants . Our Mental Health Therapist, Lorna Shepardson, and our Equine Specialist, Sonja Wingard, have worked in tandem to conduct the individual therapeutic sessions. We greatly appreciate the funding given by North Sound Accountable Community of Health (ACH). This program could not have been successful without this support to pay for these sessions.

It was remarkable how the horses showed up differently for each individual so that they could address their own challenges. In some cases the horses played various family members and gave a person a chance to tell someone off or reflect on how their behaviors affect others. Our dog Gabby and Aletha’s dog Artie showed up when someone needed grounding or courage. The cats also chose when to show up as part of a story or just plain reassurance.  

The participants have reported amazing results starting with week two. For some, there has been less isolating and more reaching out to their individual support systems. Trust has been addressed by every one of our people. They reported having taken brave stances asking for their needs to be honored by domestic partners or children as well as coworkers. There was a report of family relations greatly improved as self awareness and self-care were prioritized. For some, anxiety was managed by learning Nick Ortner’s tapping techniques. Some people remarked on a past trauma that came up secondarily and was barely noticed, as a result they felt that that trauma lost some of its power in their own narrative.

We look forward to seeing Aletha’s final dissertation next winter after more interviews and reviewing the journals of the participants. 

The horse contract was taken home to be used with families: I promise to take good care of you and I need you to promise to take good care of me. I will forgive you if you mess up and I need you to forgive me when I mess up. Using this contract, everyone assumes best intent, and forgiveness of self and others follows. While reflecting on the entire program, a participant noted that they learned a valuable lesson from this contract.  “If I mess up I need to forgive myself”, many of us don’t give ourselves grace when we make a mistake and carry guilt.


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