Entries in Horses (5)


Relationship Ranch: Horses Help Couples Heal Broken Hearts

Horses are being used in an unconventional form of couples counseling at a Colorado ranch. (ABC News)(LOUISVILLE, Colo.) -- It's fascinating to watch a man trying to win back the love of his life by talking to a horse.

Horse therapy has been used for decades to help treat people with physical disabilities or learning disorders, but now they are also being used in an unconventional form of couples counseling.

Nancy Hamilton and Lottie Grimes are marriage therapists who run Relationship Ranch in Louisville, Colo. They are convinced that horses can help feuding couples make peace.

"You wouldn't think they would have any role in marriage therapy," Hamilton said. "But because horses are so exquisitely sensitive, they can help us determine what a couple is actually, really feeling."

For three weekends, "Nightline" followed one couple's last-ditch effort to save their crumbling relationship and attended their equine therapy sessions.

Justin and Lyz, both 30 and never married, have been together for nine years and have two sons. But lately, they said, the bickering and fighting at home got so bad that Justin reluctantly agreed to move out.

"We have piled problem on top of problem on top of problem for years," Lyz said. "Who knows what's at the bottom of that?"

Although he was skeptical about the healing powers of horses, he said he was willing to try just about anything to make his family whole again.

On their first day of therapy, the couple was introduced to the ranch's herd of horses. Justin was magnetically drawn to the newest and most aggressive horse, Danny, who came to the ranch after surviving a grizzly bear attack. Danny wasn't fitting in with the other horses, which hit home for Justin, who felt exiled from his own herd. Hamilton said horses can sense and read people's emotions.

"They're almost like a Rorschach projective test with a mane and a tail, where people can project onto them their feelings, their thoughts and their fears," she said.

Hamilton said she believes those fears can stem from what she called unresolved childhood wounds, which plague adult relationships. That was the case with Justin. When he was 9-years-old, his sister was brutally murdered by an ex-boyfriend and young Justin saw the murder scene.

"He chased her down and cut her throat," he said. "We went back several days later and they hadn't cleaned anything up."

After working with Justin and Lyz, Hamilton said Lyz saw Justin as controlling, but those tendencies are rooted in his childhood trauma.

"Trauma survivors are very concerned with being able to control their present environment because they were not able to control their environment when they were traumatized," she said.

Hamilton had Justin go through a blind trust exercise with Danny to force Justin to surrender control to his partner. The goal was to expose Justin's old wounds. Hamilton instructed him to talk to Danny about what had happened when his sister was killed. Danny, the trauma-surviving horse, set the stage for a major breakthrough.

"It seemed so stupid at first, and then it was actually helpful," Justin said. "Therapeutic."

Watching Justin talk to the horse, Lyz said she never saw him so vulnerable. After the session, the two apologized for hurting each other.

Two weeks later, Justin went through a final exercise to fully cope with his past. In a pen, surrounded by the herd, Justin became 9-years-old-again. He was instructed to confront his absent father through a role-playing exercise, while Lyz acted as a stand-in for his dad.

"You abandoned all of us," he said aloud. "I had to be the man of the family and I think that you're a coward."

During a crucial and emotional moment, Danny, the horse, seemed to sense that his new friend needed him, and he put his head into Justin's hands. Then, in a rare sign of trust, some of the other horses lay down behind Justin, while others joined him by his side.

"That was the big 'ah-ha' moment for Lyz," Hamilton said. "She said, 'Justin, I realize that I am abandoning you over and over again just like your dad did.'"

At that point, Hamilton told the couple to re-commit to each other exclusively. Suddenly, the horses started kicking and running. Hamilton said she believes they were reacting to Lyz's fear of commitment and Justin's fear of abandonment.

For now, the future of Justin and Lyz's relationship is still uncertain. Lyz said she needed more time to decide whether to continue the relationship. They haven't solved all of their problems, but at least for now, they have found some guidance for the long road ahead.

"If you truly want help you're going to do whatever it takes to get that, even if it's talking to a horse," Justin said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Canadian Slaughterhouses Reject American Horses

Tim Flach/Stone/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- American horses are being rejected by Canadian slaughterhouses, according to the Equine Welfare Alliance. The blockage of U.S. horses reportedly stems from a directive from the European Union, which buys much of Canada’s exported horsemeat. E.U. health officials found that American horsemeat samples had been tainted by steroids and carcinogens, and reportedly asked Canadian suppliers to stop buying American horses.

The embargo happened quickly and without much communication with American horse providers. In fact, some auctions already had horses en route to Canada by the time they were made aware of the changes.

The United States forced all horse slaughterhouses closed in 2007. Since then, the number of horses exported to Canada and Mexico has dramatically risen. More than 120,000 horses were exported to America's neighbors in 2011.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


As Americans Get Bigger, So Do Horses and Saddles

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- In the rugged cowboy country of western Colorado, master saddle maker Bob Klenda has noticed a troublesome trend since he started stitching leather in 1961: The typical horseback rider has a much bigger posterior.

“When I started 50 years ago, 14 inch saddles were common and a 15 inch (saddle) was considered a big seat,” Klenda tells ABC News.

Now, Klenda says, 15 ½ to 16 inch saddles are standard.  The custom saddle producer even makes one or two 17-inch saddles among the dozen he turns out each year.

“Those were unheard of back in the 60′s and ’70′s,” he says.

The super-sized saddles reflect the fact that Americans are fatter than ever.  More than a third of us are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“The saddles are bigger and so are the butts,” says Lucille Nieslanik, owner of Broken Heart Ranch in Haugan, Montana -- a former dude ranch that now caters to hunters.  “When I was growing up, people walked more and just did more physical activity.”

Nieslanik says the saddles and customers “have definitely gotten bigger” since the business opened in 1976.  Now, she is careful to match up horses with customers so the animals are not strained.

But even the horses are getting bigger to accommodate fatter Americans.  Saddle-maker Klenda says dude ranch operators in Colorado are breeding draft horses with smaller stock so the animals can safely bear the strain of ever-larger riders.

At the K-Diamond-K guest ranch, 125 miles north of Spokane, Wash., owner Kathy McKay tells ABC News they are breeding Clydesdales -- made famous in those Budweiser commercials -- with quarter-horses just to make sturdier animals for bigger customers.  Otherwise, McKay says, overweight riders “really take a toll on those poor horses.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Horse Therapy Helped Jaycee Dugard Reconnect with Family

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Jaycee Dugard, the California women held captive for 18 years in a backyard prison, has amazed millions with her resilience and courage in speaking about the horror she's overcome, but rejoining her family and moving forward has been the result of hard work with a team of therapists utilizing unique techniques.

Dugard's mother, Terry Probyn, and family unification therapist Rebecca Bailey spoke to ABC's Good Morning America on Monday about how Dugard is doing since she spoke exclusively to ABC News' Diane Sawyer and released her bestselling memoir, A Stolen Life.

Dugard spoke openly about her ordeal after being kidnapped at age 11 in 1991 by Phillip and Nancy Garrido. She was imprisoned in a backyard compound where she gave birth to two daughters before they were rescued in 2009.

Since her rescue, Dugard and her family have worked with Bailey and her team. Bailey utilizes techniques as varied as picking vegetables together to the use of dogs and horses to help family members reconnect with one another.

"It's a very collaborative effort between my team and the families that come in....We're all about empowering the family to get through the transition," Bailey said. "The impact on one victim has a ripple effect throughout the whole system. Some of the work we do is as simple as getting the family together to cook a meal together."

Dugard described the power of the horse therapy in her interview with ABC News earlier this month.

"I can choose for it to be a learning opportunity, a growing opportunity. When I can't catch that horse and I get frustrated, you know, next time I approach it differently. I'll try to grow from it," Dugard said.

Bailey said that the horses helped the family rebuild trust with one another and allowed them to simply play without thinking about the heavy ordeal they've all survived.

"It allowed for interaction without conscious self monitoring...also absolute trust," Bailey said earlier this month. "The first time they were put on the horses, there was a moment that they had to trust each other to lead each other...and believe it or not, that's a scary process."

Bailey said that horses are used to treat a range of conditions and illnesses from autism to brain injury.

"You can look at them as metaphorical mythical beasts. You can look at them as highly can look at them in all different things, but the fact is when you get in there [the corral], your defenses go're acting on fear in there," Bailey said earlier this month.

Dugard who planned to work on a horse farm the summer she was kidnapped while walking from her Tahoe, Calif., home to school, said that working with horses helped her conquer fears.

"The opportunity to work with horses was just amazing, you know," she said.

Now Dugard is using the same tools that helped her and her family with a new foundation. Her mother, Probyn, described the foundation on Good Morning America.

"It's actually the JAYC foundation and it means just ask yourself to care and what we want to do is give back to the folks that find themselves in these difficult situations," Probyn said.

Dugard wants the foundation to use animal therapy and other forms of therapy to help families of abduction and other families transitioning from difficult situations.  

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Horse Herpes Forces Cowgirls to Ride Stick Ponies

Thomas Northcut/Thinkstock(OGDEN, Utah) -- Even cowgirls get the blues. The contestants in a Utah rodeo queen contest had to abandon their mares and ride toy stick ponies -- all because of an equine herpes outbreak.

The girls took it in stride at the Davis County Sheriff's Mounted Posse Junior Queen Contest this week, doing their routines around the arena as if they were on horseback. They were judged on knowledge of the drill, rather than their riding skills.

"It's kind of weird, but you can't really help that the disease is going around," said Savanna Steed, 15, of Far West, Utah, who has been riding and competing since she was 4.

"It's an outbreak that we don't have a vaccine for," she told ABC News. "It's airborne and if you have a horse and it touches something and the other horse touches it, they get it. It's easy to catch."

Utah has 13 suspected and seven confirmed cases of equine herpes virus after horses at a regional cutting horse competition at the Golden Spike Arena in Ogden first showed symptoms of the illness.

Most commonly, the virus spreads by horse-to-horse contact but contaminated equipment and clothing and hands can also infect a horse with the virus. The arena took precautions by just eliminating the horses from the contest.

Veterinarians have been concerned because this EHV-1 virus is a mutant strain and is not covered by existing vaccines, according to Bruce L. King, Utah state veterinarian. And it's highly contagious.

Equine herpes is not transmitted to humans, according to Dr. Kenneth Fife, who specializes in infectious diseases and is professor of medicine at Indiana University Medical School.

The virus takes two forms in humans: herpes simplex [HSVI] 1 and 2. The first is associated with cold sores and fever blisters on the mouth and is usually acquired as a child. The second is sexually transmitted and affects the genitals.

HSVI 2 can be transmitted from a mother to her fetus and be life-threatening to the newborn. It can also make those who are exposed more vulnerable to HIV infections. HSVI 1 can be associated with fatal brain infections, though it is rare.

The only herpes virus that crosses species lines is a monkey virus that causes cold sores in the animal, but can potentially become a brain infection in humans, he said. Handlers can be infected.

Savanna wasn't worried for a moment about getting herpes. And she and her fellow cowgirls, though disappointed, didn't let their audience down.

"With the tornado and everything, it was nice to see something fun," said her grandmother, Janet Steed, who watched the contest on television.

New Jersey has had similar equine herpes outbreaks this spring, according to Christine Connelly, who has bred thoroughbreds at Bright View Farm in Chesterfield for the last 40 years.

"I admire the girls," she said. "They must have a lovely quality about them to be willing to be so wondrously foolish and engaged and still doing their best. The must love the sport enough.

"What it says is they love competition and they love what they are doing," she said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio