Monday, May 26, 2008

Arabian Horses as Healers

I think I've been pretty outspoken on this blog about what owning Arabian horses has meant to my mental health. I know that connection has kept me sane and given me a reason to live. I understand that horses do that for a lot of people but for me it is particularly Arabian horses that hold that power.

There's something about the need an Arabian horse has to be in the company of humans that has been very healing for me. That special attachment that comes when one chooses me to be his/her human has been more healing than all those years of therapy ever were. Sometimes it feels like just being in the presence of a treasured horse can lift the heaviness from my heart and make it sing again even on the worst days.

But that has not been the only healing that Arabian horses have done in this family. I have also written about my daughter, Lindsay, and her bout with brain cancer. Despite almost the total destruction of the balance center in her brain, Lindsay has recovered far beyond what the doctors ever imagined possible. She still has some issues but she's not in that wheel chair she came home from the hospital sporting and she can take pretty good care of herself (although she needs assistance with managing her finances). Her recovery would be deemed by many as miraculous and I know a huge part of that recovery was won on the back of an Arabian horse and earned in caring for this herd.

You'd think two major things like that in one family would be enough. Yet I have one more story to tell about Arabian horses helping to overcome huge obstacles in this family. This third thing really has to do with two younger members of my family, two of my grandsons.

We learned on Saturday that my grandson, Wil (age 4), has just been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. This is not the first time I have seen this disorder, my oldest grandson, David (age 21), I have suspected since soon after his birth was autistic.

Unfortunately for David that was twenty years ago. There wasn't nearly as much known about autism then as there is now. Neurologists missed the diagnosis many times. David was high enough functioning that the rest of the family was in denial. It only took one not so good neurologist to see him (but not test him) for the family to close ranks and decide that David was just fine.

Today, they can see that they did David a disservice but things aren't so easy to fix for him now. He's an adult and he's had a tough road. Lots of damage has been done because he was misunderstood and didn't get the help he needed.

Actually just hearing that Wil has been diagnosed with autism changes my perspective on this child and has helped change what some see in David. The parallels in behavior between the two boys are so much clearer. It's much easier to understand the "why" in the behavior now.

For me as Grandma, one of the biggest things about both boys was their lack of connection to people. Right from the beginning the lack of eye contact, the avoidance of being touched, the tuning out were obvious.

While I would say that David was more severe than Wil, both boys didn't speak except to their primary caregivers and their siblings. Yet there was a detachment even with those relationships. Nothing huge........a subtle oddness that made me wonder.............and wonder a lot.

I'm not an expert on autism, although I imagine I probably will be one someday. But one thing I know for sure, the way that you "break through" with those kids is through what interests them. You cannot take their focus and change it to what you want them to learn. You must find what they are focused on and use it to communicate. My understanding is that is key.

Neither boy spoke to me for a long time. I think David was four before he spoke his first words to me. Wil was three. Can you imagine what it's like to have a child or a grandchild who doesn't speak to you for that long?

There's a miracle there for me and David and Wil and it has to do with Arabian horses. These two boys were both drawn to Arabian horses just like their grandmother. The key to our relationships have been those horses.

I clearly remember the first time David spoke to me. Colleen, David and I were standing next to the fence at the small pasture looking at a new foal. Colleen and I were talking like magpies discussing the newest addition to our herd when I heard in a loud firm voice, "Grandma!"

The word startled me. I had never heard it from a child before. I looked down at little David and could tell from the expression on his face that he had asked me a question but I had missed it.

Not expecting to hear from him, I wasn't listening for a small voice. He thought I didn't answer because he didn't address me properly (something his mother was working on with him) so he called me by name.........only because he wanted to know something about that horse and the followed it with his question once again.

I don't remember the question. All I remember is it was about the horse. I remember the first eye contact the child ever made with me. I remember that for several years the only time the child talked to be had to do with my horses. I remember the bridge provided by an Arabian horse.

Fast forward twenty years and I can almost repeat the story word for word with Wil. This child was three but our first conversation was about an Arabian horse. Wil wants to know every detail about them. He is consumed by them as only an autistic child can be.

Wil was prompted to speak to me on many occasions before but he always declined. Not only would he not talk to me, he would look away when asked to address me. It was clear that I was not in his comfort zone. Although I didn't suspect at the time it was the autism I had easily recognized in David. It's only in looking back after the diagnosis I can see the similarities.

But I clearly remembered the first time he spoke to me. He asked his father a question about the horses and his father told him he was going to have to ask me. I was the only one with the answer and he turned to me, took a deep deep breath, looked in my eyes and asked his question about my Arabian horses. What do you think the odds are that two young lives with two heavy burdens would find their way to a relationship with their grandmother through the same channel?

For me, it's another miracle! And just one more reason that Arabian horses are precious to me. I know from first hand experience that they can reach even the most damaged child and give her hope. There's something very healing about the spirit of an Arabian horse, at least in this family anyways.


  1. This post made me teary-eyed, MiKael. I completely believe that horses are healing in so many ways, beyond what we know. There is a great book by Kim Meeder called "Hope Rising" which is a collection of stories about the healing power between children and horses. I am thankful that Arabians have been healers to you and your family, because that brought you to us! ;) I want to get back into volunteering in a therapeutic horseback riding program. I did that many years ago and it was really rewarding.

  2. Animals have always been a big part of my life. My son didn't say more than a handful of words until he was three. All those words had to do with animals. No saying Ma, or Da, nothing but woof, whinnnn (whinny), purr.

    Today he is a normal 17 year old, a bit odd at times, but mostly a typical teenager.

    For me it was always horses first, other animals second. Arabians have always been my favorite breed, for much the same reason you stated. There's something in thier eyes that begs for you to give them attention. I've never met a friendlier breed of horse, nor a more loyal one.

    The healing power of animals is truly amazing. Great post. I hope your horses continue to give your grandsons and outlit, a link, to the world that they only can understand.

  3. It's heartening to read that your horses mean so much to not only you but your entire family!

  4. Excellent post! I have long found that horses and people who are diagnosed with Autism have a speical bond. I am sorry to hear about your grandson's troubles (the older one) but luckily for the younger guy a ton of research and support is avaiable nowadays. Horses are the best! And take it from a NARHA instructor that the more time they are around horses and humans together the better things will be for your grnad kids.

  5. They do say that caring for animals extends one's life and makes you healthier! I truly believe it! I know that after a rough work night, I go out and just spend time with my horses and feel a whole lot better. I'm glad that for you and your family, it is Arabians. Therapy in so many ways and life lessons! :)

  6. Temple Grandin is autistic and writes wonderful, fact-based books. The one book I recite often because of it's very inciteful prose, is 'Animals in Translation.' There is somehow a very interesting understanding between autistic people and animals.

  7. MiKael, it is at times like these that I wonder how much pain and suffering one person can bear in their lifetime, it takes a very special person like you to be able to handle all that you have gone through and still be as positive as you are. I am not atheiest but I am not religious in the "go to church and read the bible regularly" sense, but I know that God had big plans for you and you have achieved so many of them, He must be very proud of his work.

    My troubles pale in comparison and I am proud to know you even if it is over this cyber space. I really hope we get to meet soon in person.



  8. I totally understand this post!! Horses is one of Kevin's BIG interests!! He LOVES going to the barn and when there...he's a totally different child! He'll communicate with others using words that generally only this household and caregivers get the priveledge to hear! At the last barn we boarded at...the barn owner tried and tried and tried to get him to talk to her but he just wouldn' eye contact...nothing. During those times all the horses were off in the pastures and unseen. One day when Kev was nearly 4 1/2...the horses were up at the gate and Kevin was petting them, feeding them dandelions, etc and he was just glowing when the barn owner and her pack of dogs came up to the barn. He ran over to her...pointed at Diago and said "DIAGO...horsey"! And a moment later he pointed at one of her dogs and said "chihuahua"! He LOVES chihuahuas too...LOL! Anyway...her mouth dropped and she looked at me and said "was he talking to me?!?" At that point she was in his "circle". We still occasionally run into her here and there around town and she'll bring that up nearly every time we talk...LOL! Of course being Kevin doesn't see her much he doesn't talk to her nearly as often as he used to unless she brings up the horses or the chihuahua. And Diago...goodness does D love that kid!! Diago just LOVES to watch him...will lower his head for Kevin to pet him and so D can woozle on him, and he'll stand like a statue for Kev to brush him!! Anyway...great post!! :)

  9. What a lovely post. How wonderful that you are able to see your horses for the healers they are.

  10. MiKael it is wonderful that your Arabians have helped you get through the rough times and your grandchildren will also benefit from your love and devotion to your horses.I do believe that a lot of animals but particularly horses have a special bond with people and are beneficial to those individuals who need a little something extra in their lives. Horses fill the void and help them to become all that they can be. All my best to you and your family.

  11. I heard it best put once... "the spirit of the arabian." I really love all horses, but it is the arabians who always take my heart and own me. I work and ride at an arabian barn, and have to be honest, the boarding horses of other breeds really are quite different.

  12. WOW! That is such a beautiful story. I've always felt a special connection with Arabians, too. Thanks for sharing with us! :)

  13. Yes. My horses provide so much therapy for me. It is amazing at the sense of peace and accomplishment having horses in my life gives to me.

  14. MiKael, I've been waiting to hear a little bit more about your horses and your grandson, so I'm glad you shared this. I volunteer at a therapeutic riding center and work with a lot of autistic kids and adults and they do love the horses. It was interesting to hear from your perspective though on how the horses helped to bridge the gap with you as a family member. Those are moments you will remember forever!

  15. Mikael - These are beautiful thoughts. I believe that people, especially children, who are autistic are also very imaginative and intuitive and sensitive - so of course, they will communicate with horses and understand more deeply than most people. Arabian horses are also more finely tuned, which makes them so special and magnificent. You and your family and your horses are meant to be together and teach each other. It's a perfect fit.

  16. These Arabians, as you well know have personalities a mile long, - and one of my favorite parts of that is an innate ability to bond with the right person or people. While I'm sorry to hear of your grandson's diagnosis, I'm glad he'll have those big brown eyes and velvet soft muzzles to share his thoughts with.

  17. I'm sorry to hear that more troubles are coming down the pike.
    I have not yet posted about it, but I came to horses through my now 19-year-old daughter's massive stroke at the age of 6. She went to hippotherapy and it saved her life and mine.
    I know your Arabians will continue to do "the work," and spread healing in your family.

  18. Autism is a mysterious disorder that has always attracted my interest. As a teenager I looked for biographies and memoirs written by those who had experience with autism. I found out years later that I had a cousin with autism. His father tells me that horses have been the most successful therapy for bringing him out of his shell.

  19. Mikael you have the most amazing way with words and expressing yourself. This post touched my heart reading about your grandsons and your connection with them through the Arabian horses. I am so glad that you have had these wonderful healers in your life and will continue to exprience it with your grandson.

  20. Wow! Great emotional post! You defintely have a way with writing! It was like I was right there with you!
    I agree horses have a healing power to them and to others. What is the saying-The outside of a horse, is good for the inside of a human! AMen! I know they are my personal therapy team. The book Hope Rising that POny Girl talked about is awesome. It is a wonderful book on stories and the healing power of horses. I do believe she even has a 2nd book out now. I read the 1st one and you will need a box of kleenex, but it just proves what we all already now about horses! Praying for your grandsons and of course your daughter.
    Thanks for sharing your life with us! ((HUGS)) from East Texas