Healing With Horses


Participant in the Can  Praxis program. Photo by Matthew Wocks.
Participant in the Can Praxis program. Photo by Matthew Wocks.

Sometimes the injuries that hurt us most are the kind we can’t see. Like the wounded soldier who has seen one too many atrocities against his fellow man, or the teenage girl who has been bombarded with one too many body-image messages. Both scenarios can send those hurt by these things into a dangerous tailspin, and ultimately thoughts of suicide. The world can be a very dark and lonely place for those injured in this way.

There may still be lots to learn when it comes to how we deal with trauma and self-esteem issues, but we are beginning to find that recovery from injuries of the heart?—?and soul?—?is entirely possible. There are healing miracles, of every size and kind imaginable, happening every day. And some of the most magnificent results are taking place in horse arenas.

The equine no-nonsense approach to human verbal and non-verbal communication is central to this work. With their uncanny ability to see through people in ways that others can’t, or won’t, horses instinctively know what we’re thinking even when we don’t. And, they can also tell when we’re telling the truth or a lie.

If you find yourself shaking your head in disagreement as you read this, you’re likely not alone. But the nay sayers have been proven wrong time and again. Even a Canadian military officer, one who has 42 years of service and who is dealing with operational stress injury (OSI), is willing to attest to the remarkable healing experience a horse has given to him, his wife, and his marriage. “It feels wonderful to have a loving and more trusting relationship now. But, it takes work,” says Colonel Charles Hamel after going through the Can Praxis program with his wife, Carmen, who found the experience “very powerful” and one that has their relationship “spiraling upwards now instead of downwards.”

Can Praxis helps veterans and their families to reconnect through their work with horses. Photo by Matthew Wocks.
Can Praxis helps veterans and their families to reconnect through their work with horses. Photo by Matthew Wocks.

According to Steve Critchley, a former serving member of the Canadian Armed Forces, and co-founder of Can Praxis, a troubling and common inability to communicate when they come back home puts our veterans dealing with PTSD and OSI in serious jeopardy. Without soldiers having a greater understanding of what they are communicating to others?—?for example, fear, aggression, intolerance, frustration, and other difficult emotions, it doesn’t take long to greatly increase the emotional distance between spouses, children, parents, siblings, and friends.

Operating out of a secluded ranch in Alberta, Can Praxis is designed specifically with Canadian Armed Forces personnel and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and OSI in mind. According to Critchley, “ Horses are used as a training aid and a feedback machine. As herd animals, they’ll judge you as to where you sit in their pecking order. They’ll accept you as a leader when they trust and respect you. We’re not about rainbows or hugging unicorns; we’re about what’s real, what’s happening, and forcing people out of their comfort zones to find a new [healthy] one.” The costs associated with this equine healing experience may be high, but they’re not an issue or excuse; Can Praxis fully funds as many participating couples from all over Canada, including travel and accommodation costs.
Proudly helping to pay for those costs is Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch, a 125-year old family-run business guided by their philosophy of “families helping families.” So impressed by what Can Praxis is doing to help soldiers recover from the effects of war and regain family relationships, in May 2014 they made a bold move and announced a long-term commitment to the Can Praxis program. With a permanent packaging change to reflect their promise, the distiller will give two dollars from the sale of every bottle of Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera sold in Canada to wholly support Can Praxis, through Wounded Warriors Canada.

Chantel Schmidt, Equine Reflection. Photo courtesy Chantel Schmidt.
Chantel Schmidt, Equine Reflection. Photo courtesy Chantel Schmidt.

In addition to not being afraid of soldiers with “heart” problems, horses are also not bothered by whether a teenage girl is a little overweight or has acne. Chantel Schmidt, founder of Equine Reflection, is certified in the equine gestalt coaching method (EGCM). Operating out of the Middle of Somewhere Ranch in Alberta, Schmidt works in partnership with her horses to guide clients towards healthier belief systems. Her specialty is working with teens, although she can and does take clients of all ages.

“Being around horses makes people feel better. It’s that simple,” says Schmidt, although she quickly goes on to explain that what she does to help people see their value and believe in themselves isn’t all that simple. With the aid of her equine “truth detectors”, Schmidt helps clients understand what’s really going on inside and how they might move forward in a healthier way. Outcomes from working with Schmidt and her equine partners include developing a greater sense of self confidence, establishing healthy boundaries, weight loss, and acceptance of your body and who you are.

It seems Winston Churchill knew what he was talking about when he said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

For more information visit Can Praxis and Equine Reflection