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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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Equine Facilitated Learning & Feeling Helpless

Dear Mr. Levinson,

   My apologies for bothering you, I know you are a busy man and your time to those in need is very valuable, so I'll try to be brief.

My name is Jerry, I am 52 years old and I live in Arizona, and at present am feeling somewhat awkward, torn and helpless.

Recently; in speaking with a co-worker of mine, I learned of his 8 year old daughter (Lauren) who is afflicted with 3 inter-related diseases "Arthrogryposis" , "Rhett's Syndrome", and "Autism". As the father of a healthy and loving 22 year old daughter, my heart reaches out to this man and his family. I can only imagine the difficulties and hardships that lie ahead for all of them, not to mention the endless burden of expense. In an effort to bring a little happiness to this very deserving family, I invited them out to spend a day at the stable where I keep my horse, which is the reason for this letter.

   I have a 3y/o green broke, Black & White Tobiano Filly that I named Katana. As I took her out of her stall, she immediately spotted Lauren, walked right to her and began "Nuzzling" this little girl like I have never seen before. Even more shocking was Laurens reaction to my horse. Watching a seemingly emotionally lifeless little girl, gazing out into nowhere, and suddenly breaking into the widest of smiles and laughter shocked us all. The interaction between the 2 brought tears to her mother and father's eyes and was almost as gut-wrenching for me.

   I know very little about equine therapy and even less about EFL, but am willing to forgo with my filly's saddle training, if it means breaking through the barriers of Lauren's lonely world with this much joy and excitement. I do know that for this little girl's family it restored something. I'm not quite sure what, but suspect it represented a much needed a ray of hope?

   So, I guess what I'm asking is: " what do, or better put, can I do?? " I am a man of modest means, and I love my horse to death but, would equally get great pleasure in being able to assist Lauren and her family find some type of joy and give them something to look forward to. Call me a sentimental fool, but it makes me feel good to be able to help a friend and more important, a child in need.

   I've read everything I can on the web about this, and talked to many horsemen and women that I know, all of which think I am crazy for even considering "ruining" (as 1 jerk said) a potentially great horse. After reading about you on your website, I think I fully understand what inner satisfaction you get from working with these kids and the horses.I am only hoping you can give me some insight and/or advise.

With great respect and admiration.

Thank You !! Jerry

Dear Jerry,

   You have not bothered me and do not need to apologize for anything. I loved your email. Another testimonial to the magic of horses and the incredible and almost unbelievable responses certain learning disabled children can have in the presence of specific horses, even without guidence or a facilitator. I have experienced these occurances numerous times now and I cannot clinically explain it. But it happens. I am delighted you got to view it first hand. It is actually a 'hard sell' to many people involved with horses. It is especially difficult with academics who only believe in case studies over a long period of time. Miracles are not in their sphere of reference. But miracles do happen, and particularly with horses and children.

   You do not need to give up riding your horse or give up anything for that matter. In fact, you have just gained a whole lot of experiential knowledge. I think that allowing your horse to experience this child will only advance its confidence, socialization to humans, demeanor, good behavior and more. I do suggest viewing some actual sessions of Equine Facilitated Learning. Unfortunately I do not know of any place you can do this easily. Most places that have horses involved in therapies are all about riding for the disabled. There are programs utilizing something called Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. These programs are geared mainly as self-help and sensitivity enhancement courses for "normal" humans and are very expensive (geared to make a lot of money generally). There is a world-wide bandwagon of such programs going on. Sadly, there is little out there for the learning disabled child, autistic child, etc. involving the experience you and the child had with your horse. I am one of only a handful doing this. Probably because there is no money in it. Agencies for learning disabled children never have any money. Parents are so strapped financially that they can only try to survive. Generally I end up giving these programs away or only charging the bare minimum (less than a piano lesson). I wish that were not the case. But I still love doing this. You are lucky that you have a great horse for this. Most are not that good. Some are OK and can be conditioned for it. But your horse is a natural.

   I strongly urge you to continue to allow regular visits between your horse and this child. Keep a constant eye on everything as safety is the most important part of putting humans and horses together. Step in if you feel the horse getting any angst at all. If you can, practice a few simple ground movements with your horse. On a slack leadrope, ask for the animal to come forward a few steps and stop (Whoa means the human stops and the horse stops). You could put your right hand up as a hand cue to stop as well. Do just this for ten minutes and only a few steps at a time. Then advance to leading left and right turns so that the horse is very respectful and moves away if you step into its head space and comes along easily while respecting your boundries appropriately. Be gentle. Practice asking the horse to gently back up on the lightest cue possible. Only a couple of steps is required. Practice leading the horse through a maze of cones. Practice lungeing the horse around you....These are all things you may be able to guide the child to do with the horse. Activities are only limited by your imagination and skill level.

If you are interested you can purchase the Equine Facilitated Learning DVD through my website's shopping corral. I do think you would enjoy it immensely as would the parents of the child. It is an eye opener indeed. Have some tissue handy to mod up the tears. With some basic horse skills, you can help and continue to provide these experiences for this child. I urge you to do it. Your horse will really enjoy it and it will be wonderful for the child and the family. God Bless You Sir....

Sincerely, Franklin

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