Health & Lifestyle

The Magic of Mentoring: Kids, Youth and Horses Partners In Healing

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  • September 21, 2019

by Karen Feld

Why not approach each day as horses do? Wake up each morning, go for a walk, smell the flowers, be in the moment and feel thankful.

Healing with the assistance of horses is all about the connection. It’s not just another activity like riding a bicycle or playing soccer. The horses at HHB(Human Horse Balance) Healing Foundation in Center Conway, N.H. are rescues that were abused and have PTSD or other problems similar to those of the kids they help to heal. “Most of the kids have social, emotional and behavioral challenges. There’s a lot of parallels with the horses— abuse and neglect— that the kids relate to,” says David Lynch, Executive Director, who has watched “miracles” happen almost instantaneously in the first session. “The youth feel a strong bond,” Lynch says. “The unconditional acceptance the horses give is truly remarkable.”

Once the boys and girls have gone through HHB kids program, they feel more confident and empowered and have a strong desire to help younger kids. Many of these young people who were shut down emotionally from trauma want to give back as well as move forward to translate connection with the horse to human connection. It’s all about feeling safe, which is the ranch philosophy. “The kids gain self-confidence, mindfulness, and a feeling of belonging and safety,” explains Paula Lambie, who with husband Pete, founded the HHBHealing Foundation in Center Conway, N.H. in 2017.

Their rescue horses participate in a technique that has proven helpful to many in conquering life’s challenges by raising consciousness so participants learn more about themselves and recognize the unique courage, inner strengths and ability for connection of each individual. Human and equine relationship has been studied to help kids, teens and adults cope with life challenges. Paula, program manager, utilizes her unique combination of skills to develop an effective method of horse coaching to this end. “We all need a sense of belonging and spiritual connectedness,” she says. Her results demonstrate that horses connect people.

Lynch says he’s seen angry and explosive kids gain serenity and peace. There’s a calmness around them. “One young man who endured exceptional abuse, is calm and centered on the weeks he goes to the ranch. It increases confidence in oneself, and is life-changing and very sustainable.”

The Lambies have created a community of volunteer mentors who help other kids at the ranch in the way they were helped. It’s not about riding or even sitting on a horse. It’s about the connection that builds self-confidence. Adding an extra dimension, Paula and Pete were trained in equine-assisted learning in the Netherlands. As horse coaches they help participants learn how to receive what a horse can teach them. They help the participant integrate these lessons into their life and relationships. Forging positive relationships between horses and kids translates into self-regulation both on and off the horse. “The kids learn tools they can use when they are not here,” says Pete Lambie.

Horses have unique characteristics that contribute to a distinct human-animal interaction. They have evolved as intuitive, sensitive creatures that can be a motivator of strength and calmness. Empowering kids to free themselves of fear, no matter what challenges they face, is fundamental. That’s the mission at HHB Healing Foundation. Horses help kids and those youth then mentor others.

Mentoring impacts the mentees who mirror what their mentors were once. The mentors have been there, done that and are ready to help others. They and the horses partner in healing. It’s a story of connection. Energy is slowed down so healing can take place. It’s about sharing knowledge from personal experience.

Laurie Ferris, who is President of the Foundation, was introduced to the ranch through her son Zach, now 19. Mentoring followed the circle of life for Zach. Once, a troubled kid, Zach gained confidence and learned to connect through his work with horses. Now he mentors Joey, a young boy who has some of the same problems as Zach did when he was young. “Mentors are the best teachers,” explains Laurie. “They’ve gone through hard times themselves.” It’s been almost ten years since the two appeared on Oprah in a segment entitled, “Live to Tell.” “He’s a changed kid,” says Laurie. “Don’t just drug kids. There are healthier ways to teach them.”

What makes an effective mentor? “Someone who understands what the kid is going through and is able to listen,” says Zach, “and be there for him when he’s going through a tough time.” When the kid has an explosive outburst, Zach says he deters him from what he’s doing by asking him if he wants to go for a walk or listen to music. Then when he’s calmed down, ask him what went on, what he felt in the heat of the moment, what he could do to change that in the future. “When it’s in the heat of the moment I didn’t’ feel heard,” explains Zach. “It’s hard when you can’t express yourself.”

Zach has been working at the ranch for three years, and wishes he had that opportunity even earlier in his life. “I wanted to be heard; I was frustrated,” said Zach, who believes that many adults don’t know how to handle these kids. “But each horse has its own personality. Some are more aggressive, some easier to get along with, some more skittish. Animals are like humans so we can interact with them,” says Zach. “It takes time to build trust and relate to them. You can’t force it.”

The program utilizes teenage mentors to connect with the younger kids. “A mentor is hope,” says Laurie. “The power is in looking back full circle. The connection is huge. The kids there are emotionally disconnected and each has a mentor who was once in the same place.” They are creating a safe community for everyone. We all need a sense of belonging and spiritual connectedness. The horses connect people.

Zach is now mentoring Joey whose Mom is helping to lead the Foundation’s Teen Connection’s Program. “The kids are tied into us,” says Laurie. “We pick up the energy from one another.”

The self-discovery that happens is more profound than just riding a horse. That’s secondary. All it may take is a hug while on the ground.

One parent of a 10-year-old who participated, said: “I hope that all children, through being with, touching, taking care of these animals can even just for a precious moment in their week feel the love and acceptance from the animals allowing deep and real pride and satisfaction within themselves.”

As Lynch has observed, “it’s about helping youth heal and find a strong connection to others. The mentors and mentees develop a meaningful connection with one another.”

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