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  • Susan Brown

A Moment of Perfection & Connection

The day began cool and rainy, but now the clouds have drifted away, leaving the aching blue of a perfect spring day. Scatterings of dandelions shine brilliant yellow in the green green grass. Swooping above, starlings click and whistle as they build nests and defend territory. A machine rumbles in the distance, the sound softened by the warming air.

Leah and Natasha head to the pasture to deal with the worst of the mud the horses have acquired while Barb sets out a semi-circle of plastic chairs at the end of the arena. Kathy double checks that bottled water is available, clipboards are ready, and that the volunteers are prepped for the program being offered to the hospice patients.

And then the cars begin arriving carrying patients, nurses, and volunteers.

As in every session offered by Courageous Connections, Kathy begins with introductions followed by an outline of the plan for the hour. Today, the first activity is a breathing exercise to calm and orient the participants, and as Kathy says, “To make it good for the horses to come into this space.”

When the horses, Remi, Punkin, and Ari, are led into the ring, Kathy demonstrates the “horsey handshake” – how to greet a horse by simply holding out a loosely held fist for the horse to sniff. “This is the respectful way to greet a horse,” she explains. When the greeting is accepted, she shows where a gentle hand can slide over a horse’s side and down the rib cage to feel her breathing. “Try to match their breath,” she says. “You may not be able to do it, because they breathe so slowly.”

And then the participants leave their chairs to greet the horses. Natasha leads Remi closer as Dave cannot walk easily. Kathy takes his walker over to Remi and allows her to smell and examine it. Then, rather than risking startling the horse, Dave opts to use the support of a hospice nurse’s arm. He shuffles the short distance across the dry dirt of the arena, bent a little forward as though willing his entire body to reach Remi.

When he holds out his hand, she smells him and steps closer. Their energy clearly connects. Despite his difficulty in standing, he stays close to Remi, smiling as they share space and sync their breathing.

Joanne has no evident impairment and several years of experience with horses. She approaches confidently and greets Ari. Within minutes, her hands hover over Ari’s side and flank. Her eyes drift closed and Ari’s head droops in contentment as they make contact with each other. The moment is perfect in their quiet connection.

There is a charged and contained energy around this session. Everyone feels the need to make this work, that even on a perfect spring day, the reality of ending should carry the affirmation of connection between the horses and people. Hands draw energy from the strong and gentle horses. Shared caring is evident.

Afterwards, Dave is still radiating the energy he felt. “The warmth of Remi walking up to me,” he says. “I wasn’t ready for it, but it was wonderful. There was such softness in her eyes.”

The success of this work with patients has caused the hospice program to request Courageous Connections to double the number of sessions.

“It’s such an affirmation,” Kathy says. She smiles in pure pleasure – because affirmation of the spirit of people and horses is what Courageous Connections is all about.

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