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  • Courageous Connections

Heart to Heart

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

Everyone knows times are tough. But for some people, life is a lot tougher right now. In its monthly Cancer Lifeline class, Courageous Connections brings people touched by cancer and horses together. And everyone is better for it.

The six women sit in a semi-circle in the roofed arena, listening intently as Kathy Sanders, president of Courageous Connections, outlines the day’s objectives – connect with a horse, share your energy, affirm.

As the women introduce themselves, they reveal their anxieties, their fears about horses, and their determination to reach for the positive.

Then the volunteers lead the horses into the arena: Scarlett, a chestnut quarter-horse; Izzy an alert Appaloosa mix; Mason, a thoroughbred still scarred from his stint as a rodeo horse.

“This is a horsey handshake,” Kathy demonstrates a relaxed hand held close to Scarlett’s nostrils. “This is how you show respect.”

One by one, the women walk over to greet each horse, some eagerly, some with slightly anxious movements. The horses breathe in their scents, turn their heads away, and then smell them again.

The lesson is calm and low-key. After the handshake, the women are shown how to rub their hands together and then slowly move them towards the side of the horse. “Do this until you feel something, their warmth, their energy,” Kathy says.

Some with eyes closed, some looking aside, the women move their palms toward the big animals. Scarlett and Izzy turn their heads to regard the women, and then stand quietly, their eyes half-closed. Mason shifts so that the energy is shared to his shoulder. “He’s showing you what he wants,” Kathy explains.

The participants breathe slowly in tune with the horses. “I can feel the connection,” one woman whispers. “That rhythm.”

The participants take lead ropes and, some smiling, some wide-eyed, guide the horses around a simple obstacle course defined by plastic cones. They are relaxed and happy; the horses are relaxed and willing.

Finally, the women return to the semi-circle to share what they experienced. “Mason adapts to my energy,” one woman says in wonder. “I really like the vibe.”

“Your heart was drawn to his heart,” Kathy says. “It’s drawn both ways.”

The session ends with smiling photos beside the horses. Repeated questions of when can we come back? The palpable sense of connection and joy between people and horses.

Hearts drawn to hearts.

Contributing Author: Susan Brown

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