By Hannah Maine

Interview with Vanessa Kohnen, Founder

Q: What is equine therapy?

 A:  Equine Therapy is a type of modality that brings trauma survivors and horses together.  Horses are sensitive and in tune animals. They are very intuitive and in touch with the body language and nonverbal cues of humans. Due to being a fight-or-flight animal and having a herd mentality, horses are extremely responsive to the behavior of the people in their environment.

Seeing the horses response to how a person is communicating nonverbally allows valuable feedback into someone’s life. They are powerful animals that, in return, cause us to evaluate how to approach them. This begins the process of evaluating how we approach our relationship with people. At Rancho Milagro, teams will build space for horses using nonverbal communication and see their behavior reflected in the horses response.

When I approach a horse, I approach it in a different way than I approach a person.

Horses are so sensitive, if you are not in a good state of mind or calm when you approach them, they’ll sense that. The horses reflect your own emotional state and help you to reflect on it.

Q: How can equine therapy and the other services at Rancho Milagro help teenage girls who are dealing with trauma or other mental health concerns?

A:  Rancho Milagro is run by survivors, so we get it.  We take our life lessons and help survivors build a strong foundation of confidence in their life. Survivors are dealing with a thousand-pound animal, and most of them have thousand-pound problems. This experience helps to make their problems not seem as big. They begin to realize, if they can handle this, they can handle their problems.

By just spending time with the animals — grooming, walking, cleaning the stalls — girls see the horses reflect their behavior. Whether they’re feeling lack of confidence, hesitation, fear, depression, anxiety, anger, the horses will reflect that. Everyone is unique and we honor that by building a program that will fit each individual’s needs.

Q: Tell us a bit about your story. What led you to equine therapy and providing this service for others?

 A:  I am a child of abuse and horses saved my life. I was abused from age two to age 17. I’d been on a horse since before I could walk, so horses were my refuge, my safe place to hide. I always went to horses to escape.  They saved my life on so many occasions. When I was depressed or down, they were the one thing that I would go to to help me.  Now it is my turn to share that safe place with other people so they can find have a place in their trauma where they can come and talk, deal with their pain, or just feel safe.

Q: What would you say to a young woman struggling with trauma?

 A:  You do not need to do this alone. Find someone that is safe and share with them what you are feeling.

Q: If you could, what would you say to yourself when you were a teenager?

A:  It is not ok what happened to you, it was not your fault. The safety you feel with horses will teach you life lessons to help others. Your pain will not go to waste.

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