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Healing with horses: How equine guided learning helps those with grief

Skye Blue Acres specializes in death, dying, grieving and loss programs for children and adults.

Anyone who has experienced significant loss will agree that “grief” is not a singular feeling.  To grieve is to experience a gamut of emotions and a rollercoaster of healing, more heartbreak, and healing again.  Grieving the death of a loved one, or the effects of trauma or an impactful life change, is a process that must be acknowledged and accepted before the healing can begin.  

How equine guided learning helps those living with grief 

Animals make excellent companions and provide unwavering support. Horses are strong, yet gentle. They listen without judgement and are 100% in the moment with you. Working alongside a horse is a truly user-centric experience that provides non-verbal opportunities to enhance self-awareness, discover a state of mindfulness and bring a sense of normalcy to all those feelings and emotions.  

Gail Carruthers, owner of Skye Blue Acres and program co-creator, explains how their horses are utilized to help people find their own strength to face life’s greatest challenges. “We facilitate the horses through different exercises that help people get into a space that, without the horse, would be hard. Most people try to think their way through grief. We access the heart, which is huge. We are creating an experience and a program that goes beyond what traditional therapy or support is offering.”

Gail developed the program with her co-facilitator Julie Pehar, past Director of the Children and Youth Grief Network. What began as a casual meeting quickly led to the addition of a grief and loss support program at Skye Blue Acres. “I knew from the equine industry that it was an unmet need. We put our curriculum together and reached out to grief and loss network community organizations and mental health experts and received great response from both sectors.” 

The program has been so well received and has been vetted by Michelle Nogueira (Registered Social Service Worker, Psychotherapist) who has worked in the helping field for 32 years. Michelle is also a co-author (My Parents Aren’t Noobs!) and an Instructor at Wilfrid Laurier University (Faculty of Social Work Professional Development - Addictions Certificate Program). She brings to the program a vast amount of experience in developing groups, programs and courses on a wide array of topics (including grief).

Unique Programs for Every Client

There are specialized death, dying, grieving and loss programs for adults, youth and children in one-on-one and 6-week group sessions. This is not a horseback riding session; all exercises take place on the ground, alongside the horse. Gail explains. “There are exercises where you groom the horse, and exercises when you’re walking the horse through obstacle courses.”  Sessions typically begin and end in a meeting room, but the vast majority of the client’s time is spent actively working with the horse in the barn, paddock or out in the field. “It’s experiential. You’re not sitting in a classroom. You’re out working with the horse.”

Skye Blue Acres is set on a beautiful 48-acre farm in Puslinch.  To learn more about their support programs call 416-569-7628. You can also visit their website where you will find resource guide of local mental health and grief support programs. 

Grief is a natural part of life, but living in grief is a difficult path to navigate alone. Equine guided learning is “taking the wisdom and intelligence of horses, and helping people access a whole part of themselves they didn’t know was there. We want to bring back living. You do need to live – and that includes joy.”