Healing and Hope through Horses

From the outside no one would have ever known. I live in an affluent community with my husband and our 3 beautiful and healthy children. My closet is filled with designer clothes and shoes.

I work my dream job as a part time pediatric nurse practitioner. This schedule allows me to do what I love and care for sick children. It also allows me more time with my family, friends, volunteering, and the opportunity to travel.

We’ve traveled extensively — Caribbean, Hawaii, Europe. Last year I had the breathtaking experience to gallop the English countryside. My daughters and I will return to England later this year as we have decided to make it an annual trip.

As an avid equestrian I have trained with some of the best and most accomplished riders here in the US and internationally. We recently expanded our family by 4 legs: Mighty Oxford aka “Ford”, an off the track thoroughbred. He is living his best life with chiropractor visits, professional training, massages, blanket therapy, and more.

We are planning our next home where we can look outside and see our horses grazing. Chandeliers will hang in the barn which will be no surprise to those that know me. You will likely find me mucking stalls in a ruffle skirt and my muck boots.

This sounds like the perfect life. No one would have known that underneath the perfect outfit, makeup, and smile, I was silently suffering from debilitating depression and indescribable pain. Multiple times I heard “Really? I would never have known, you always look so happy.”

The reality was, it was all an act. Underneath it all I was drowning.

In 2021 I was assaulted. Ashamed and disgusted with myself, I kept it a secret from everyone. Severe depression set in and the pain it brought was unrelenting. There was no light at the end of the tunnel—I couldn’t see my family or a life worth living for.

The barn was my safe place, primarily because of my horse at the time and the community I was surrounded by. While they didn’t know my secret it was clear that I was struggling. Initially they were incredibly supportive, however, that support lasted only for so long. I will never forget when the barn manager told me I was a burden and exhaustive to everyone. She questioned the medical care I was receiving because I should have been getting better.

Looking back, that emotional abuse was as bad, if not worse, then the physical trauma. To hear from someone you’re a burden, exhausting, not wanted, was devastating as I was already being constantly haunted by those thoughts. Taking my life seemed to be the only solution to end the pain. I began making plans— To become part of the 11th leading cause of death in the US.

Intense treatment began with the best clinical minds, including renowned professionals from across the country. I exhausted every treatment option from the human perspective. However, it turned out that the best therapist for me walked on 4 legs and never said a word to me.

Multiple times I’d leave the house with plans to end my life. I’d go to the barn to say goodbye to my horse. Exhausted from the pain, I’d collapse onto the floor of his stall and sob. Each time he would come, lay his nose on my head, and not leave my side until I had calmed. I would leave him with strength to fight another day.

He was my medicine. He saved my life. I am here today as someone who is living a new and beautiful life, because of equine therapy and modern medicine. This life is one filled with hope, joy, and gratitude. Do I still experience moments of depression? Absolutely. It’s different this time— My 4 legged therapists show me a life worth living. The value my life brings to this world. That I am enough.

As I began this new life a question was posed to me — what if the life I thought I wanted was different than the life I want now. The answer was easy: I wanted to combine my love of horses with my passion for mental health. Shortly after this realization one of my beautiful relatives died by suicide. Her death ignited a fire within me. I needed to do whatever I could—To be a voice for those silently suffering. To end the stigma.

Fear of judgement, feelings of shame and embarrassment, being seen as weak for seeking treatment, the uncertainty of what treatment may consist of, has led so many with mental illness to never receive the care they so desperately need.

As I mentioned earlier, the surface and facade was not a true reflection of what I was going through. Many of you may know what I speak of. Maybe you yourself are struggling. Perhaps you have a spouse, a child, or co-worker, battling depression, anxiety, or thoughts of self-harm. Maybe you know a veteran or a first responder, experiencing ptsd. An adult or child who has gone through trauma, a youth that is being bullied, or a LGBTQ+ individual struggling with feelings of shame and low self-esteem.

Throughout the country multiple Equine Assisted Psychotherapy organizations exist. This model includes an equine specialist, mental health professional, the client, and a herd of 4-legged therapists. These organizations provide environments where those in pain can leave the weight of their suffering at the door and enter a space free of stigma. Instead of judgment there is love and support. Thoughts of embarrassment and weakness are replaced with confidence and empowerment. Where those in pain are seen, heard, and loved. They are reminded that they are enough by not only the staff, but by these incredible and beautiful 4 legged animals. A place where this alternative therapy may lead individuals to seek treatment early in their illness.

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is making positive differences in the lives of those with mental illness, creating healthier lives for our spouses, youth, co-workers, ourselves. I couldn’t see my future in front of me; how I could go on. But it was because of my horse and the therapy he provided me, that I am not only here as a wife, a mother, a survivor, but as an advocate for those who are silently suffering.

I share with you not only my story of battling mental illness, but more importantly my story of hope and healing. I came across this beautiful quote regarding these powerful therapists.

“They see within us the feelings and emotions, the uncertainties and fears which we try to hide and keep secret. Yet, that is their magic. For they do not judge and condemn. Rather they accept us as we are and help us to heal.”

If there is one person who gets through the challenges they face, the battles they fight, through Equine Assisted Psychotherapy or reading my story, then taking down all my walls and being vulnerable is absolutely worth it. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Do not hesitate to reach out Horses For Mental Health (@horses.harmony) for assistance locating an organization that provides Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.

This article was written by Christine in partnership with Horse & Style Magazine for Mental Health Awareness Month. If you or a loved one is struggling, please know you are not alone and help is available. Click here for resources.