DAY OF GIVING: Spirit Reins promotes healing through horses

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By ANTHONY FLORES

The use of animals in therapy isn’t a new concept. While dogs tend to be the most popular animal for treatment, at Spirit Reins, horses are helping to heal those suffering from trauma.

“Our mission is to offer help and healing to children and families that have experienced trauma,” said Spirit Reins Executive Director Rhonda Smith. “We partner licensed health professionals and equine professionals with horses to help children feel and experience love and belonging.”

Smith grew up on a horse ranch and, after leaving a corporate job, founded Spirit Reins in February 2003.

“When I left the corporate world to follow my heart, my two passions were children and horses, and I wanted to find a way to put those things together. That’s what Spirit Reins became, a culmination of those two passions. I didn’t know at the time how powerful horses would be in this work.

The kind of trauma that Spirit Reins helps with doesn’t boil down to just one thing. It encompasses a variety of different issues that people may be facing.

“For us, trauma is anything from abuse and neglect to witnessing domestic violence,” said Smith. “It could be the death of a loved one or divorce, anything that feels overwhelming at the moment to our client, whether it’s a child, their parent, or the whole family system. It’s a broad definition.”

The healing process at Spirit Reins is a three-pronged method comprised of the setting, the horses, and the therapists.

“I think the experience at Spirit Reins is at the core of what I’ll refer to as our secret sauce,” said Smith. “It’s the beautiful setting of 125 acres, we have 30 horses, and we have incredible licensed therapists trained in different modalities to help meet these kids where they are.”

For clients, the experience begins at soon as they enter the gates of the Spirit Reins ranch.

“Being on the edge of the Texas Hill Country is the feeling that you’ve left something behind, and you’ve come onto this place of healing,” said Smith. “As they drive through the gate, that’s where it starts. They see the horses roaming loose, they see the land and the trees.”

Smith and her organization believe that healing centers around on relationships.

“A typical session is they would head right out and catch the horse that the child is working with,” said Smith. “The core of our work is understanding that trauma occurs in the context of relationships, and trauma is healed in the context of relationships.”

One of the advantages of using animals, in this case, the horses, is a lack of judgment that exists in animals. Smith believes it creates the right environment for healing.

“Part of what makes Spirit Reins special and different from other talk therapy centers is that the horses allow children to work on relationships without all of the human judgment,” she said. “They have a chance to experience a relationship built on mutual trust and respect, and love.”

Because of its prey animal status, the horse has a brain structure that works in the same way as a child that has experienced trauma.

“What happens to children neurologically is that they get an overdeveloped brain stem region. The fight, flight, or flee region gets activated for a child who experienced trauma,” said Smith. “As a prey animal, horses naturally develop a really strong fight, flight or flee system to stay safe. The model of therapy we use, natural lifemanship, is based on experiences that build new pathways in both the child and the horse’s brains.”

For the 2020 Day of Giving, Spirit Reins is aiming to raise $20,000 to fund a session every Thursday afternoon for the rest of the year.

“Our goal is really to fund the therapy work that we do,” said Smith. “We calculated how much it would cost for a therapy session every Thursday afternoon for the rest of the year to be covered by the Liberty Hill community. We want to be able to say that Thursday at 3:30 p.m. Liberty Hill covers that for any family that signs up for that spot.”

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