‘Eye of A Horse’ Dynamic Therapy For All
By Space Coast Medicine & Active Living // September 17, 2013
2012 CENTRAL FLORIDA HUMANITARIAN
Unique Mental Health Treatment Program Assists Young and Old
The career paths of Dean Van Camp, a professional horse trainer, and Sandra Wise, a psychologist working in prisons, met head-on in Colorado in 1999.
From their first chance meeting, Dean began teaching Sandra everything he had learned about the equine world in his, then, 30 years of horse training; and Sandra began teaching Dean how to be a psychologist-of-sorts without having to go to graduate school.
The result of this melding and sharing of career fields is the “Eye of a Horse” mental health treatment program, a panoply of psychotherapeutic experiences headquartered at the Equine Education Center on the grounds of the 4,700-acre wildlife preserve in Osceola County known as Forever Florida.
Here Dean and Sandra voluntarily dedicate their time and talents to conducting psychotherapy sessions with the aid of the largest herd of Florida Cracker horses in the world. Here, clients, who range from youngsters with autism, to at-risk youth, to sexual abuse survivors, to disabled veterans, to elderly senior citizens, interact with horses—and cows—at liberty, that is, free to come and go and relate as they see fit.
As Dean and Sandra put it, “Through the eye of a horse, we help folks find new ways to look at the world and new ways to relate to all living creatures, particularly to our own kind and, ultimately, to ourselves. Through the eye of a horse, we help people see WHAT they characteristically do in relationships and in life—which is the beginning of understanding WHY they do what they do—which, in turn, is the beginning of CHANGING the parts that are not working for them.”
These two humanitarians’ passion for and commitment to the “Eye of a Horse” program is clearly embodied by the energy and exuberance that is so palpable when Dean and Sandra discuss the program, their equine associates and their diverse clientele.
Their clients are invited to mingle with a herd of free-roaming horses. Metaphors and symbolism rule this world. Much is revealed by the choices that follow. “See if you are drawn to a particular horse,” instructs Dean, “or don’t choose, and see which horse chooses you.”
Then the client is tasked with making sense of the resultant choice. It’s rather like a projective psychological test, which reveals hidden motives or underlying personality structure by using ambiguous stimuli, such as ink blots, cloud pictures—or horses.
And that fact—that the animals are free to interact as they choose—makes all the difference. Horses and cows, being prey animals, respond and react immediately, directly, and clearly to the physical or emotional presence of anything and anyone in their environment.
Come on too strong and the horse or cow will leave pronto. Act too submissively and the animal will ignore you. Change or modulate your behavior and you will see a different reaction from your therapeutic partner. Learn to make yourself interesting and engaging, and you can experience your own amazing power to influence the behavior of others.
This dynamic “interaction effect” is what makes Dean and Sandra’s program so effective, and distinguishes it from therapeutic riding. The power of this model comes from the horse observing a human’s non-verbal communication and responding with clear feedback about what he sees.
Therefore, all therapeutic work is “on the ground.” Just like physicians in white coats use instruments like X-rays and stethoscopes to see how an individual is doing medically, “Eye of a Horse” uses interactions with free-roaming horses and cows to see how a person is doing psychologically and emotionally. This is why they refer to the horses as “big barometers in brown coats.”
So goes the work of Dean and Sandra, introducing special folks—young and old, burdened, weary or worried—to a special breed of native horses born and raised on the ranch of 2010 Central Florida Humanitarians, Bill and Margaret Broussard.
Equine therapists include untouched naïve colts recently born out in back pastures; to herds of brood mares that rarely interact with humans; and to seasoned professionals like Mud Dog, who has befriended many 90-year old nursing home residents, and Uno, who has played ball with many youngsters who are carrying heavy loads, and Curly Fries, who has fetched many an object tossed by a human friend who has forgotten how to trust and needs to learn that the object will indeed be returned.
These wonderful animals, state Dean and Sandra, are the true humanitarians—serving mankind as only they can, with immediate, direct, and non-judgmental feedback—heralding the message, “I see you, I respect you, I will engage you. And if you are willing to learn, I will teach you.”
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The Central Florida Humanitarian Awards were created to recognize outstanding individuals and organizations that dedicate their Time, Talent or Treasure to help people in need locally – and around the world.
This year, more than 40 deserving humanitarians will be honored during the Gala, which will be held Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 at the Hilton Melbourne Rialto Place, with the festivities beginning at 6 p.m.
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