- October 1, 2023
So much has happened this summer that I forgot to tell you about the last leg of my Asian tour to Japan! It was very exciting for me to visit Japan again. This time I landed in Tokyo.
My first visit to Japan was in 1995 after the Earthquake in Kobe. I traveled to Japan with the late Jonquil Solt, OBE, and Inger Bryant to see if we could help Japanese challenged and disabled adults enjoy what is now known as para equestrian sport. This memorable visit gave me my first impression of Japan and was the first time I met Mr. Mickey, a pioneer of para equestrianism in Japan whose enthusiasm pushed the sport forward.
In 2009 I went to Japan, visiting Kikouen on the the Island of Fukuoka. I stayed at the center called Kikouen, a most beautiful center that was helping people who are intellectually impaired to enjoy a full and productive life. I spent a week giving lectures and soaking up the incredible atmosphere of this extraordinary place.
Now in 2023 I arrived in Tokyo to be met by Emiko Oto, a friend who I had not seen for several years. The minute I saw her I recognized her, and was so happy to see her.
Emiko drove for two plus hours to somewhere near Otomoto where we stayed. It is a beautiful hot spring area under the eye of Mount Fuji.
The next day we went to Otomoto, which is a beautiful riding center that is on a small hillside, just above the village houses. I was given a horse to ride, which made me very happy. I toured the area on the horse, at first walking along the road of the village, then up a small hill to look at the amazing view of the mountain.
Afterwards Emiko introduced me to intellectually impaired riders at the riding center, some of whom would be competing in the summer at the Special Olympics in Germany. I felt at home and quickly became involved. It was inspiring to teach these students. We had enormous fun putting a saddle and bridle on a horse, and then enjoying leading with some groundwork. In the amazing surroundings of the riding center, I gave the staff some lectures about Traumatic Brain Injury, and Post Trauma.
The next leg of my journey took me to Tokyo where I provided a seminar to practitioners who are working for RDA in Japan. I was welcomed by their president Kiginu Nakata and then gave my lectures, “How Horses Can Help People Who Are Post-Trauma ”. It was very moving to be with people who all recognized that horses had a profound effect upon healing and wanted to know more about the topic of trauma. My short stay in Japan was a wonderful experience. Riding under the watchful eye of Mount Fuji was amazing. The weather was perfect, and the often shy mountain was in full view. I was honored to be able to participate in an afternoon Tea Ceremony at the home of Kiginu Nakata. And finally, it was extremely moving for me to watch Emiko Oto prepare intellectually impaired riders for their international dressage competition in Germany. Japan is an amazing place, and I am looking forward to returning in November.
- August 6, 2023
CONTINUING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT (CPD) Certified * View Course *
- May 22, 2023
As I left the plane the hot air and high humidity hit me. It was like arriving in Israel, and immediately you feel overdressed coming from a cooler country as all one needs is a T-shirt and comfortable clothing. The last time I visited Taiwan was for a HETI Conference. I think this was my fourth visit and I felt at home. I also knew the person who was coming to meet me for many years. She had also visited Israel some years ago.
From the airport we traveled to a small town that was famous for its hot spring water, baths, and wonderful valley where the hot water ran constantly, and a relaxing atmosphere. Beitou is a town on the outskirts of Taipei. The island of Taiwan sits on a collision zone between two tectonic plates. As a result, it has one of the highest concentrations of thermal hot springs in the world. In fact, there are at least 100 major hot springs. Taiwanese people had always appreciated their hot springs, but it was the Japanese that developed Beitou and other spa resorts. I didn’t have the courage to publicly bathe with no clothes on, so I chose to bathe in the amazing hot spring water in the privacy of my hotel room.
The next day I traveled with Uta Rindfleisch-Wu to the Zhongzheng district. To reach this mountainous region we went in a cable car over the mountains till we finally reached our destination. Uta led the way as we walked up steep paths and steps at the sides of the tea plantation. We could see towns in the distance, even at one time the 101 Tower. There were magnificent temples dotted across the landscape. It was extremely peaceful. We had a fish and vegetable lunch on the mountain at about 3,000 meters.
Returning to ground level again we traveled to the riding center in the Longtan district where we saw the horses and equipment and set up for the following day where I was going to work. The next day I began my workshop. The days were long as we had a lot to do in a short time. Half the time we spent in the classroom and half outside in the arena practicing. The topics included sensory integration, emotions, traumatic brain injury, and post trauma. The students practiced putting bridles, saddles, grooming, leading and side walking. We did everything together and then spent time afterwards evaluating our work and reflecting upon what happened while partnering with the horses.
It was tremendously hot, 36.5 Celsius, but I was not bothered by this heat, mainly because the group of students were so enthusiastic, and it felt so good absorbing their positive vibes. Uta did most of the interpreting from English to Taiwanese, and when things got difficult there was always someone around to help. Our days always ended in the same way, reflecting upon ourselves, work, and the horses. It was incredible to spend time in this friendship circle that was built from both humans and horses.
Since returning from Taiwan, I have had a zoom meeting with the students who are asking for answers to many more questions.
When the course finished, I visited the village of Jioufen which is a mountain town in northeastern Taiwan, east of Taipei. It’s known for the narrow alleyways of its old town, packed with teahouses, street-food shacks, and souvenir shops. Near central Old Street is the Shengping Theater, established in the 1900s and since restored. Close by, the Gold Mine Museum traces the town’s history as a mining hub during the Japanese-era gold rush. On my travels I have learned that street food is a must. Yes, it’s great to go to a good restaurant, but it’s also important to taste something that is unique to the place one is visiting. In Jioufen, I was lucky there was a Vegan version of Ah Zhu Peanut Ice Cream Roll which was sold in one of the most famous stalls on Jioufen Old Street.
I finished this stay in Taipei where I visited the Night Market, then used the Metro to see the central part of the city. Traveling on the Metro felt easy as it sparked memories of traveling on the London Underground.
Taiwan made me feel comfortable, the students enthusiasm and good will are feelings that I will keep with me forever. The Therapeutic Riding Instructor students with whom I was privileged to work embraced knowledge building. A synthesis of ideas became their common goals, group discussions, and synthesis of ideas. It was a joy to expand their experience.
Taiwan recharged my batteries, and made me ready for the last leg of my journey.
- May 14, 2023
On March 27th, I set off on a journey to South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan.
My plan for this three-country journey was to spend time passing on my knowledge and experience working with clients with PTSD and other challenging disabilities, meet old friends, and see the countryside.
My starting point was in the Republic of Korea, at the Humphreys US Army Base in the district of Asan-si Chungcheongnam-do where I provide a hundred-hour Post Graduate Course for Professionals: Equine Assisted Activities and/or Therapy (EAA/T) for Individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at Grace Stables owned by Sarah Shechner. Soldiers with PTSD from the base were invited to be participants (clients) in the course.
I was pleased to present this course in a country where Korean modern culture still has strong ties to the past. Korea is a country steeped in ancient history that connects to the horse. Korean culture has always viewed the horse as not merely a means of transportation, but as a representation of the authority and divinity of the state and/or the ruler. In the Joseon Dynasty, the horse fulfilled a range of purposes in state or royal ceremonies. In royal processions, it demonstrated the authority and dignity of the king. The horse, a symbol of status, was used as a means of transportation when they were alive. After death, their mane was used to make traditional hats, their skin was used to make shoes and their tendons were used to make bows. Horses were also recognized as being guides for the soul.
There were five Korean and American candidates who participated in the course providing an atmosphere of erudite learning. For five days using my PowerPoints text, all candidates enthusiastically worked together, brainstorming, sharing ideas and creating and inventing new ones. We all enjoyed a week of reflective learning. Through these daily discussions, authentic practice, participant (client) feedback and candidate evaluation both candidates and participants made enormous progress.
Testimonial of client participant
My mind is clear, the cloud of anxiety is off my shoulders, everything is easier. With the horse, and the company of other people being vulnerable, I felt safe. Aware, and yet unaware of what was happening, I connected with the horse in a way I have not connected with animals in a long time. For the first time in my life, I fully acknowledged the initial trauma and came to peace with it. On the second day, my boys were snuggled next to me, and I embraced them with a joy and empathy that I have not felt with them before, that has been inaccessible. On the third day, on my way to the barn, I reflected on how much I loved it and looked forward to seeing my beautiful horse. Then I softly smiled as I recalled the horse was previously abused and still, I find him beautiful, and then for the first time I told myself, that I too am beautiful and loved.
I never could have imagined that I would finally come to peace, could ever feel this much peace, and that it would be through connection with Chewbee. I have dedicated many volunteer hours to serving the community in various ways, particularly after the trauma and now I understand I should have, and going forward must continue to take care of myself first.
Candidates are continuing to work on their ideas before we meet again in June for another week of study, case study reporting and authentic practice. In total it will be a hundred-hour course.
To summarize, this Post Graduate Course for Professionals: Equine Assisted Activities and/or Therapy (EAA/T) for Individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in South Korea has shown that participant progress (Clients with PTSD) was exceptional when they could come to the therapeutic riding center each day of the week. During that time, it was also mind blowing to watch five people from the Humphreys US Army Base come together, bond with horses, find themselves and build new friendships of trust and caring with horses and candidates. I have worked since 1982 with veterans and this was one of the most productive and genuine courses I have ever given.
Korea is an interesting country with many cultural sites and places to visit. This was my second time, which meant that I gave time to travel. The food is outstanding, but I wanted to see more of its past, and the countryside.
I arrived when all the cherry blossoms were bursting into bloom. King cherry blossom trees produce huge bows of heavy and large blossoms, and long branches in some cases reaching the ground. In the morning mountain air, they exude a fragrant scent of lilacs, rose magnolias and almond blossoms. This phenomenon can last as few as three days, because the rain drenching the blossom, causes it to quickly fall allowing new green spring leaves to appear.
After the course, I went with Sarah on a train ride to Busan. Traveling first class we sat in armchairs watching the countryside race by. We were traveling on a bullet train at 315 kilometers an hour to Busan. It was a fantastic trip, and I remember feeling the warmth inside me build up as I knew I was going to see something special.
Busan, is the largest port in South Korea, has a famous fish market and is a place for a sunshine beach holiday. Booking in for two nights, we explored the streets and dined in an incredible fish restaurant, where the chef excelled himself with his exquisite courses. After a good night’s sleep, we set off the next day on a thirteen-hour trip up into the mountains. The views were amazing, and again the cherry blossoms were having a party. We visited temples, the village of Yang Dong, and other places where we tried local street foods, experienced customs, and memorabilia.
Soaking up the atmosphere of the Korean countryside, our long trip included sundown. The late afternoon and evening provided a special treat. For many years I have been writing about the human-horse bond, reading books about it, and visiting museums in my desire to understand why we have such a strong connection to horses. I have always wanted to visit the burial mounds seen across Euro Asia, and especially the well-known tomb in Pazyryk Russia where nomadic Scythians who were the first horseman were buried. Scythian Princes chose to be buried with their revered horses and even servants. The princes’ favorite horses were killed, covered in gold jewelry ready to travel with them to higher places in the next life. In Korea I visited Cheonmachong, a sky horse tomb. This tomb was built in the style of Silla and was said to follow the pattern of a Scytho-Iranian tomb in Pazyryk, Russia. It was amazing to see gold jewelry that archaeologists had found and was made for the prince’s horses.
Afterwards, and it was now dark, we arrived at Gyeongju, Donggung Palace, Wolji-Pond, Anapji. King Munmu from the Silla dynasty had built this palace in 54BCE for rest and peace in between the times when he was at war. He was one of the two kings in Korean history that achieved unification, something that is sought after till today. Today, Donggung Palace is the only restored remains of the original palace which was destroyed by the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392).
Sarah and I were lucky as we missed the huge crowds that are known to visit this palace, so we enjoyed its magnificence and night peace. Standing at the far side of the lake looking back at the flood lit palace, my imagination allowed me to think of King Munmu, and the original palace he had built to suit his glorious lifestyle. He had chosen a theme for his home. The buildings and surrounds had shapes and colors that connected to his love of water. The gardens, trees and flowers appeared to have equal parts and value. It was like a bouquet of flowers. King Mumu maintained the overall look of his arrangement, by whom he invited to Donggung Palace.
- December 26, 2022
The second part of my visit to Korea was also exceptional. After I finished with my workshops at the KATH Association symposium held at the Korean Racing Authority, I decided to step out and see some of the amazing historical sights of Seoul. I joined a group tour and visited Palaces and Temples as well as the famous North Tower. I wished I had gone to the North Tower with a partner as it would have been real fun and probably very romantic to have left a love lock. Seoul has several central locations, each with a different feel. Some reminded me of Manhattan, New York. When I was in Myeongdong district it reminded me of Soho, and then in the Gangnam district it felt more like the Upper East Side. Standing high up on the North Tower, Seoul was a sprawling city with many suburbs, traffic jammed highways and hard working people. Still, it was special for me to walk in the cold Autumn air around the city and go into Coffee and Cake Cafes where I saw young people enjoying conversation and experiencing Seoul city life.
After my sightseeing tour, I was invited to the countryside around the city of Incheon and spent time with Dr. Park and her son. Dr Park, an amazing lady with her many academic accolades, and her son, a therapist, let me have a peep at some traditional Korean culture. From a typical Korean lunch, to driving and walking next to farmland as well as visiting a riding center, I saw the best rice fields of Korea and how traditional Kimchi is made, and what was the spirit of therapeutic riding in Korea.
Then I met Sarah and Bobby Shechner-Mcknight who had invited me to stay at their home while I gave a workshop at the US Humphreys Armed Forces Base in Korea. Sarah had organized the workshop and live demonstration that I presented for soldiers and their families on the Base and at her stables, Grace Stables. Military families were interested in knowing more about EAA/T and how it could help those suffering from symptoms of post traumatic stress (PTS). The workshop, discussions and demonstration were very successful. All the events were filmed and recorded. Our demonstration afternoon finished in the freezing cold, minus 10 celsius and with a generous barbeque. Sarah’s support for her event was sponsored by private donations, the American Red Cross and the Wounded Warriors Foundation.
With Sarah, I experienced only Korean food. She took me to local restaurants, and an open market where we bought delicious fish and vegetables for our evening meals. Life in smaller towns is different to Seoul, more old fashioned, contained and still content with past practices and established conventions of living.
We went by car to the town of Jeonju where we stayed the night in the remarkable ancient village. Sarah introduced me to Jeonju’s best local food, and the experience of walking around the old town in traditional clothing. I slept on a futon on the floor and woke up creaking like an old door, but that soon wore off as I enjoyed my outdoor breakfast in the ancient village. My experience in Jeonju, dressing up and sleeping in an ancient village hundreds of years old made me feel for a moment that I was actually living in the Joseon period.
My trip to the Republic of Korea was more than memorable. The good wishes and good will of all the people I met at the KATH symposium and at the Humphrey US Army Base was a gift that will last for a lifetime and I look forward to returning there soon.
- December 12, 2022
I arrived in Seoul on the 24th of November for a two week visit after having received invitations from the Korean Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship , Grace Stables, the American Red Cross, and Humphrey American Army Base in Korea. I thank each of these organizations for their invitations and for so warmly welcoming me to Korea.
My first workshops took place during the Korean Riding for Disabled Association International Symposium, an extremely well organized symposium led by Tae-Woon Jung (John), President of the Korean Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship. It was an honor to participate in this symposium and gave me the opportunity to spread the word, and let as many people as possible know, about how valuable and therapeutic Equine Assisted Activities and Therapy (EAA/T) are for healing those with PTSD. By demonstrating the success of Equine Therapy, I am aiming to motivate other practitioners to partner with their horses, and help those who have been traumatized find ways to re-establish their lives and cope again with their many real-life-issues.
Among the participants were highly skilled horse men and women, medical practitioners and experts in special education, psychology and several well established holistic therapies. Whether it was the head of the organization or a newcomer to the topic, I felt all the participants understood the importance of considering a client’s emotional state and their level of trust. The collective consciousness of the group and self analysis, made their motivation palpable.
I included discussion about sexual abuse and trauma, along with PTSD experienced by veterans. Once again I wanted to emphasize the importance of restructuring the life of someone who is traumatized by providing them a strong framework to support their life away from the horse.
South Korea, like any other country, is trying to cope with its many traumatized people. Participants described a tragedy that occurred during Covid, which involved several firefighters and first responders who participated and witnessed a very difficult working situation. Many now have PTSD and some have committed suicide. During this past month the Korean nation again suffered collectively from the deadly results of a human stampede, and once again there will be many people left traumatized. The positive support through EAA/T, in the form of movement, learning new skills connected to the horse, care, commitment, consistency, communication, and character can bolster motivation and provide a framework for rebuilding lives.
I have been fortunate enough to come to South Korea and meet such wonderful people, who have shown me generosity and warmth of heart. My journey continues. There are still more workshops to come!
- April 21, 2021
Sarah who had cerebral palsy and partial blindness was growing up and was spending more time alone. At the age of six, whether in school or at home, she would be placed in a chair or on the floor while classroom activities took place, or her mother took care of her sisters or cleaned the house. Even though she was six she didn’t have friends coming round to play, and life was lonely. Coming to the horses and her special pony was something new and exciting. Sarah was outdoors, meeting someone, her pony, who would be there for her. She felt something stir inside her. Although she did not know what it was, it was likely her confidence growing. Sarah felt love and attraction to this beautiful pony.
One day at the riding center Sarah was about to get on her pony and start an adventure. She had poor eyesight and she found herself looking for the reins. Holding her small body in my arms, I felt that the beats of her heart were telling me that she wanted to guide her pony. I looked at her and smiled and I felt from her expression she was saying: “I want to ride, but I am not sure where. I have seen other children ride ponies on the television, so I think I can do it.”
Sarah was not developing quickly. Everything she did, or was done to her, took time. Everything she played with was arranged, everything she ate was given to her. There was nothing she could do by herself. Coming for riding therapy was different as her pony was not only her therapist but a friend, and this was the first time she felt a friendship connection. I started this session by first helping her to sit upon his back. She was not able at this point to stretch her legs wide apart, so she sat sideways. Gradually as the moving pony relaxed her spasm, I was able to separate her legs for moments of the ride. She was smiling and it must have felt so fast. Her whole body was challenged, and she kept smiling because she felt so good.
In this supported position the few minutes on the pony’s back gave her the opportunity to look around her and see things that were new. In this position on the pony, she could see a lot further than she could at home sitting on the floor, or in school, even from a special chair with supports. She was focusing, yes on the reins, but also on different objects in the arena. She raised and turned her head to look at the volunteer walking beside her and she smiled. Sitting up she felt her six years, and with help, holding her hands she soon got the idea of steering the pony. She started making speech sounds and began to laugh. Sarah was open and responsive to whatever I asked her to do. She opened her fingers and touched the horse’s mane, moving her fingers slowly through the hair.
After sitting, I lay Sarah down on the pony’s back. In that position I was able to mobilize her spine and in fact all of her body, always checking to see that lying on her stomach was not stressing or making her feel sick. She lay in this position with her shoulders parallel to the pony’s croup. Lying along the horse’s back made it possible for her to absorb the pony’s rhythmic three-dimensional movement as they walked around the arena. She started to kick her legs backwards and forwards and her body became so relaxed it felt like a piece of soft rubber. She allowed me to move her legs into the crawling position, and she started to crawl along the horses back. When I sat her up again to finish her riding session, she was able to lift her arms forward and away from her body, and again she tried to reach the reins.
Sarah had spent a whole half hour socializing with her pony, and the people supporting her for the session. She had smiles, laughter, and lots of movement. She made it clear that she wanted to do things, that she wanted to learn how to ride. She communicated nonverbally with her new friend, the pony. We all knew she was enjoying herself and would want to come again to be with her new friend.
Sarah had made enormous strides, physically, and socially. She communicated well with the volunteers who helped in the lesson. Back at school her teacher reported that she was in a good mood for hours after the ride and that her new flexibility made it possible to put her in the crawling position on the floor.
This poem is written by Christina Gugliotta. I thought of Sarah as I read it!
To My Horse
What is the most appropriate word to describe your spirit?
It would just deserve to be free in nature and run thoughtlessly
Your always being there, without borders and with courage
without any complaints
I want to thank you for all those times riding with you
when I borrow your strength your elegance,
and when I close my eyes I feel free
imagining what you might feel running wild in a huge meadow alongside your herd
and that is why I want to especially thank you
for one priceless thing,
for having allowed me to take your freedom.
Poem By Christina Gugliotta.
- April 3, 2021
Sarah was six years old and had severe cerebral palsy and partial blindness. She was unable to move or walk by herself and needed full help with all her activities of daily living.
She could lie on the floor and play with a mobile toy from above, but even this was difficult as she needed a cushion between her legs to stabilize her. She couldn’t crawl, rollover or move from side to side. If she was put on her stomach, using circular whole-body movements she could turn round. Her hands were tightly closed in an upward position all the time.
In kindergarten when she lay on the floor, her right hand in an uncontrolled movement touched her hair, which she could feel but not see. Sarah was unable to turn her head from side to side or lift it up to see her hair. With her limited vision, partial sight, cortical blindness and cerebral palsy she was a little girl living a very restricted life.
Sarah Came for Horseback Riding Therapy: Her First Ride
When Sarah met her large pony for the first time, she was smiling and appeared extremely excited as she had no idea what a pony was. As she had such a serious disability and was so small, I decided to pick her up in my arms to introduce her to her pony. After we had looked at the pony from all angles and spoken to him, I gave her to a volunteer while I mounted the pony. Taking her once again in my arms, this time I showed her what it was like to sit above a pony, and in this new position she seemed to be in awe. Her first pony ride was a first step towards living like other children of her age, something she could have never imagined. Holding Sarah in my arms, I could feel her tiny body begin to relax, and saw she had the most amazing smile. It was as if she was experiencing new feelings arising from her soul as an inspiring dream. Coming in contact with such a large animal made her heart pound. In her excitement, she was feeling a sense of healing and transformation. Sarah smiling, reached out to stroke the pony, she wanted to touch his mane, she had a desire to care for her new friend. Looking along the neck of the horse, she could just see the pony’s head and again she was smiling- it was in her line of vision. She wanted to engage with her horse -there were things she could do!
I passed Sarah to a volunteer as I dismounted the stationary horse. I explained to Sarah and the volunteer what we were going to do next. I was going to lie her on the horse on her stomach but facing the horse’s bottom and then I would ask the pony to walk. She accepted this and lay on her stomach with her shoulders parallel to the croup. I was concerned about her frailty and that even lying on her stomach could make her feel sick. However, she was in such a good mood, and showed no signs of stress. This position just offered her an even greater experience. In this first visit to the natural world, Sarah’s body started to move in rhythm which allowed her mind and soul to become flexible, as she felt that wonderful three-dimensional movement provided by the horse pass through the entire length of her body. The movement changed things for Sarah. For the first time, she received new energy that reduced her spasticity, giving her a feeling of some normality.
In a short period of time, she was raising her head, looking up and turning her head from one side to another. She was looking to see what was going on, she was focused. She appeared full of spirit and with a path to follow because of the new energy coming from her body. Sarah purposely reached out towards the volunteer, she could see her, and she felt the need to contribute to this new environment. Her soul and new life force continued, and she returned to the kindergarten in a happy mood.
Lying on the horse, Sarah experienced the feelings expressed in a Native American legend:
Before me peaceful, Behind me peaceful.
Under me peaceful, all around me peaceful.
Peaceful voice when he neighs, I am everlasting and peaceful.
I stand for my horse.