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.
Next, I went to Taiwan