Red Horse Healing: Where horses, humans and healing meet

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, millions of Americans take medications to ease symptoms of depression and other mental health issues. But tucked away in Piedmont, S.D. is a different kind of healing.

Bridget Williams is a mental health therapist who recently moved from Rosebud, S.D. She created a sanctuary where horses, humans and healing meet.

“At Red Horse Healing, we do equine assisted psychotherapy,” Williams says. “We believe that horses and humans can help heal each other.”

People who have gone through trauma can experience therapeutic healing by spending time with the horses. But Williams says the clients aren’t the only ones who have gone through hard times.

“All of the horses here have a story that comes with them,” she says. “And sometimes, there have been humans who have not been good to them. And helping them to heal their own wounds - they then can help humans to heal some of the wounds that they have.”

Williams has been a mental health professional for 15 years, introducing horses into her practices eight years ago. She believes in solution-focused therapy – a type of therapy where she guides clients to their answers.

“I operate under the belief that everybody has their own answers,” Williams says. “I am not an expert in anybody’s problems, but the horses help me sometimes to ask the right questions. And because I think that we carry our own solutions, I don’t feel the need to talk all the time during the session. It’s not so much about the conversation as asking the questions through the horses.”

Williams begins by taking the client out into the field with the horses, where the client can either choose a horse they connect with, or the horse will choose them.

“I allow the horses and humans that I’m working with to make that decision themselves,” she says.

Williams watches the behavior of the both the human and the horse and leads the client to their solution based off the pair’s interactions.

Clients also have the opportunity to paint, using the horses as a canvas to tell their stories. One client covered an entire horse with paintings and designs until the animal was a moving art piece.

Another woman identified each horse with someone in her life, letting go of grief as the therapy session progressed.

“I had a woman who was recently widowed, and she came out and she identified each of the horses as someone in her life,” Williams says. “And one horse in particular, she identified as her husband. And she spent the session just hugging the horse and crying and saying all those things she didn’t have the chance to say. And it was 75 minutes of her just letting go of a lot of things that were keeping her stuck.”

Williams’ goal is to have her horses serve as stepping stones to help people through suffering.

“The mindfulness that happens when we’re with the horses allows us to kind of look inward for the answers that we need,” she says.

Within the next 3 to 5 years, Williams hopes to conduct group therapy sessions as well as retreats.

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