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Horses and Healing
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Story provided by Nancy Drew of Gateway Equine Healing Centre

Gateway Equine Healing Centre brings together, in a unique way, people and horses who have suffered abuse. Together they help each other on their road to recovery. One student shares her journal of one of her many experiences at Gateway, where God reassures her of His presence and hand in her healing process. (The name has been changed to protect the privacy of the student.)

Today was a day of remembering that there are joyous moments even in the midst of my recovery journey. It started with my morning visiting Gateway Equine Healing Centre, one of my favourite places to catch a glimpse of you, Lord.

I breathed in with familiar anticipation the barn aroma of sweet hay, horses, and leather. This place always seems to warm my heart and give me a smile. Raphi's red halter and lead rope lay waiting; I grasped it and headed out into the snow-covered field to retrieve our golden boy, Raphi.

From a distance, Raphi was already observing me. I shuffled through the fresh snow, meandering closer to him and the resting horses.

Raphi softly whinnied, lowered his head, and sauntered towards me.

It was wonderful to see that Raphi still remembered me after four long weeks. He nestled his warm nose into my shoulder, his warm breath blowing winter's steam into the air. My heart melted. His gentle trusting eyes and movements were clear indications that he enjoyed my company as much as I enjoyed his.

The morning became even finer, as I was spoiled with a wonderful winter's ride on Raphi along Gateway's trails. Dear Marianne was my guide. The morning sun was bright; the air was crisp. The freshly fallen snow from the evening before, made for an exemplary day of riding in the country.

Lord, you made a breathtaking morning available for us to embrace. I thank you.

The luminous blue sky, a few clouds in the distance, and morning sunshine along with the glistening snow made for a masterpiece only you Lord, could create. It was an amazing poetic landscape.

The illusion of glistening cotton balls of fresh snow, suspended in mid air by the twigs and branches cradling them...the muffled sound of Raphi's feet shuffling through the pathway of snow, and the occasional crackling and crunching of hidden icy puddles under Raphi's magnificent gentle body...the smell of leather, mixed with the aroma of pine needles and fresh air...it was intoxicating. The contrast of Raphi's warm body underneath me, holding me firmly in the saddle, and the coolness of the winter air against my face was stimulating and oddly comforting. Raphi's muscular neck moved to and fro, firm and decisive, a beautiful contrast with the tan and brown rippling designs made by the wind in his multi-coloured, soft, flowing mane.

My restless and tired spirit felt hope, and flickers of a long-forgotten emotion. Was it...joy? The slow thawing of a frightened young child beginning to explore a new direction within her? Is this safe? Is this real? I felt the need to weep, then sigh contently, taking in deep breaths of long-forgotten hope and life.

Our ride continued on peacefully as I soaked in my lovely surroundings. Then suddenly, dear Raphi’s steady and safe stride began to falter as his weight crushed though a layer of thin ice hiding a knee-deep pool of cold, dark water. He stumbled and worked hard to find his balance in the icy, slippery muck. There were moments of hooves and legs splashing and searching frantically for a solid place of safety.

Marianne's calm energy and gentle murmurings could be heard in the forest air, as she attempted to calm Raphi's growing fear and bewilderment of what was happening underneath him.

Even though it seemed like an eternity, it didn't take much time before Raphi felt reassured of his safety and began to regroup and settle.

Then, Marianne did an extraordinary thing. She gently coaxed and encouraged Raphi to walk back slowly towards the ice covered 'puddle-pond'! Of course, Raphi hesitated. It was up to him whether or not to override his personal fear, and trust Marianne's leadership and guidance - to revisit that seemingly unsafe place that had caused him some unpleasant fear and perhaps danger. Marianne gently, quietly, and persistently coaxed sweet Raphi forward. Slowly, and with some genuine trepidation, Raphi focused on her voice, watching her intently, and bravely did as he was asked...taking one step at a time into the unknown. He trusted that he would not be left alone in his fear, and that he would be safe in Marianne’s love in spite of whatever happened. He did it! He stepped into his fear, through his fear, and crossed to the other side.

How this reminds me, O Lord, that you have promised to do the same for me. You have given me prayer warriors, and genuine friends not afraid of my pain, and most of all, you: my Shield, my Provider, my Ever-Present Help in my times of trouble...my Healer.

Help me to remember to continue to look to you for my strength when I am afraid; when the waters seem too deep, and I feel as if I am drowning, to reach for your hand and grip tightly; to have the courage to nestle into your arms when everything seems too hard to endure; and to remember your specific promises that you will not leave me, even when I am raging and questioning so much of the chaos in my life. I am learning that you will give me comfort and a soft place to land. Thank you, Lord, for reaching out and touching me in a way that I can understand and relate to. I so needed this assurance, and I give you my gratitude and thanks.

Love,
Your Daughter

This story was written by a student who participates at Gateway Equine Healing Centre, located in a beautiful, peaceful farm setting near London, Ontario. Gateway was founded in 2010 by Dale & Nancy Drew, and is inspired and mentored by a similar ministry in central Oregon called Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch.

The name Gateway comes from the words of Jesus in John 10:9-10: "I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture....I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

Gateway is a place of safety and refuge where hurting people and hurting horses come together to help each other recover from the damaging effects of abuse. The horses that come to Gateway are rescued from horrible abuse or life-threatening neglect. The students who come similarly suffer because of painful pasts. As we work together with the students and horses in private sessions, we help them to overcome their fears and to learn how to trust again.

This story is just one example of how God uses these wonderful animals in very simple, metaphorical ways to help students understand the healing process. In this case, the horse is a picture of the student, and the session leader is a picture of God. When the "horse" finds itself in what seems to be a dangerous and frightening place, God is there to comfort and calm, and to show that He can be trusted; that He would not lead the “horse” through something beyond its ability to cope. He may have to lead the "horse" through the same type of territory a number of times, but eventually the “horse” will realize that there is no real danger.

The students often make these connections on their own, but sometimes they need a little help, so as session leaders we point out, when necessary, the life lessons that are unfolding. In this example, we might also use the experience as a metaphor about breaking through layers. People who have been hurt usually have put layers or barriers up to protect them from being hurt again. In certain places, where there is real danger, this is healthy, but in many cases the barriers are not necessary and simply act as a roadblock to moving ahead. These kinds of barriers, just like the ice, need to be broken down. The cold, muck, and fear need to be faced and dealt with, in order to be able to move on and enjoy the rest of the journey.

Gateway runs totally on volunteer help. We consider ourselves family; a group of people who choose to serve and love people, horses, and each other, and to give our time and resources to these passions.

Thanks to the generosity of individuals, businesses, and volunteers who want to have a part in making a difference in the lives of hurting horses and people, we are able to offer our services free of charge. In doing so, we can ensure that no one is denied access to our program.

Students are taken on a referral basis from physicians, pastors, youth workers, social workers, etc., who are willing to work with us and help evaluate the effectiveness of our program.

If you would like more detailed information on the ministry of Gateway Equine Healing Centre and the concept of healing with horses, please visit our website, www.gatewayequinehealingcentre.com or call 519-666-2668 or email gateway.healing@yahoo.ca. See our You Tube channel: www.youtube.com/GatewayEquineHealing for some awesome videos of some of our rescue horses. We do not usually post videos of students for privacy reasons.