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Equine therapy being used to help soothe angry hearts

Working around horses has always been a favorite pastime for Sunnyside's Betty Hames. She has usually fit in her equestrian hobby around her other duties, which have included being a pastor's wife, a chemical dependency counselor, a domestic violence advocate and a life coach. It's not that she rides with any regularity, she admits, but she loves horses and has a passion for rescuing abused and abandoned horses. Now her horses are taking center stage in her latest venture - equine therapeutic work. A couple years ago Hames opened her country home as a horse sanctuary. The horses, donkeys and mules which fill her corrals and pastures came to her broken and in need of a lot of tender care. Now they are "earning their keep," working as friends and therapeutic aides for a different set of broken and abused clients. Hames has named her new service "Healing Hooves, Healing Humans Horse Sanctuary." Her motto, "rescuing horses and changing lives one hoof at a time," is easily applied to her human clients, who range in age from youths to senior citizens, all with various forms of abuse or depression issues. The horses serve as a receptacle for the fear and anger many of Hames' clients bring to the ranch. Hames and the horses work as a team to coax her human clients into accepting and learning different methods for restoring their mental health and confidence. "In order to work with the horses, you have to let go of your fear and anger or you can't get close to the animals," Hames explained. Once her clients start understanding their feelings, they can begin healing and as they heal, the horses benefit because of the extra care they receive. The human clients learn to groom, handle and care for the horses and in the process learn to balance their own emotions, Hames explained. Using animals in therapy has long been seen as an option when attempting to help traumatized individuals begin the healing process. "It truly is not about riding," Hames said. "But it is about building trust bonds." Through a minimum of discussion, but with a lot of hands-on brushing and walking of the horses, individuals can begin to work through their issues and challenges get sorted out, she explained. Recently Hames started a charity to help her care for the needs of the horses, which are her partners in therapy. "We have a lot of needs not covered by client fees," she explained. She said the cost to feed, care for and house the horses is at times expensive. "We're hoping to attract some donors interested in this type of work," she added. Anyone interested in helping out Hames' horse sanctuary may call her at 830-9225. "Your donations are tax deductible and will help make a difference not only in a horse's life, but in the life of a client who has come to depend on the silent comfort of being around our horses," Hames said.

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