Troubled kids find balance in lives on backs of horses

BOULDER — Horses have mastered the art of energetic perception, which makes them ideal partners for children and youths trying to right their troubled lives, say the founders of the Medicine Horse Program.

“Horses are incredibly powerful beings,” said Diane Kennedy, who started the program with Craig Falkman. “They have been healing for thousands of years.”

Medicine Horse, located at 6775 Arapahoe Road east of Boulder, works primarily with at-risk, adjudicated young people referred by the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office, Probation Department, Social Services or the Mental Health Department. It is not, Kennedy said, a place for riding lessons nor a therapeutic riding program.

“Our main population is young people who don’t fit in,” said Falkman. “Our program allows them to find a piece of themselves. It’s the first step toward becoming a part of the larger community.”

Kennedy and Falkman want to keep teenagers who are referred to them from diversion and repeat-offender programs from entering prison. The two psychotherapists earned master’s degrees in transpersonal counseling from Naropa University.

The 35-acre grounds where the 501c(3) organization does its work have a long spiritual history. Two original Lakota sweat lodges still stand, and “thousands of prayers have been sent from here,” Kennedy said. Medicine Horse “has a very reasonable lease,” she continues, “because the owner believes in what we’re doing.”

There are now 13 horses at work. “Because we are working with mental health issues, we select our horses based on criteria that does not have much to do with whether they are good riding horses,” Falkman said. “We look for different characteristics in our professional equine therapists.”

Falkman, a former Olympic ice hockey athlete who describes himself as a “wanna-be cowboy,” explains that most of the therapeutic work is done on the ground, not on horseback. When the work is done on horseback, most of the time it is without a saddle.

Kennedy noted the bareback-to-life parallels. “Centering and self-balance are required as are strength-based skills,” she said. “You’ve got to keep adjusting. Bareback breaks through control issues and shows the falsehood of what we think gives us control.”

In 2001, the 2-year-old program served approximately 200 clients; it projects 300 for 2002. Kennedy and Falkman are the two full-time therapists; there are also a part-time therapist, two interns and two work-study students. A cadre of volunteers takes up more of the slack.

“Boulder is a phenomenally generous community,” Falkman said. “We have about 30 active volunteers, as well as 15 who help us with special projects. They are wonderful people who have needed skills.”

Volunteer Coordinator Maggie Brown first got involved with Medicine Horse after participating in a Contemplative Horsemanship weekend she described as “the most profound and inspiring workshop I have ever taken.

“Craig and Diane are doing some absolutely amazing work for the community and are passionate about helping youth at-risk, troubled teens, batters and/or abused women,” Brown said. “They provide other growth and development opportunities for adults as well as groups and families.”

Medicine Horse also conducts team-building programs for corporations and programs such as the Contemplative Horsemanship course. Brown said that program “literally changed my life. I decided to go back to graduate school and train to become an equine-assisted therapist myself.”

Medicine Horse has set a $110,000 budget for 2002, which will cover horse-care costs, therapists’ fees, the lease and other expenses. Referring agencies pay $25 for a two-hour session; each participant is asked to pay $10. Together, these fees cover about 45 percent of operating expenses.

Kennedy and Falkman are actively looking for corporate sponsors and forms of financial assistance; they are currently taking no salary and are paying most operating costs out-of-pocket. So far the program has received two grants, $4,725 from the city of Boulder’s Youth Opportunity Advisory Board and $1,000 from the Collins Foundation at Wells Fargo Bank.

The Medicine Horse founders want to work with Hispanic kids, domestic abuse victims and AIDS patients, “who may be shunned by people but won’t be by horses.

“There are horses with issues just like there are people with issues. They mirror or take on what’s going on with us,” Falkman said.

“I believe we can, have to, expand beyond our five senses,” he said. “There’s a sixth one, energetic perception. Horses have it; they mastered it eons ago. They’re social animals and so act as mirrors for common human issues.Two Contemplative Horsemanship weekends will be offered in June; for information, call (720) 406-7630 or e-mail kiowa@medicinehorse.org.

BOULDER — Horses have mastered the art of energetic perception, which makes them ideal partners for children and youths trying to right their troubled lives, say the founders of the Medicine Horse Program.

“Horses are incredibly powerful beings,” said Diane Kennedy, who started the program with Craig Falkman. “They have been healing for thousands of years.”

Medicine Horse, located at 6775 Arapahoe Road east of Boulder, works primarily with at-risk, adjudicated young people referred by the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office, Probation Department, Social Services or the Mental Health Department. It is not, Kennedy said, a place for riding lessons nor a therapeutic riding program.

“Our main population is young people who don’t fit in,” said Falkman. “Our program allows them to find a piece of themselves. It’s the first step toward becoming a part of the larger community.”

Kennedy and Falkman want to keep teenagers who are referred to them from diversion and repeat-offender programs from entering prison. The two psychotherapists earned master’s degrees in transpersonal counseling from Naropa University.

The 35-acre grounds where the 501c(3) organization does its work have a long spiritual history. Two original Lakota sweat lodges still stand, and “thousands of prayers have been sent from here,” Kennedy said. Medicine Horse “has a very reasonable lease,” she continues, “because the owner believes in what we’re doing.”

There are now 13 horses at work. “Because we are working with mental health issues, we select our horses based on criteria that does not have much to do with whether they are good riding…