Baylie is eight years old. Born to a mother addicted to cocaine and an alcoholic father, removed from her parents at six months and covered with bruises and cigarette burns, Baylie (not her real name) has spent her childhood shuffled from one foster home to another. She rarely speaks, makes little eye contact with adults, shows no interest in playing with kids her age, and recoils from any attempt at physical affection.
Baylie’s ability to connect with anyone, or anything, seemed impossible until the day she met a horse named Steady.
Baylie is very lucky. Her court-appointed therapist has found a way to combine her own love of horses with the rapidly evolving field of equine-assisted psychotherapy.
Once a week Baylie goes to the stables, holds out an apple for Steady to nibble from her hand, pats, brushes and talks quietly to him about the things she does not want anyone else to hear.
For children like Baylie who have never been able to trust people, a horse can become a beacon of light in an otherwise dark world. Suddenly something big and powerful leans in, nuzzles you and looks you right in the eye. There is nothing to fear; this animal will not leave you, he will not betray you. With a trained equine-assisted therapist, a child like Baylie can be gradually introduced to forming a relationship with the horse. This ability to bond, perhaps for the first time in her young life, will then hopefully expand, allowing her to trust and connect with the wider world and to the people who exist within it.
According to Dr. Vincent Felitti, co-founder of the CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, a person who experienced six types of childhood adversity has a 4,600% increase in the likelihood of becoming an IV drug user when compared to a person who experienced no childhood adversity.
“Horses are intuitive and expressive,” she says. “When someone looks into the eyes of a horse they see themselves reflected back. This is what we call a mirroring; an instant rapport, a bonding. It opens people up, and brings barriers down, and sometimes the outcomes, the successful breakthroughs are sheer magic.”