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Horses for Hope

For once in my life I was ahead of schedule this week having written this article days ahead of my norm. For a couple of minutes I was pleased with myself, and then ominously wondered what this week would unfold. The week unfolded another "suddenly" another "in the twinkling of an eye" when the simmering regional pot came to a boil and spilled over in Afghanistan. "Sympathy for the suffering" and "support of the perpetrator" have actually gone hand in hand in our region.

Some of our rescued kids are unable to ingest any more information, their sympathetic nervous systems being maxed out. Some are wanting to know, some are wanting to send messages to Afghani kids who are now experiencing exactly what they did seven years ago.

In deference to, and in honor of our corporate journey here in Iraq, I have decided to continue with the update as planned because it is precisely due to our "suddenly" and the black people of our region that we are here. However yesterday, we held a quiet, off the radar event. We did not permit the kids to take photos for all of our security sakes, and nothing was published to social media. I have titled the event "The Kids from the World of Suddenlies." Next week, God and security willing, I will share something of this pouring out of hearts from our kids to the kids of Afghanistan. But for today we continue our journey of reconstruction and restoration, whilst groaning and knowing all too well what the Afghan minorities in particular are facing. Our unceasing prayers are with them.


Horses for Hope

I am told that all good stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Our current story seems to have come to life in the middle on a warm June day when the good Doctor and yours truly found ourselves following what had begun as a wild goose chase and had all indications of such continuance.

We were looking for a checkpoint. A checkpoint manned by a Peshmerga General called Abu M, who for his prowess at war had been rewarded with a checkpoint. One in the middle of nowhere, mind you, but it's a real checkpoint. He along with his fifteen Peshmerga sons, born from his three wives, man this checkpoint with great pomp and circumstance. Finally, after hours of traversing mountains and fords we found our checkpoint, complete with General, fifteen sons, and Arabian stallions on the horizon who began to make their way to us. Most likely we were the first humans they had seen in the past year. The checkpoint not being exactly busy.

Horses, beautiful creatures, were untethered, just wandering their mountains as is the Kurdish culture where horses are not penned in. Within two minutes of meeting General Abu M, I was slung over the most beasty of the creatures, my fear of being galloped off without a saddle, reigns, etc into the wilds of Mesopotamia flashing in front of me. Dr’s perturbed look did not add to my comfort but hey, we needed horses and our Abu knows every horse in Mesopotamia and it was not for nothing that these guys have their own private checkpoint. I was safe.

So that’s the middle of the story. The other parts of the middle are that we have land and no money and no knowledge of how to even alight the glorious creatures. Let’s hang out in the middle of the story, the land because that part gets solved.

For months I had been reciting to the good Dr our need for land for horses. For Equine Assisted Horse Therapy. I had asked him to approach the Mayor of the village for land. His reply was decisive. “No. Not until you have a plan, not a dream Daughter of Jacob, a plan and not until there is money." I was stuck.

So on this glorious June day driving up from Erbil on our usual route, every other corner we turned, there was a Kurdish horse or two blocking our way. After a dozen or so of such enforced halts, I dared to pose the obvious question to Dr. “ Are you paying attention?” After his typical moments of silence, came the question. “Would you like to see the new Springs of Hope Foundation land for our horses today or tomorrow ?”

With that question, a dream that was still without shape or substance after twenty years came into our focus. The story had it's beginning years ago when I dreamed as in a night dream about Equine assisted Therapy, and stables, horses and children being healed as they worked both the land and worked with animals.

Twenty years later one of our online ESL teachers invited a husband and wife whom we affectionately call Cowboy Tim and Mrs. Cowboy to share about their life and work with horses on their Texas ranch. In the days following this wonderful Zoom class, many of the students came to me asking whether we could have horses. My dream of twenty years previously began to stir and come to surface.

Within a couple of weeks of silent pondering I felt that this ranch would manifest, would come to life. It would be outside our village, in the shadow of the mountains. I could see three stages of development, therapy for our students who had been in the captivity of ISIS. A business venture extended to the local community and residents of Duhok to provide a sustainable income. These stages, although breathtaking for me, were very clear. The final stage however was totally overwhelming, a place of Equine Assisted Rehabilitation for Peshmerga veterans, who in turn would volunteer alongside our students.

The Site

I wrote to Cowboy Tim and Mrs Cowboy thanking them for their investment in the lives of our students, for giving them two riveting lessons online. My PS was inevitable, "Should you have any stirrings regarding us and horses, let me know." And they did, and they did.We now fast forward. Cowboy and Mrs. Cowboy have been incredibly patient with us as we have fenced in our ranch area, which is adjacent to a nearby village that was brought to ruins by Saddam Hussein through endless bombings, until the traumatized residents finally left the village for present day Shariya. They have guided us through building a round pen. In September we will begin to construct the outdoor arena. In October our Cowboy Couple will arrive to help us with both construction of the barn and choice of horses, our desire is an initial purchase of four horses to be selected specifically for therapeutic purposes.

They will undoubtedly meet General Abu B, and his fifteen sons, plus checkpoint, but also a wonderful Jordanian couple who have established the most incredible equestrian centre in another city and who are willing to guide us, to sell us trained and gelded horses and be another point of reference for us. The Jordanian couple amazingly were not fazed by our honesty with regards to our blatant lack of knowledge. They, with thirty years plus regional experience, saw the need in our area, and blessed the work of hands. We have been privileged in the finding of good friends both in the region and beyond.

We are dreaming big again, Dr has caught the vision. Had he not, he would not have procured the land. ( Another story but we have six dunams of the most glorious farmland land complete with close by spring. ) When I look at this project which will keep us busy in the construction alone until the end of the year, and then some, I say to myself, "we don't need this". Yet I know, and those around me know that it is the next step of our journey and ultimately, in the due process of time, there will be great weight and reward in working alongside the Peshmerga vets and engaging them into our programmes with the rescued kiddies.

Permit me to add a little muscle to these bones as we are more than dreamers.

"At Horses for Hope, we seek to build a safe environment for our participants using a team approach, with both a trauma-responsive counsellor and a skilled horse instructor. Participants, instructors and counsellors will incorporate riding and groundwork with horses, such as feeding, grooming and ground exercises to create relationship with the horses. Typical talk therapy is transformed into a hands on and experiential process with the inclusion of a horse. Horses serve as a mirror to participant emotions and can allow participants to learn about themselves, and verbalize emotions, patterns and behaviours. The practice of experiencing connection with a horse can provide low-risk opportunity for participants to engage in the practice of allowing themselves to experience emotion, connection and empathy. All participants will gain tangible therapeutic benefits as well as learn animal care and responsibility, relationship building and horse training skills."Horseback riding and caring for animals as activities provide intrinsic healing value. Equine- Assisted Psychotherapy and Counselling has been recognized as an evidence-based trauma response therapy modality. Clinically and statistically significant reductions in anxiety, depression, PTSD and chronic PTSD symptoms have been documented amongst participants.

"Participants in Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy and Learning have been observed to have an increased orientation to their own bodies in the present time, an increased ability to self -regulate and use coping skills: an increase in self esteem, an increase in the ability and desire to set personal boundaries, an increased understanding of cause and effect, and of the relationship between thought, feeling and action; an increase in self efficacy, a decrease in negative symptoms, and the reactivity associated with traumatic symptoms; and a decrease in fearful emotions and increase in present -orientation." Tracey Schlafer, Springs of Hope Foundation Programme Strategist.

So friends, as the season changes, we embrace Horses for Hope. You will doubtless find us in the fields toiling with Jamil our Main Man on the Ground, erecting fences, measuring corners that need to be rounded. Or at Abu M’s checkpoint negotiating whatever the horse subject of the day is, knowing him it will be a prize Arabian highly pregnant, he trying to convince us to purchase two unsuitable for the price of one unsuitable.

“To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven." Horses for Hope. It is the time.

For those seriously interested in investment, we have a formal proposal with budget, pdf files, and planning sketches ready to send, should you desire.


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