Why Close Encounters With Animals Soothe Us

Written by CHARLES SIEBERT Friday, 19 May 2017 08:58
Zoie Brogdon, Age 12   “I tried soccer, which I hated. I tried track, and there was just mean people. I tried tennis, same thing, mean people. With horses, there still are mean people, but I don’t care. Because I have my horse right next to me.” Zoie Brogdon, Age 12 “I tried soccer, which I hated. I tried track, and there was just mean people. I tried tennis, same thing, mean people. With horses, there still are mean people, but I don’t care. Because I have my horse right next to me.” Credit Ilona Szwarc for The New York Times

Compton Jr. Posse in Los Angeles, which brings inner-city children and horses together, reveals the therapeutic power of communing with fellow sentient beings.

Chapter 3 of Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There” culminates with Alice’s coming to a wood “where things have no names.” Immediately upon entering, she is unable to identify anything around her, knows not what to call herself or the surrounding trees or the strangely fearless fawn that soon approaches. Mutually enchanted, the two commence walking along together in utter peace and calm, Alice’s arm cradling the fawn as they go. The assuaging grace of this trance is broken only upon coming to a clearing where name recognition returns and the startled fawn bounds away in fright, leaving Alice bereft and forlorn.

Eniko Barber, Age 9  “We both trust each other. So if I feel scared, he will feel scared, and he might stop sometimes. And then if I feel confident, he feels confident and he would jump for me.” — Interviews by Hallie Bateman   Credit Ilona Szwarc for The New York Times

Carroll’s parable about the distancing effects of human consciousness and language has particular resonance at a time when close encounters with nonhuman animals are increasingly being sought to heal our psychic and social woes. It is, in effect, a kind of wood with no names into which animal therapy allows its participants entrance. At equine-therapy programs like Compton Jr. Posse in Los Angeles (pictured here), inner-city adolescents find a refuge from drugs and street-gang culture by developing equestrian skills and learning to regard the knowing gazes of 1,000-plus-pound horses and guide their beguiling power. In return for striving in school, the program’s participants, ranging in age from 8 to 18, are taught to ride horses, groom them and clean their stables. These experiences keep them within what Mayisha Akbar, the founder of Compton Jr. Posse, calls the horse’s “personal circle.” Horses have a profound effect on humans. “Whether they have a physical handicap or an emotional handicap or a mental handicap, when you’re around a horse,” Akbar says, “the energy is so powerful that it tunes the body up. That’s why there are so many therapeutic riding programs, because they do see physical changes in people who are around horses.”... READ MORE

Asia Carter-Thomas, Age 10 “I feel like there’s a piece of my heart missing if I don’t ride a horse. Just the feeling that you get when you ride and you trot and you jump. It feels like you are soaring through the sky and you don’t have a care in the world. Reality can’t even catch up behind you. You’re just free. Until you get off the horse, of course. Then reality catches up to you so fast that you’re stunned and shocked.”   Credit Ilona Szwarc for The New York Times

Nathan Williams-​Bonner, Age 22  “I don’t know if you’ve seen ‘Avatar.’ It’s like when you connect the hair to the thing and they become one, in a way. In the moment of riding in the ring, that moment when the horse is so focused and listening to everything you ask. It’s like that, in a way. Full-blown connection, your horse is listening to every response that you do.”    Credit Ilona Szwarc for The New York Times
 

Zoie Brogdon, age 12  “To me, horses are not like a pet but more like a team. We work together, we get everything done, and we have fun. It’s like a partnership.”   Credit Ilona Szwarc for The New York Times

 

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