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Mica's Blog

Spring Has Sprung!

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Just minutes after Quinn was formally introduced to the herd on Friday, March 15th, he was treated to a show. Our lovely broodmare Polly got to work giving birth to her second foal. Polly refused dinner, then laid down and, in a matter of minutes, gave birth efficiently and gracefully to her second stud colt. Here he is--still wet all over--pictured moments after birth. For those of you who know the herd, the new colt Sheldon is a full brother to Ferb. It took him about an hour to find the strength and will to stand on his wobbly legs and begin nursing, but after a few gulps of milk, he was ready to kick up his heels. In the wild, foals must be ready to stand, run, and move away from danger just hours after birth.

An important note: In the first days after birth, broodmares are very protective of their babies. New pairs need quiet space to bond and settle in together. After a few weeks, both mom and baby will be more open to meeting people. So if you are visiting the ranch in these early days, please stand back and watch them quietly from afar.

Update: Leonard, Sheldon's half-brother, arrived five days later! For those of you who watch The Big Bang Theory, you might recognize the professorial names. We are still happily awaiting Buffy's baby.

Announcing Quinn

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On February 18th, my husband and I welcomed our first child, Quinn Asher Thomas, into the world. Here he is meeting his "big brother" Goose for the first time. Click the "read more" link above to see him with his ever-watchful and adoring "big sister" Veruca Salt.

Horse-Powered Healing


This photo really captures the special feeling that can happen between people and horses. Both horse and child are in the moment, each giving their full attention. Their appreciation for one another is clear.

As herd animals, horses have an incredible ability to tune in and connect with others. Whether we feel happy, sad, or angry, horses are willing to be present with us as we explore genuine emotions. And, when we feel heard and understood by others in our lives, it is often easier to find the way forward.

In fact, research has shown that people are better able to tackle problems from a place of strength. Just think how much bigger the same problem can seem on a gloomy day versus a day when everything has gone right. Partnering with horses in a healing environment can help you connect with your own power, wonder, and joy. Working with horses, you can truly experience new ways of making relationships and responding to challenges in everyday life.

Detecting Rider Confidence


This series of photos really shows what happens in the rider's body as a response to feelings of fear or concern. Please click on the title "Detecting Rider Confidence" above to see all three photos.

Summer Camp

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What would summer be without camp? Since I helped launch the Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center’s All Abilities Camp in 2004, camp has been a part of my summer landscape. This year was the second time I partnered with Liz Polanco to host camp at Good Reception Ranch. We had lots of firsts—from the campers who cantered or rode off lead for the first time to those who competed in the gymkhana at the fairgrounds or camped out overnight with their horses. Still, what struck me the most was the way the more experienced campers stepped up to mentor and support newer campers. It’s very satisfying to see a young person teach others how to respectfully approach a horse or give a hand to an 8 year-old lifting a saddle onto the back of a 16-hand horse!

The longer days and the greater responsibilities give campers a chance to take ownership in the care of the horses and the ranch. We emphasize things like working hard, getting dirty, and caring for other people and animals. Campers learn that despite other differences, they share a love of horses and a passion for riding with one another. Finally, for many campers, as for myself, this experience creates a sense of belonging and purpose. And what better thing for a young person to learn than that he or she belongs in the natural world and that he or she has a role to play in supporting and caring for others?

Relationship-building with wild horses

In late July, I slipped away for a week to join horse trainer Anna Twinney (http://www.reachouttohorses.com/) and several of her apprentices in Cody, Wyoming to work with untouched horses. Our work gentling mustangs reminded me of aspects of therapy: each individual spent the week developing a trusting relationship with one horse and each horse was allowed to progress at his or her own rate. We worked to release the horses’ natural fear of humans and new situations. We did this by tracking the horses’ arousal level and learning what types of interactions helped them let down their guard and release the threat response in their nervous system. They were given lots of choice in being able to move away from or to accept touch, and they were able to control much about the pace and timing of the exchanges. It was very rewarding to watch the horses’ fear of human contact change to curiosity and, eventually, enjoyment.

By the end of the week, my little 2-year old filly Cassy was looking forward to being haltered, brushed, and bathed. She also developed quite an interest in exploring an obstacle course complete with tarps, parachutes, and mattresses! All of this prepared her for trailer loading with ease. I am grateful to Trish Hatle for allowing me to work with Cassy, a McCullough Peaks mustang.

An alternative to helicopter round ups of wild horses

Even though wild horses and burros have been protected by national legislation since 1971, their existence on BLM and National Forest Land has been precarious. They vie for use of the land with other interest groups and, without many natural predators, their numbers can grow exponentially if left unchecked. In order to keep range numbers low, BLM officials have regularly organized helicopter round ups. These round ups disrupt the natural order of the herds and are traumatic and even life-threatening for the horses. And while some mustangs find good adoptive homes, currently over 35,000 mustangs remain in holding pens where they will live out their lives.

One alternative to the disruptive and harmful round ups is now being successfully used in the McCullough Peaks and Pryor Mountain wild horse herds of Wyoming and Montana. Female horses are given the fertility contraceptive PZP through a dart injected each spring. Once they have reached a mature age, each mare is given the chance to have one offspring and to make her contribution to the genetic pool. As a result of fewer pregnancies over their life span, the health and longevity of the mares improves. Over time, the population of the herd stabilizes and can be maintained at a set level, keeping horse advocates and others who use BLM lands happy. While there is some controversy over this approach, mustang advocacy groups have been so supportive of this proactive effort to avoid more round ups that these groups of horse lovers have organized to pay for the darting of the horses themselves! Efforts are taking place in Wyoming, Colorado, and elsewhere. It could bring an end to mustang round ups and holding pens.

FOAL (http://friendsofalegacy.org/)

My article on building rider confidence appears in PATH International's Strides Magazine

The North American Riding for the Handicapped announced its new name this summer. It wanted a name that was right for the times and one that would demonstrate its commitment to supporting diverse activities that promote well-being through connection with the horse. The result was the Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH International). I was asked to write an article for the first edition of their magazine Strides operating under the new name. They wanted to highlight the way that equine-facilitated therapists and therapeutic riding instructors can learn from one another. My article focuses on building confidence in riders through increased awareness and acceptance. If you are ever fearful with horses or work with clients who are, please check out the article below:

Follow this link to read the article and see the pictures in the PATH archive: http://www.omagdigital.com/publication/?i=74067 (See Confidence Coaching beginning on p.16).

Coaching Riders to Find Their Place of Safety and Comfort

Recent studies in psychology and neurobiology show us what we have known for a long time—people learn best in environments they perceive to be exciting yet safe. Fear of the horse, of falling off or of making a mistake can heighten riders’ arousal level, increase their reactivity and prevent them from learning new skills and having fun. That is why it is important for instructors to recognize physical, cognitive and emotional signs of stress and to know how to respond to help riders return to a state of optimal functioning and learning.

One of my students, 10-year-old "Mary," was born with a passion for horses and began riding at the age of 5, which helped improve her core strength and sensory integration, but a few years later she experienced several spooks and a fall at several local shows. After these episodes, Mary attempted to “cowgirl up” and get back on, but she found that her horse responded by becoming increasingly jittery. Although she who could maintain a nice position at the walk, her posture changed dramatically whenever the horse sped up or made an unexpected move.

Despite her love of horses, Mary was on the verge of giving up riding altogether when she came to me for a series of private lessons. Over a period of two years, she was able to find a sense of comfort on the horse, become more empowered and enjoy riding at the walk, trot and canter. Before we look at some of the teaching techniques I used with Mary and how they helped her overcome her fears and regain her self-confidence, let’s look at how to recognize the subtle and not-so-subtle signs of stress.

The Gathering

In May, Max Woodfin and I travelled to Arizona to present at Prescott College's 8th Annual Gathering on Equine-Learning and Equine-Assisted Mental Health Best Practices.

Our presentation, “Equine-Assisted Transpersonal Psychology for At-Risk Youth: Fostering Connection to Something Greater Than the Self,” was based upon a two-year program partnering with Clearview Middle and High School. Staff and students came once or twice a month during the school year to provide community service at Joder Ranch and to do therapeutic work with the horses. Youth whose involvement with gangs, violence and/or drugs had led to their school expulsion learned how to honestly and openly express their emotions. They were amazed to see the horses relax and move towards them when they admitted they were scared! The opportunity also allowed them to slow down and appreciate the warmth and affection of the horses. This strengthened bonds and encouraged open communication between staff and students alike.

The presentation took place at Chauncy Ranch, a 500-acre horse ranch. This was one of my favorite conferences ever. Presenters and participants stayed together on the 500-acre Chauncey Ranch. Interesting exchanges and discussions took place over shared meals, and the ranch offered a great location for valuable, hands on demonstrations and interactions with the horses. Prescott College offers a Masters in Equine-Assisted Mental Health and they do a great job at this annual conference of bringing together members of the field. It is open to practitioners and lay folk as well.


Therapists' Perceptions of the Role of the Horse in Cultivating Clients' Ability to Be in Relationship


Therapists' Perceptions of the Role of the Horse in Cultivating Clients' Ability to Be in Relationship

A Qualitative Research Study Submitted
In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Transpersonal Counseling Psychology
Wilderness Therapy Concentration
Naropa University

Mica Graves, Rafferty and Brien Benjamin
May 2, 2008

Because of its unique setting and format, Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) offers individuals more opportunities than traditional talk therapy to gain awareness by learning about self in relation to the natural world, equines and other humans—experiences that can promote a sense of inter-connectedness, wholeness and health. In this qualitative study, we explore therapists’ perceptions of how EFP impacts clients’ ability to create and maintain relationships. We explore how the horse changes the nature of the therapeutic process, examining the role that therapists and horses take on in this innovative modality. We review Gestalt, Transpersonal and other relational theories in order to offer a framework for understanding and interpreting the many potential benefits of EFP. Our findings indicate that EFP can lead to greater contact with and awareness of self in relationship.

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