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News Room: ENQUIRER: Horses help children heal in Union

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By: Mark Hansel

Watching Alexis Walker, with a broad smile on her face, cantering across a field on a horse, it is hard to believe she is in the middle of a grief therapy session, but that’s what is happening.

Alexis, of Melbourne, Ky., is one of 17 children between the ages of eight and 17 taking part in an Equine Grief Camp at Potter’s Ranch in Union this week.

Alexis‘s mother, Holly Walker, died suddenly from a brain aneurysm in February, a traumatic experience for a 12-year-old girl. Alexis wasn’t at all sure that spending a few days with horses would help her deal with the loss, but she said it has been a great experience.

“I just thought we were just going to go around and talk about horses, but this camp has really been a lot more fun than I expected,” Alexis said.

“I feel independent, and I’ve gotten to do stuff that gets my mind off it. I understand how to express my feelings, and when I feel really bad, I know what to do now.”

Each of the children in the program has experienced the loss of a family member, and for more than half, it was a parent. Most have a hard time talking about it, said Beth Long, development director at Potter’s Ranch.

“As they are participating in an activity, we will ask how they are feeling and talk with them about it. We can help them process (their emotions). As they learn a specific skill, it can help them through the grief cycle,” Long said.

Haley Rulon‘s grandmother died in November and said she has had a difficult time thinking about her without feeling sad. The program has helped the Florence youngster rekindle fond memories.

“Talking about the horses’ emotions helps me talk about my emotions,” Rulon, 12, said. “My grandmother had a lot of happy energy, and I think me feeling happy makes her happy.”

Vivien Finnigan’s curiosity about using horses to assist with grief counseling during a field trip last year planted the seed for the camp.

Finnigan, child and family counselor at St. Elizabeth Healthcare Hospice, scheduled the field trip to Potter’s Ranch for participants in the organization’s STARS program.

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