GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s right on the front page of their website – Winston Churchill’s quote “there is something about the inside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
But Out Side In, our next Connecting with Community award finalist, takes it a step further. They think horses and people can form unique emotional bonds, and use this to provide therapy that helps both the horse and the patient.
“Horses have an amazing instinct for people’s emotions and intentions,” said Jennifer McVoy, the executive director of Out Side In. “A horse knows what we’re feeling often before we do. So it’s a great tool to help people regulate their emotions.”
“Horses don’t care what you’ve done in the past, they don’t care what you’re wearing, they know you for what’s inside of you.”
Kali Ames, a former patient who is now a student instructor, echoes McVoy’s claims. “There’s a feeling you get when you’re with the horses that helps you find out who you are,” she said. “Mambo, my horse, teaches me trust, forgiveness, the ability to control my anger, just pretty much anything.”
The patients at Out Side In range from treatment-resistant middle schoolers to elderly people dealing with the loss of a partner or loved one. Joan Peterson started riding at Out Side In when she was 78 years old.
“When my husband passed away, I thought ‘I’ll never have a life again,’” she said. “When I came out here, my healing began.”
“I don’t make any excuses for my age. When I’m directed to do something, I do it. I can muck a stall or two.”
It isn’t just the patients at Out Side In that are receiving help. Many of the horses are thoroughbreds Out Side In rescues after their racing career is over. “Most of these horses are young, strong, amazing horses, and there just isn’t anywhere for them to go” said McVoy.
McVoy also says the bond between a rescued horse and a veteran or someone who was in foster care is stronger than normal. “There are a lot of similarities between what the horses go through coming off the track and a veteran or child from foster care,” she said.
“Coming from an environment that isn’t great, and no matter how good the new situation is, it’s going to be a huge adjustment. They have to go through the process of learning to trust and become more socialized.”
Betsy Smith knew there was something special about the Out Side In stables as soon as she first came there. “I was going through a transition, and they had a retreat here and I really enjoyed it,” she explained. “I had a special bond with the horses. So I called and asked about it.”
“You come out here and you’re not labeled PTSD, anxiety, depression. You’re just Betsy.”