Winston Churchill once wrote: ‘There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man’. This is a theory that seems to have gained ground and credence over the past few years, with the development of a number of centres across Britain, the US and South Africa that deal specifically with equine therapy. Horses, it would seem, have developed an innate ability to react to human emotion, making them the perfect conduits for dealing with mental, emotional and physical issues.
Now, I have to admit, when this theory was first put to me I had my reservations. Many who know me will attest to the fact that I have a cynical streak running through me wide enough to cause a partial eclipse of the sun. However, it would seem that even Hippocrates, the founding father of western medicine, was endorsing the therapeutic benefits of the horse back in pre-Christian Greece. Since then, these most versatile of animals have apparently been used to rehabilitate recovering addicts, helped people through the traumas of physical abuse and rape and had incredible success in dealing with autism in young children. OK, I admit, I was intrigued. I was not however convinced.
…That was until I watched a small, six year old autistic boy make his way across a muddy field in the early light of a spring morning, followed by two, beautiful, thoroughbred racehorses…
In light of my obvious cynicism, a friend of mine had arranged for me to pay a visit to place called Chajara, a unique enterprise based on the Isle of Man. The brainchild of Charlotte Mackenzie and Rachel Smith, Chajara focuses on the concept of healing through horses, an idea whose seeds were first sown and nurtured on a small farm in rural Ontario, Canada, where, as a child, Charlotte watched her parents dealing with the children of their city friends. Each summer, the farm would become a haven for kids from the suburbs, who were able to channel their energies into positive pursuits; energies that may have otherwise sent them down a different road entirely. It is a memory that has stayed with Charlotte all her life and one that she hopes will ultimately turn Chajara into a proper farm, one where people; whether they be children or adults, special needs or simply troubled, can come and heal.
One such person is young James and his contact with the horses seems to have had a profound affect on him, something that his mother has become all to aware of, as she goes on to explain. ‘Because he doesn’t speak, James can’t tell anybody what he wants and he gets very frustrated. Children with autism have a totally different perception of things; they see and hear things differently. Here he can be totally chilled, just wandering around and checking things out. This is perfect. He has freedom and there is no noise, its absolutely gorgeous.’ Both Charlotte and Rachel are aware that it is a process that works both ways. ‘I remember how I was transformed going through the process on the farm’, says Charlotte, ‘I was a city kid and I was not happy. I was troubled. Then my parents go out and buy a farm and my whole life changed.’ Even Rachel’s own children seem to have benefited from their association with the horses.
The ultimate aim is to provide a centre where there will be opportunities for people – children and adults alike – to learn the social skills that most of us take for granted and to examine their own needs and relationships through their interaction with the horses. Speaking to James’s mom, it seems that Chajara fills a need that is currently lacking in mainstream medicine and she would love to see it expand so that more children like her son could benefit. Evidence, it would seem, bears out the faith that both Mr Churchill and Hippocrates put in the horse. Centuries of contact with humans would certainly seem to have fine tuned their senses to our inner cocktails of neuroses, phobias and emotional trauma. And, if the success of organisations like the Greatwood Charity in the UK and the Montrose Foundation in South Africa are anything to go by, it would seem that my initial cynicism was somewhat ill-placed.
There is an old Arab proverb that declares the horse to be God’s gift to mankind and, looking around at the smiles on the faces of young James and Rachel’s own three children, I can well believe it. Chajara and other similar enterprises seem to appeal to a basic need in people, one that many of us tend to lose sight of amongst the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
As Charlotte so eloquently puts it, ‘…its all so authentic somehow. Horses see through the hypocrisy and the bullshit’.
For more information about Chajara contact Charlotte Mackenzie or Rachel Smith at Chajara@hotmail.com, or take a look at the ‘Chajara, Healing Through Horses’ Facebook page.