The Spirit lives on
The Swedish edition of The Girl and the Horse was printed in September of 2001. Five years has passed. I have talked a lot about the book, in both Sweden and Norway, England, US and South Africa and have spoken to people both young and old. Many claim to understand the feelings that the girls have towards their horses. Many would like to experience those feelings for themselves; some say they have; some, who say so, are old. They know what the girls are talking about. They also miss their horses, their old working mates. A farmer, for example, said:
“When I hear you talk about the girls and their horses, you help me put words to that empty feeling I have had ever since I had to trade my horse for a tractor. In those days the horse was just with us; a natural living thing in the centre of our lives, the way it had been for as long as we knew. Then the horse just disappeared, more or less overnight. The horse was not there anymore. In a deeper sense, I do not think we understood what we had lost. It was not just a work tool that had grown out of necessity. It was something more - a working mate, a life companion.”
I have frequently thought about the old man’s reflections.
The horse has been with us ever since the Stone Age girl tamed her foal. He has been with us in the fields, on the battlegrounds, transporting us back and forth, helping and supporting us in all phases of our daily lives. He has been so natural for us that we have taken him for granted: He should just be there. Now he is not. He has been left to the domain of leisure time and only accessible to a few. For most of us, he remains something to be seen on television, in sport programmes and American Westerns. It is now, when he is gone, that we start to realise that we are missing something more than just a piece of equipment. I can hear my Frossarbo girls telling me over and over again how many times they sneaked up to their horses in the middle of the night to cry and get comfort. When I close my eyes, I can see millions of youngsters doing just that, century after century. The horse was more than just a piece of equipment that became ineffective and produced too little. The horse was, as the old man said, a life companion. We all need life companions; nowadays, maybe more than ever
After an abrupt break in the knowledge chain of man and horse, we are now slowly regaining this knowledge. We are suddenly starting to see sunbeams where no sunbeams were seen before. Margareta Håkansson, a physiotherapist and a researcher, reports stunning results from her work at the University Hospital in Gothenburg, with girls suffering from anorexia who are riding. And a staff of mine Marianne Tuuvas, trained at Frossarbo and applying the Frossarbo Therapeutic model in a private enterprise, is doing very well. She emphasizes the importance of the Horse Educational programme and that each girl has the responsibility of her “own” horse
In Norway, the private organisation Hest og Helse (Horse and Health) and its Secre - tary Wenche Wallgren, are constantly trying to promote knowledge of the health aspect of man and horse. They run seminars and fund treatment programmes, such as the one Jeanette Lysell runs at Gusta Hospital in Vekshuset, Oslo. They have reported good success rates for riding therapy programmes with young schizo - phrenics and drug addicts. Another successful programme has been carried out by Nina Wieger, with handicapped children being given new quality of life in training with horses.
From the US a successful Equine Assisted Psychotherapy programme is reported by Carol Kildow and Terry Draper, One Quarter Horse…Three Quarters Heart.
Winning back knowledge means trying to win the politicians as well. Some months ago, I made a presentation to an audience of ‘horse people’. After the lectures, many came forward, wanting to buy the book, not because they wanted to be convinced, they already were, but to collect ammunition to convince their local politicians that projects with horses could be taken seriously and could open up new possibilities. Although more research is coming in, there is still too little ammunition.
As a result of my experiences within the realm of compulsory treatment, I was invited by SIPU, working on behalf of Sida, to see if Sweden could, in any way, support the creation of good facilities for children in compulsory care in the Northern Cape in South Africa. This has mostly occupied me since my retirement. Until June 2005, I have been in charge of a programme called Contract-Financed Technical Co-operation between the Northern Cape Child and Youth Residential Care programme and the National Board of Institutional Care of Sweden, SiS. My South African counterpart is Herman Mooketsi, Director for Social Work Services. I have shared my experiences from Frossarbo Stables with him and he sees the promising possibilities to use Animal Assisted Therapy within the field of compulsory treatment. In the proposal to Sida for an extension of the Co-operation programme for three more years he emphasises the need to also run staff training programmes connected to Animal Assisted Therapy.I have also discussed the overall aspect of using animals in therapeutic situations with the open minded and well known South African journalist Dianne Smith. She has been “a path opener” for the notion of Animal Assisted Therapy in South Africa with articles in both Kimberley and Johannesburg newspapers. With the introduction of harness racing in South Africa, one could now use the Frossarbo Therapeutic Model in its full capacity.
In a discussion of Animal Assisted Therapy, there are some aspects that have to be emphasised. Firstly, the aim of using an animal should be clearly defined in the therapeutic process. The animal is there for a specific reason, not just for the fun of it.
Secondly, one has to be very aware that people may hide under the cover of therapy, when what they really want is cheap labour to promote their own breeding or racing industries. This is not Animal Therapy.
Thirdly, one which is close to the first one, but is well worth mentioning on its own: Bringing an animal into the therapeutic environment, means that there has to be one person who has the absolute responsibility to see that the animal is well treated and is not hurt, as, in a therapeutic situation, there may be a lot of sadness and anger ‘floating around’. In Animal Assisted Therapy, one more ‘lane’ is added to the basic concept of parallel processes. Clients are important, staff are important and animals are important. They should all be treated with respect and dignity.
During this last year, I have also met with many staff working within compulsory care. When we discuss the concept of parallel processes, many claim to have made progress by establishing a therapeutic working situation using methods within a strictly formalised reward system, based on cognitive-behavioural techniques. Instead of staff spending many hours discussing how to get the youngsters out of bed, they now find themselves in a situation where they can interact with the youngsters much sooner in a more positive way.
When I started my therapeutic training in the late fifties, psychoanalysis was ‘the method’. A life-long project on the psychoanalytical couch did not sound too discouraging, but how was one to find unlimited time and unlimited money resources? My first presentation of an Animal Assisted Therapy programme at Berkeley in 1962, was to oppose the exclusiveness of psychoanalysis - to try to open up and reach some of those locked out. Then, in the sixties, the big psychodynamic wave hit the shores of Sweden. There were Carl Rogers, Eric Berne and TA, Fritz Pearl and Gestalt Therapy, Viktor Frankl and Logotherapy, the British school of Object-related Therapy with Melanie Klein, D.W. Winnicott and all the others. Everyone was there.
The next wave to hit Sweden, and now we are talking contemporary time, is the wave of Cognitive Therapy. In the beginning, it was looked upon as being an over-simplistic way of regarding and describing therapeutic processes. A front figure in presenting cognitive behavioural techniques within the SiS organisation has been the psychologist Bengt Daleflod. He took a simple and straight forward stand, the one of looking at research, to see what had worked and what had not worked. He came to the conclu sion that Cognitive Therapy was a far better approach within compulsory treatment When research funds are being granted, the majority goes to Cognitive projects than that of psychodynamics.
The big theoretical battles are mostly fought in the arenas of the universities. On the institution floors, the battles are about finding and combining working solutions, rather than arguing the excellence of one theory over another. It seems as if humans, like horses, are not easily captured in one theory. There are always new doors to be opened and new paths to be walked.
In Animal Assisted Therapy, one may approach an animal from different angles, having different ideas of what one hopes to gain. Trained as a psychotherapist, I approached the horse in both individual and group therapy. As a psychotherapist, one may rely on different theories - they may be of cognitive or psychodynamic origin. But, whatever the theory, whatever the method, there are two processes with which you always have to cope.
One is the building of trust between you and your client. I have worked with youth in compulsory care, kids that have been let down over and over again; kids who do not dare to say yes, because another failure would hurt too much, kids who keep on saying no, no, no. I have had a co-worker in this job. The amazing thing about this co-worker is that he is, at the same time, a safeguard for the kids. When I push too hard, or get too insensitive, the kids still stay because of the safeguard, my co-worker.
The other process in therapy with which one has to cope, is a fragile one and, at the same time, the most important. This is the process of not just daring to trust another being, but starting to trust yourself, liking yourself and caring for yourself. Here, too, my co-worker has played an important role. By trusting my co-worker, it seems to be easier for the kids to start to see their own value.
Dear friends and colleagues, you know this is tough work. You know what I am talking about. You know the value of a co-worker like the one I have had. I give him to you. He is there for you to keep. He stands tall and strong, not just on two legs, but on four. He is yours.
Sven Forsling Stalbo, November 2006
Stalbo, 740 45 Tärnsjö Sweden
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