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When elderly, abused and neglected horses wind up in a SARA sanctuary, they get the support and vet care they so desperately need -- and more. When 24-year-old Dolly arrived at Horse Haven of Tennessee Inc. , a shelter for abused and neglected horses in Knoxville, she was so severely malnourished she was unable to shed her winter coat.
Horse Haven set to work doing what it does best: offering food, water, medical attention and loving kindness. But as volunteer Carrie Dorsey-Higdon points out, “These essential measures often fall short of helping the traumatized horse heal from the physical, emotional and mental scars of neglect and abuse. Holistic therapies -- including Reiki -- are the missing link between meeting the physical needs of the horse and addressing all the other issues affecting the horse’s well-being.”
With the help of Reiki, “Dolly, whom I lovingly refer to as ‘the Reiki sponge’,” says Dorsey-Higdon, “quickly gained weight, and her notable depression gradually lifted, enabling her future adopters to see her as the diamond in the rough that she was. She remains with her new family today, surrounded by love and companionship.”
Bringing abused and neglected horses -- especially seniors -- back to a place of trust and health is a critical challenge faced by horse lovers and shelter and sanctuary workers alike. Reiki programs endorsed by the Shelter Animal Reiki Association (SARA), the only nonprofit of its kind, support animal caregivers by giving them an easy-to-use, holistic therapy complementary to the care they already provide. As SARA’s work spreads both nationally and internationally, skeptics quietly turn into supporters.
The system of Reiki was developed in the early 20th century by Mikao Usui. The original purpose of the system was spiritual development, but in modern times the emphasis has evolved as a system of energetic healing that uses specific Japanese meditative practices and breathing techniques.
Today, Reiki is successfully utilized to support healing in medical settings such as hospitals, cancer centers, hospice programs and AIDS clinics all over the country. And as Reiki steadily gains acceptance and respect from doctors and patients alike, it’s only natural that those who have experienced Reiki for themselves ultimately want to share it with their beloved horses.
“Horses come to these places feeling insecure and unsure of themselves,” says Leah D’Ambrosio, Reiki teacher and co-founder of SARA, who has volunteered at Pregnant Mare Rescue in Aptos, California, for two years. “Reiki helps bring them back into balance and gets them to a place of trusting their caregivers.”
Positive results following Reiki sessions with animals actually served as part of the inspiration behind SARA’s launch in 2008. “I noticed in my work with horses that they often show dramatic responses to the energy during treatment,” says Kathleen Prasad, SARA president and co-founder, who has worked with horses and Reiki for more than a decade. Today, SARA dedicates its efforts toward bringing Reiki programs to animal sanctuaries worldwide.
As more shelters open up to the idea of Reiki, more animals like Dolly will be able to benefit. Nina L. Margetson, executive director of Horse Haven, which has been rescuing horses since 1999, was initially skeptical when she first heard of Reiki. “But I allowed it as long as the activity didn’t cause any harm to the animal.” Reiki is now a mainstay at the sanctuary, of which about 10% are seniors.
Anxiety, arthritis, tumors, cancer, colic, Cushing’s disease, chronic emotional problems, end of life — no matter what a horse’s problem or age, Reiki can attend to it in some way. “The real beauty,” says Dorsey-Higdon, “is that there is no situation I have encountered in which Reiki is not the perfect fit.”
Finding Their Forever Home
Reiki has another benefit for seniors, one that has not gone unnoticed by caregivers. “Adoptability in these senior horses is greatly increased!” says Dorsey-Higdon. Rehabilitating and finding homes for horses like Dolly is so important because once she and others like her leave the sanctuary, space opens up to help other horses in need.
For more information about SARA’s shelter and sanctuary Reiki treatment and training programs, visit www.shelteranimalreikiassociation.org . For a listing of Reiki classes taught by Kathleen Prasad, visit Animal Reiki Source at www.animalreikisource.com .
Charlotte Jensen ( www.charjensen.com ), communications and media relations manager for SARA, is an internationally published journalist based in Orange County, California.
PHOTO ABOVE (courtesy Karen Tappenden): “I’ve seen even huge skeptics become interested in learning more about Reiki when they see a horse receive a treatment,” says Kathleen Prasad, SARA president and co-founder.
Shelter Animal Reiki Association (SARA) Success Stories
It’s a chilly Friday morning the day I tour Remus Memorial Horse Sanctuary , one of SARA’s founding shelters, located in Essex, England. Established in 1983, Remus was formed to address the plight of abused, neglected and starving horses in the area. Today, nearly 200 animals --horses, donkeys, pigs, sheep, goats and cats -- call the peaceful, 40-acre sanctuary home. A full 70 percent of the horses in residence are seniors.
In the early days, Remus relied on traditional veterinary methods to help the animals in its care. But today, holistic modalities like Reiki take center stage. The move is indicative of a growing trend as an increasing number of shelter and sanctuary owners and veterinarians investigate -- and embrace -- nontraditional approaches.
As Caroline Thomas, volunteer and SARA teacher, walks me through Remus’ outbuildings, stables and lush, misty grounds, her passion and dedication to the animals becomes quite evident. She’s the one who introduced Reiki to this sanctuary -- and Sue Burton, founder of Remus, couldn’t be happier with the results.
“We love it,” Burton says. “It’s just so useful to them; [it] puts them in a better place emotionally to deal with what they’ve got.”
For Bugs (see photo at right; (c) Charlotte Jensen) -- one of Thomas’ favorite horses at Remus, a 21-year-old “gentle giant” who suffered from one of the worst cases of chronic arthritis their vets had ever seen -- that meant helping the mare deal emotionally with the challenges of post-op recovery. “Her walking became so difficult that it was feared she may need to be put to sleep,” Thomas explains. But Remus never gave up on Bugs, and after raising £3,000 ($4,800) from the public, the mare was able to have a life-saving operation. “Reiki has helped her to cope with the box rest that she needed to help her heal, which meant long days and nights in her stable. Each time I offered her Reiki, she was so bright, chilled and very happy.”
Reiki has also been used to support four adorable elderly Shetland ponies named Ruby, Star, Tango and Peggy. All four suffer from chronic arthritis, “which has affected the pedal bone being pushed right into the hoof,” says Thomas. “They have had their tendons cut to relieve the pain and special shoes made. Each week they are offered Reiki, and the vets have commented on how quickly they have recovered from their surgery. Their coats have improved, and they have a happier demeanor.”
In Chelsea, Vermont, at the Hooved Animal Sanctuary , Reiki helps the horses feel something special they’ve probably never felt before: love. “Since these horses are usually coming from a neglect situation or even heading for the slaughterhouse, the pure love of Reiki may be the only love they have ever felt,” says Kelly McDermott-Burns, who has taught Reiki classes at the sanctuary since 2008. “The stress level for these horses is very high of course, and Reiki can help them relax and maybe even trust a little so they can begin to heal.”
At present, two of the Hooved Animal Sanctuary’s equine residents are horses age 24. “Reiki has been great for the older horses,” says Deb Baker, founder and owner. “I find it helps them release the stress that they carry from years of abuse or neglect. It also helps them relax in cases of pain-related problems. We also use it every time we have to euthanize, to ease the transition from life and death. I find it to be very beneficial to all the horses, but the older ones that have been carrying trauma and stress for so long really seem to let go and find an inner peace.”
According to Lynn Hummer, founder and president of Pregnant Mare Rescue, “Reiki holds special benefits for our senior crowd. I feel it helps them reconnect with their herd mates.”
She describes a typical Reiki treatment. “They begin by standing, approaching only after the session has begun. The aches and pains are obvious, [and they’re] slow moving and sometimes tentative about putting out an effort to see what’s going on. Then the ears prick forward, and their heads lift a bit. One may nicker to the other, and they move in, old and young alike. The seniors close their eyes; sometimes they lie down and expel huge, deep breaths. The warmth and relaxation of the Reiki energy surrounds them in comfort. It’s the visual that always amazes me. Horses remain so honest. They don’t filter the way humans do. The end of the session leaves them so satisfied and relaxed. I often feel that it’s after a session that I see the senior gals rejoin the herd. They feel more like being a part of the gang, and I think it’s important because horses are herd animals and they should want to belong. That is a good indicator of their well-being when they participate.
“[Reiki] has become a necessary part of our healing commitment to our beloved equines,” adds Hummer. In the past five years, the rescue has cared for seven senior mares.
Another adoption success story is that of Elvis, an elder horse in his late 20s that came to Pregnant Mare Rescue after being listed for free on Craigslist. He initially found a home but was returned thin and sickly. The horse needed “TLC, groceries, a vet, antibiotics and, of course, Reiki,” says Hummer. “Reiki was sent to Elvis daily. Volunteers drove to deliver it in person, [and] those who could not, sent Reiki from a distance. It was critical for a bit, touch and go, but Elvis pulled through. Katy [a volunteer] then found Elvis a forever loving home, where he is pampered and loved on. My volunteer Reiki healers continue to send Elvis Reiki from afar. So far, all reports are good. He is thriving in his new home. Rumors say he even has a girlfriend. With a name like Elvis, what did we expect?”
-- Charlotte Jensen