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Tracing Transitions: From the Race Tracks to EQUAL’s Therapy Stables

31 December 2020

Galaxy Express and Good Bet are their names. The definitive names of horses whose lives once surrounded a sole purpose: to win on the race tracks. But now, whilst Galaxy and Good Bet have retained their names, they carry new meaning into their lives — as therapy horses at the EQUAL stables. For both, their co-option into EQUAL meant second chances at their supposedly short-lived lives: much like the second chances they help their beneficiaries achieve during therapy.

Had their legacies ended on the racing track, their lives would have ended at the relatively young age of 6 or 7, even though a horse’s life expectancy can go up to 30 years. And all because they were no longer as fast as they used to be; were no longer profitable; or they served no further purpose for their owners. This could mean a bullet to the head or two jabs to the neck.

For these former racing horses, they’re considered lucky: every year, an estimated 300 horses are put down because they’ve outlived their economic usefulness. Such is the race horse’s life: from being the stars of the show, to the throwaway animal that’s sold away for a token.

But it is this very tragic circumstance
of the race horse — now unwanted —
that puts them in the best position
to be healing to their beneficiaries,
who may feel like they can relate
to the horses on an intrinsic level.

Both Galaxy and Good Bet were given a second shot at life — but it didn’t come without ample training and retraining initiations in order for them to become therapy horses. After all, their previous lives were significantly different from their new roles as therapy animals at EQUAL. It is no longer a life of fear, of being jostled around and whipped on their hinds, but one where they’re introduced to feelings of love, care and new forms of positive leadership.

The transition, of course,
did not come overnight:
their entire lives as they knew
it had become wholly upended —
physically, mentally and emotionally.

They were put on low-energy diets to align with their now gentler work and pace of life. Their training no longer consisted of running endless kilometres a day under coercion, but leant towards natural exercises. This extended into their playing games such as Cross The River and Pinkie & The Brain with the beneficiaries. Most importantly, they were reintroduced to the benefits of the human touch. They learnt of intimacy, love and gentility: feelings they’d hardly experienced from a human before. And in turn? They reciprocate in kind — towards the children, elderly, and every individual they meet during therapy.

These learning and training processes
of horses into therapy horses,
are far from perfect.
It might take only a few days for some,
but for others,
it might take multiple weeks or months.
These horses are much like the humans
that they seek to help during therapy,
the physically majestic beings are
soft-hearted and wish to be understood
and cared for over time.

This works wonders when they’re faced with the beneficiaries as the participants wish to get to know them and understand them further. They ask questions and figure out new ways of behaving and reacting — in order to feel a deeper connection with these hooved animals, whom they see as a possible projection of themselves. The sessions thus become a safe space for the participants to talk about themselves in an oblique way without direct reference, as they project it onto the animate being before them.

And just like that, a seed is planted in their minds. Slowly but surely, they learn to be kinder to themselves; an elderly soul remembers a lost feeling of taking care of another, and a child discovers how to navigate new friendships at school. They grow and learn more about themselves, just like how the rest of the therapy horses at EQUAL do as they train to understand their fellow beneficiaries better. This is how EQUAL helps — Galaxy, Good Bet, and all the people that are EQUAL’s beneficiaries: by providing a transitional and refreshed way of living — a second life filled with meaningful purpose.

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