We are fully engaged in 2024. This year’s theme is collaboration and community building. We affectionately say, “It takes a herd.” This month, we have been reminded of the importance of acknowledging grief and loss and finding the strength and courage to lean on our community for support. Drawing from our experience with older adults, our own families, and each other, we recognize the impact of profound grief and loss. Specifically, there are challenges that arise when someone is diagnosed with dementia. These challenges ripple through families, prompting a reimagining of lives. We take pride in the research outcomes from Stanford University and UC Davis, revealing reduced feelings of anxiety and stress for both individuals with dementia and their care partners, along with enhanced connections and relationships. These experiences and tools can help people first acknowledge their losses and begin to find acceptance and new paths to help re-activate their lives.
Grief and Resilience
Connected Horse programs play a pivotal role in guiding care partners and individuals living with dementia through the grieving process, offering hope amid unexpected diagnoses. Beyond the benefits for those affected by dementia, care partners often find a reprieve from their daily roles and responsibilities, providing them with a momentary pause for self-care and self-reflection. One of our participants shared with us how she felt so much better after the workshops, she said “When you come to a beautiful place where everyone, people and horses, are taking care of you, you feel safe, accepted and free to let go for a few hours. That in itself is a gift.”
Connected Horse programming serves as a transformative space for participants to acknowledge grief and build resilience. Mindfulness exercises, conducted in nature in the presence of majestic 1200lb horses, promote full engagement. Horses, masters of acceptance and adaptation, inspire participants to live in the reality of “what is” and work collaboratively for the highest good.
Beyond acknowledging grief, our program empowers individuals to reframe situations, fostering resilience that withstands or quickly recovers from challenging conditions. Resilience becomes the guiding force, providing the strength and courage to modify plans and dreams. All of our exercises are designed to encourage connection and learning from the horses. The Leading exercise is particularly powerful for participants to practice resilience and experience self-agency, translating these experiences into heightened awareness and emotional management in daily life. The Leading exercises encourage participants to communicate a plan with the horse, negotiate, listen to nonverbal communication, and feel confident enough to ask the horse to walk with them. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of pieces to think about. As often happens, participants and horses can get off course. They stop. They regroup. And start again. It may take a couple of tries, but they begin to find the rhythm, and in a short time, the horses and participants are in stride together. This is a great reminder of how valuable it is to stop, refocus, and figure out where you want to go and how you want to communicate with those around you. To add to the fun and complexity of this exercise, we often ask participants to pair up with the person they came with, and together, they lead the horse. They are walking together with a purpose, communicating the direction, the pace, and the collaboration. In no time, the horses and people walk in unison, step by step. Participants share that this exercise allows them to let go of some of the things that are holding them back from living, and builds hope and confidence to move forward, together.
A Connection Beyond Words
The bond forged with horses transcends language, offering a unique connection free from judgment or expectations. In this extraordinary space, emotional exploration thrives, facilitated by the horse’s acceptance and the profound sense of oneness with nature. It’s an ideal environment for healing.
Thank you for being an integral part of the Connected Horse family and contributing to the positive impact on the lives of care partners and individuals living with dementia. Together, we embrace 2024 with optimism and gratitude.