After suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Michelle Skafer’s healing journey began with the help of horses. An avid horse-lover from a young age, Skafer saw it as a natural process. Now, she is the proud owner and operator of Stable Hearts, an equine therapy centre in Hastings.
She was halfway through her Bachelor of Social Sciences majoring in psychotherapy. During her degree she began to understand that psychotherapy interventions can include sand tray work, artwork, figurines. “My horse had done a lot of healing for me, and I wondered if there was such a thing [as equine therapy].”
From there, Skafer came across the world of the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association. Heartened by the promising results of empirical research on the topic, she delved deeper. She discovered equine assisted counselling, equine assisted psychotherapy, and equine assisted growth, in each of which she saw great potential for personal development.
Skafer believes that the role of horses in her work is what makes it so unique. Unlike humans, horses are prey animals, meaning their survival depends on their instinctive ability to sense underlying energetic and emotional currents in their environment. The true “masters of mindfulness”, they are fully in the present moment, have no judgment, and don’t hold on to the past or project into the future. According to Skafer, the most valuable lessons of all can be learnt from horses, as they can intuitively respond to our emotional states.
Armed with this knowledge, Skafer seized the opportunity to share it with her clients. “As I was going through my degree, I began piloting one-on-ones with a couple of clients, with their consent, and my clients healed themselves with horses.”
After the initial trial period yielded positive results, Skafer continued her endeavour. Her focus then shifted to helping as many people as possible by facilitating growth and learning through the application of equine assisted interventions.
Today, one of the main areas Stable Hearts focuses on is equine assisted counselling. Treatment for anxiety, depression, grief and loss, panic, addiction and post-traumatic stress are all available, as well as their growth and learning programmes.
While Skafer has seen big changes in her clients, these changes also reflect on herself.
“I’ve begun to understand that when we know what we need, what the bottom line is, then we can start to facilitate change in ourselves. In life, I’ve realised that living is not external, it’s internal. It’s how we view the world; it just starts there.
“I spent much of my life unconsciously believing that as long as everyone else was ok in my life, I would survive. So, I spent a lot of time lighting everyone else’s candles. But I’ve realised, now, that I can do that for myself. Now I’ve realised that this is my dream, and in every day experiences, the horses teach me things about myself.”
To find out more about Stable Hearts, visit stablehearts.co.nz