Experiencing Horse Sense

by Jim Marks

Most of us know that “horse sense” simply means “common sense”. But few of us have realized that we can actually learn some common sense from horses. Who knew?

Richard and Shannon Knapp knew. They were ahead of the curve on using horses to help people who weren’t benefitting greatly from traditional psychotherapy or common approaches to learning. So in 2003, they started Horse Sense of the Carolinas. Their facility near Marshall has over 100 acres, with covered and open corrals, barns, houses, and even a labyrinth. They also have, as this is written, four dogs, four cats, and 26 horses, all rescue or rehabilitation cases. But there might be more horses as you read this.

Richard says that Shannon wants to rescue every needy horse she meets. And Shannon pleads guilty. So Richard tries to keep her away from horses in need of rescuing, but doesn’t always succeed.

Many of the rescued Horse Sense horses are “unrideable”. That is not a problem, however, since the Horse Sense EAP (Equine Assisted Psychotherapy) and EAL (Equine Assisted Learning) programs do not always involve riding. “We rescue ‘unrideable’ horses for people who don’t need or want to ride,” Shannon says.

The Equine Assisted programs focus entirely on helping clients, many of them youngsters and teens, who aren’t prospering from classical counseling or psychotherapy approaches. Potential EAP clients are first interviewed by licensed mental health professionals to determine if the program is suitable for them. Then every session with that client involves a mental health professional as well as an equine expert. Shannon Knapp is an EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth And Learning Association) Advanced Equine Specialist, but emphatically states, “I am not a psychotherapist!”

Although Richard Knapp spends more of his time with horses and the management of the facility than with clients, he, too, is EAGALA certified. So, too, is Lori Araki, a third critical person in the organization. She joined Horse Sense in 2009 after 19 years as a professional horsewoman in capacities from trainer to equine therapist. She is also a PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor and, with the help of Adam Cranston, an Occupational Therapist, the two offer Therapeutic Riding and Hippotherapy alongside Horse Sense.

As talented and knowledgeable as the Horse Sense leaders are, they couldn’t accomplish their mission without volunteers. Shannon explained it can take three volunteers – one to lead the horse and one on each side – to work with Lori or Adam in many Therapeutic Riding or Hippotherapy sessions. So volunteers like Anne Darling, a retired educator, and Mark Wood, retired from the fire service, are critical.

Horse Sense holds monthly open houses, (see Calendar of Events on page 2), to introduce potential clients to the facility and its programs. After touring the physical plant, Shannon gives visitors a taste of what EAL can do.

Inside a covered ring, she urges visitors to “meet” horses that are behind a rope separating them from the humans. They are invited to stand silently by the rope and let the horses come to them. “Unlike humans, horses don’t communicate with words,” Shannon says. “They read body language. So we teach people to go by ‘horse rules’, not people rules.”

The experiential process of learning ‘horse rules’ teaches clients valuable lessons. Over eight to twelve sessions, they learn to be assertive, rather than passive or aggressive; to live in the present, not the past or future; and to see the world as it is, not as it seems after being distorted by their personal fears and history.

In addition to working with individuals, Horse Sense offers leadership and team building programs for corporations and other organizations, continuing education programs for health care professionals, and retreats for people seeking inner calm. Some details about these programs and more are available at www.horsesenseotc.com.

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