It is often said that a dog is man's best friend, but the nonprofit organization Horses Healing Hearts proves that horses can share that title. Standing in the presence of a 1,000-pound horse, you'll surely direct your full attention to the present and forget your troubles and your hound at home.
Much like dogs, horses can reflect and sense human emotion. Before founding the organization in January, Danville resident Melissa Austin said she was going through a difficult time in her life and decided to take health and wellness classes.
After meeting with Dyane Golding, a certified life coach and Equine Guided Educator, the therapy that the horses offered helped Austin recognize her negative feelings and helped her blossom into the person she was meant to be, she explained.
Realizing the profound benefits of equine therapy, Austin made it her mission to allow all people, not just the elite, to have access to such a program in her hometown of Danville.
Horses Healing Hearts, or 3H, not to be confused with 4H, is dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating, fostering and partnering horses with humans through Equine Guided Education. Workshops are offered and led by Ariana Strozzi, leader and creator of the industry, or Golding.
For the first time, Horses Healing Hearts will hold a "Welcome to Danville" reception, on June 8 and June 11, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., for residents to see and experience what horses can teach. Austin said that one session with a horse amounts to nearly 10 sessions with a human therapist.
"Already, in just two days, you've made more difference than a team of doctors," said Stan, a client from Brentwood, in a text to Austin, "Petting and grooming your horses made (my wife) feel so much better, and gave her hope, something to live for, and even look forward to."
Golding said Equine Guided Education partners horses with humans, giving people permission to be themselves and delve inside themselves to tap into emotions they forgot were there.
"Individuals, groups and families have agreed this type of experiential therapy can help you gain clarity, become un-stuck, and live authentically," the 3H website states, "Results empower you to lead a more fulfilling life."
As well as educating the community about the value, benefits and life-changing gifts horses provide, 3H simultaneously provides assistance to equines in need.
Last December, Austin rescued Spirit, a 5-year-old Thoroughbred that had been neglected and only weighed 700 pounds at the time. Months of rehabilitation have restored Spirit's health and ideal weight of 1,100 pounds, and revealed his kind-heartedness.
Knowing that Spirit had been a racing horse, identified by the tattoo inside his upper lip, Austin decided to research his past. Her investigation revealed his blood lineage to Secretariat, the American thoroughbred racehorse that became the first U.S. Triple Crown winner in 1973.
Spirit's racing name had been Lichtenstein and his previous trainers were Bob Baffert and Doug O'Neil, current trainer of I'll Have Another, the current Triple Crown contender.
The newest addition to 3H is Cinnamon Sugar, a 2-year-old Paiute Indian Mustang filly. Although currently in training, Cinnamon Sugar is the living ambassador for Green Valley Elementary School in Danville.
Austin hopes one day to implement a mobile unit working with the community and juvenile detention centers and addiction facilities. For now, you can "see yourself through the eyes of a horse" by visiting 3H's website to make a reservation for June 8.
Donations are also graciously accepted.