hoofbeats to healingI took my daughter for horse therapy yesterday, and it was fascinating. There is a whole philosophy out there that certain horses (Missouri Fox Trotters to be exact) have an unusually smooth gait that is healing to RAD brains. Riding one of these horses patterns the rider’s brain as it would have been patterned if they had been allowed to crawl as babies. Babies who suffered trauma resulting in RAD probably didn’t have the chance to crawl very much because they may have been parked in cribs, carriers, jumpers, swings, playpens, and strollers. They then missed out on the incredible benefits of crawling, including faster transmission of brain signals, hemispheric strengthening and integration, and the refinement of gross and fine motor skills. Now at fourteen, thanks to a Missouri Fox Trotter, my daughter can begin to recapture some of those lost benefits.

I don’t know if it’s related to crawling per se, but the horse therapist explained that this kind of riding softens the brain. Apparently, the amygdala (the fight or flight center in the brain) in RAD kids is in the Always On position. They are in a continuously vigilant state. Consequently, the frontal lobe (the impulse control center in the brain) in RAD kids is in the Always Off position. Somehow riding these special horses turns the amygdala off and the frontal lobe on, if only temporarily at first.

As I watched three different RAD kids ride their horses around the ring, I saw the horses manifest the emotions each child was experiencing. So for instance, when my daughter’s horse stopped in the middle of the ring and wouldn’t let the lead walker continue, the horse therapist said, “Oh your daughter is stubborn. She doesn’t want help.”

There was a little bridge right in the middle of the ring, about a foot high and very long so it was a minimal rise. In order to go across the bridge, the child rider had to be willing to trust the horse and let it go up over the bridge. The horse therapist said it was amazing how many kids just couldn’t get over that bridge, and that it was a good sign that the child wanted to shift (i.e., let go of fear, attach to parents in a healthy way) if they let the horse take them over the bridge. I was pretty elated that my daughter made it over the bridge three times while we were there.

The horse therapist herself used to have RAD until she realized what was going on in her thirties and started to heal. She stumbled on this version of horse therapy while she was healing herself, and she is spot-on with these RAD kids. She watched my daughter for less than five minutes and had her pegged, all without me saying a word, just from how my daughter held her knees, hips, shoulders and back, and how the relationship between the different holdings changed as my daughter continued riding.

One of the other riders was a darling little boy who looked to be about seven. The horse therapist watched him for a few minutes and then said to his mom, “His upper and lower body don’t match. He’s hiding something. Did he steal something this week?” The mom said he had been dealing with old secrets. I heard another mom say, “These kids are so charming, but they can’t charm the horse.”

I took that to mean that it’s very real (no fakey fakey allowed), and it’s all about control and trust. The kids have to trust the horse to let it take them over the bridge, and the movement itself as they ride the horse helps their brain to soften so that they can do exactly that. The funny thing was that when it was my daughter’s idea to go over the bridge, she went up and over no problem. At the end of the hour the therapist asked her if she wanted to be done. Kaylyn said yes, and the therapist said, “Take the horse over the bridge one more time and you’re done.” Do you know it took Kaylyn about ten minutes and half a dozen tries before she got over the bridge that time? The therapist said it was because this time it was her (the therapist’s) idea. Fascinating. The horse reveals all.

Photo credit: Hoofbeats to Healing.