With increased urbanization, there are many younger people who will never get close to livestock – except maybe at a petting zoo.
But for older generations, a new Langley-based Hug a Horse program is allowing local seniors to not only reconnect with animals but to rekindle positive memories from their past.
Langley horses are changing a sad statistic that one in four seniors in the community live in isolation.
Linda-Ann Bowling is the founder of the Hug a Horse program, that she’s convinced helps reignite passion, purpose, and possibilities for seniors.
“Seniors hold a special place in my heart so I want do whatever it takes… Our seniors should not be spending their golden years feeling alone and disconnected from others. The Hug a Horse program is working to positively impact the lives of seniors in our communities with the help of horses,” Bowling said.
Modeling it after a program in the U.S. that brings horses into seniors facilities for therapy, Bowling created Hug A Horse a couple years ago in the Lower Mainland.
“To me, that’s how it ought to be,” she said.
Research is showing that those living with cognitive impairments experience a reconnection to themselves and their loved ones through working with horses, she claimed.
“Interacting with horses even has the incredible power of helping to restore long lost memories – if only for a brief time,” Bowling insisted, saying those moments of joy will stay with that senior for a long time.
“They will re-tell that experience many times, bringing joy and happiness to themselves as they remember,” Bowling said, sharing the story of one program participant that she met named Leona.
“While technically not a senior at 56 years of age, a lifetime of medication had taken its toll on her body and mind, and had rendered her non-verbal with Parkinson-like symptoms,” Bowling explained.
“ Her weekly outing was not stimulating her, and so her caregiver brought her to the horses. Leona took small, wobbly steps as she approached the gate to the arena. Immediately, Toby, one of our amazing senior horses came over. He reached his head over the gate and placed it on her chest.”
Leona was introduced to Toby, and she immediately responded, reaching out her arm to stroke him.
“I love Toby,” Leona said, her calmness and clarity of speech indisputable, Bowling said.
“We took pictures, and Leona spent the rest of the day at home with her caregiver reliving her experience. ‘I love Toby’ she said over and over again.”
Bowling wants to get seniors out of the malls and places that offer little to no stimulation.
Instead, she suggests taking them back into the country with nature, where they can remember their childhood while doing painting, grooming, walking, drumming, yoga, sing-alongs, and even storytime, all in the presence of and with horses.
The Hug a Horse program is one of the programs offered on Bowling’s acreage in Langley, a commercial retreat she calls Unbridling Your Brilliance.
Thus far, the program has been focused more on individual seniors. But more recently, she has started working more with seniors home, care facilities, and agencies to provide the connection with larger groups of elderly residents.
It “breathes new life into the people” she said. “Our seniors deserve to experience the transformative power of horses, and all the benefits that come with this program, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Let’s help them live again,” concluded Bowling.
She has been using with horses as healing tools with people of all ages for more than 20 years, operating in the Otter area of Langley for the past 13 years.
She runs similar horse therapy programs for individual, groups such as youth at risk and women suffering domestic violence, as well as for corporate clientele.
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