My Changing Gaits experience and interview from the back of a horse
In 2001 Nile (Guy) Kaufman founded Changing Gaits, Inc., a Faith Based diversified Equine Assisted Addiction Services (EAAS) in Brook Park.
A certified equine specialist, Kaufman said EAAS is based on OK Corral techniques that can help individuals conquer addiction or help families, children, adults or coworkers learn creative thinking, build relationships, problem solve, builds self esteem and communicate.
During a visit to the ranch, Kaufman suggested that the best way to understand the therapy is to experience it myself. This is how I ended up on an hour-long trail ride, conducting an interview from horseback.
Metaphors and Meaning in Manure
Kaufman walked a lovely buckskin mare named Akita over to me. With Kaufman’s assistance I mounted a horse for the first time since grade school. As he showed me the proper way to sit and hold the reins, Guy explained some of how EAAS works through several metaphors.
At Changing Gaits, metaphors abound. There, the horse you ride represents some kind of issue or challenge in your life, whether it be addiction or problems in communication, behavior, or relationships. The issue might even be a stressful job —like one with lots of deadlines.
He explained the horses can be a reflection of ourselves. If we are tense, stressed, or not-so-confident—so is the horse. But by doing a variety of exercises, we can build our confidence and learn to control our horse and our life’s problems.
After not having ridden a horse since I was a child, there I sat, clinging onto the saddle with my entire body, staring down at the mane of my horse focusing on my chosen issue. It was then that Kaufman suggested I relax, let go, hold my arms out like a bird and close my eyes.
To me that didn’t sound like I would be controlling my issue.
As I held my arms out, Kaufman took the reins and silently coaxed Akita forward. With her first step, her weight shifted beneath me and my stomach dropped.
As strong as the urge was to drop my arms and open my eyes, I kept them shut as Kaufman explained part of the therapy is allowing others to help you and having faith in God to lead you down the right path.
While Changing Gaits is a faith-based organization, everyone is welcome. Even though God is often included in the therapy and many of the lessons and metaphors, Kaufman said that they don’t force religion onto their clients.
After a few laps around the indoor arena (eyes open this time), we were ready for a trail ride.
Kaufman led the way with his horse Shadow, then me on Akita, followed by another member of the staff on a horse named Orion.
Within the first minute of our trail ride, one of those earlier mentioned metaphors landed with a plop as Shadow stopped on the trail to relieve his bowels, leaving a pile of fresh green manure along the path.
“When we’re out on the trails and that happens we say, ‘So what kind of crap do you have to get rid of that you’re not talking about?’... We’ve all got crap,” Guy said.
Whoever thought manure could be so meaningful? For the duration of the ride I could not help but reflect on some of the things I had on my own shoulders that I needed to relieve myself of.
The ranch is also home to the Changing Gaits Sober Community, an eight-man sober house that helps residents through addiction recovery and develops responsibility by caring for the horses. The sober house provides most of the income from the ranch while the rest comes from donations.
Sober house resident manager Justin Kruckman has his own history of alcohol addiction. Kruckman said he had been to 23 recovery centers in the past nine years before coming to Changing Gaits. This time, sobriety has stuck.
“I can honestly say I’m done. This place has changed my life,” he said.
Along the trail Kaufman and Kruckman can tell stories to make you weep. Kaufman told a story about his own struggles with addiction and about how he saved his horse, Shadow, from death with determination and prayer.
Shadow, a 16-year-old Arab/Quarter horse gelding, was Guy’s first horse that helped to found Changing Gaits and change the lives of others, including the life if Laikin Brasch.
Seven-year-old Laikin, who has ADHD, a metabolic syndrome and is prone to emotional outbursts, has been visiting Changing Gaits for a little over a year now. With the help of his favorite horse, Dozer, he is learning how his behavior affects others.
“Laiken seems to have better control of his behavior,” said his mother, Terrie Brasch. “This helps a lot as far as him learning new skills and how to deal with stuff. The horses mimic what you do, so if he was having a bad day they would follow Laiken’s behavior then he would learn how to overcome that.”
Terrie, who said she was amazed by the effectiveness of the program, has since become an active volunteer for Changing Gaits. About a year ago, she encouraged Keith Haro (whose name has been changed to protect identity) to join the program.
Now six months sober, 16-year-old Haro is a recovering alcoholic. With Kaufman’s encouragement, Haro has been using the horse he rides as an example of his sobriety: “Take charge, don’t let it control you, you control it,” he said.
“It helped me a lot. Got me thinking about a lot of things instead of just the horse. It just made me think about sobriety... This place can change lives if you let it,” Haro said.
Continuing along the trail
Along the trail, dodging sticks and rough patches, Kaufman taught me about how to keep my issue from leading me into dangers—like pointy sticks off the path where Akita was tempted to eat some grass.
That day I went to the ranch with my head full of that week’s stress and work, flustered and determined to track down the facts needed for my story, snap a picture and rush on out to the next.
By the end of our hour-long ride, my inner thighs felt quite sore, but I also felt more ready than I ever had to do what I needed to do with confidence and self awareness of my issue.
Maybe it was Kaufman’s stories; maybe it was Akita’s rhythmic walk; or perhaps something else. In the end, I certainly witnessed and experienced first-hand the change that can happen out at the Changing Gaits ranch.
Changing Gaits is hosting a “Friend” Raiser Event Oct. 27 from 1-4 p.m. Free horse rides, Equine Therapy demonstrations and refreshments will be available. Visit Changing Gaits at 27274 Monument Road in Brook Park or check out their website at http://www.changinggaits.org.