February 20, 2007

Refuge Services – The (semi-)Obligatory Plug

Posted in Iramville at 12:19 am by Iram

This past Friday I paid a visit to Refuge Services, a 501.3(c) organization here in Lubbock that is doing some work that I am more than happy to support. Refuge Services advertises itself as “a public, non-profit organization that provides services for the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. (They) provide hippotherapy, therapeutic riding, and equine-assisted psychotherapy, serving over 75 clients per week.” In other words, they use horses to provide therapy to individuals for whom most other means to achieve wellness have failed.

In my opinion, one of the best services that Refuge offers is equine-assisted psychotherapy for children. By matching each child with a horse that mimics the child’s own personality, the program forces the child to overcome his or her own weaknesses in order to successfully ride the horse. One success story that was related to me was of a 6 year old boy who had become so introverted that he no longer spoke to anybody. Refuge Services matched him up with a docile horse that had a similar personality and no will of its own. If the boy wanted the horse to go anywhere he would have to learn how to be in charge and how to have enough confidence in himself to give orders to another. It was only after equine-therapy allowed the child to regain his confidence that he was able to admit the cause of his silence – he was a rape victim.

I have also experienced first-hand some of the programs the Refuge Services can offer to various institutions. At their open house they held a demonstration of a team-building exercise that they offer to corporate groups and other teams. For the exercise, a group of random individuals was selected from amongst the audience and put in the arena with three horses. There was a jump bar in the middle of the arena, and this group of strangers had to pick one of the three horses and coax that particular horse to jump over the bar. There were some rules involved, of course: nobody was allowed to touch any of the horses in any way, shape or form; bribery was forbidden; nobody was allowed to feed any of the horses; if anybody in the group broke one of the rules the entire group had to climb the arena fence in punishment. It was a simple list, but one that proved to be quite extensive when Ranger (the chosen horse) refused time and time again to jump over the bar.

At the beginning of the exercise, all of the group members tried to discuss their different ideas and plan out exactly what steps they wanted to use to convince Ranger to jump over the pole. They tried to lead by example by jumping over the pole themselves (Ranger’s response was to role around in the dirt after lazily watching their attempts), and when that didn’t work they tried other methods including scare tactics, sweet-talking, and even begging. After about 30 minutes with no success, personalities of the group members began to show through. One of the women tried to take charge of the group, taking the initiative to gather everybody together to regroup and figure out a strategy. When this didn’t work, though, the group members began to split off into two factions, each working fairly independently to convince Ranger to jump over the pole. In addition, the gentleman of the group (a lawyer by profession) began to take an indifferent attitude towards the rules and picked up a stick to ‘push’ Ranger over the pole. When he was reminded that this was still against the rules (to which his very lawyer-like response was that the stick touching Ranger did not count as him touching Ranger), all of the other group members climbed the fence for the punishment but he did not. It was interesting to note, however, that he did not pick up that stick again, leading me to believe that he agreed that using the stick was against the rules, but still considered himself above consequences.

Personal issues became more apparent as well. The mother of a three year old boy kept comparing Ranger to her son, and drew a parallel between Ranger jumping over the pole and her son listening to her instructions. The task of getting Ranger to jump over the pole represented a different difficulty to each of the individuals involved, and as the conversation between the group members continued the on-lookers were able to uncover more and more personal issues behind the behaviors of the different volunteer individuals. If one person was a natural born leader who was able to bring the group together to plan out a scheme, another person was a shy individual who needed the support of the rest of the group to convince her not to give up on Ranger. Throughout the demonstration, Patti (the owner of Refuge Services) talked us through the benefits of this type of exercise, and explained to us how similar exercises could be used to isolate different personal issues that would then be discussed in clinical therapy sessions.

In the end, the volunteers did get Ranger (and his two other horse friends) to jump over that pole, but not before exposing themselves to the rest of us in the audience. After seeing the entire process unfold, I have no doubt that the programs offered by Refuge provide great benefit to their clients, and would greatly encourage anybody looking for a tax-deduction to support this organization (tax day is just around the corner!).

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