Sunkawakan ta Wounspe: Teachings from the Horse

(Posting a series of unfunded research grants, unpublished manuscripts, grant proposals, summaries from projects, and misc. resources)

I discovered this proposal for equine therapy archived in my email; full-circle experience as I am focusing my practice on equine-assisted expressive arts therapy.

Our proposal is an extension of a summer arts-informed equine therapy program held during the summer of 2011 with children, adults, and elders from the Oglala Sioux Tribe of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Partnering with Lakota equine therapist and ranch owner Morris Brewer, 27 members from the community participated in 10 arts-informed equine therapy workshops held over a two-week period. A team of equine therapists and a licensed professional counselor co-lead the groups with assistance from 9 students from The Graduate Art Therapy Program at The George Washington University. The outcome of this program resulted in the development of a culturally-relevant workshop format, which we are proposing to implement in this follow-up program. This format is centered in Lakota spirituality through opening and closing prayer ceremonies involving horse and human participants. Through nonverbal means, participants engage in their own healing process through “calling” their horse (lesson of connection), grooming their horse (lesson of nurturance), painting personal and cultural symbols on their horse (lesson of communication), and creating a sacred practice to give thanks to horse for his/her healing (lesson of making sacred). The “witnesses” to this healing process offer their story of the participant interactions observed in follow-up story-sharing circles. In response to these shared stories, participants create a sculpture out of clay and natural materials, giving visual and verbal expression to their experience that day. The focus on story sharing often elicits a Lakota horse story from one of the elders to convey a parting message to the participants. Through the repetition of this workshop format, we have discovered a deepening of the healing process, moving past initial fears to processing grief responses. We are proposing a 10-day immersion experience in arts-informed equine therapy with a support team of certified equine therapists, Lakota Spiritual Leaders, licensed professional counselors, and graduate counseling students. This inter-disciplinary team approach is needed to provide a safe healing environment during this immersion process. The outcome of the program will be further evaluated using Appreciative Inquiry, an assets-based approach to interviewing. Appreciative Inquiry attempts to use ways of asking questions to foster positive relationships instead of focusing on problem-solving around “deficits,” and thereby build on the present potential. Appreciative Inquiry utilizes a cycle of 4 processes:
DISCOVER: The identification of processes that are effective and in this instance, culturally relevant.
DREAM: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future for example, replicating an effective workshop format.
DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well through collaboration and community involvement.
DESTINY: Implementing what has been envisioned.
This method of strengths-based evaluation reinforces the Lakota values of generosity, courage, respect, and wisdom, which is at the core of all relationships. The results of the Appreciative Inquiry will be integral in the development of a Lakota-focused curriculum for equine therapy, incorporating expressive modalities, such as art therapy and storytelling. The curriculum will be an outcome supporting the efficacy of the program, providing a means to sustain the program.

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