More than just horsing around

cuddling with a horse

While we’re still self-distancing, some businesses are taking baby steps towards normalcy. It’s opening us up to cultural experiences we may have never had. Get creative in a conscious way, and restless people from quarantine will jump at the opportunity!

Richmonders who had never been to the symphony are hiring Ellen Cockerham Riccio to play violin in their backyards from a safe distance. She’s the Second Principal Violinist in the Richmond Symphony, and during this quarantine, has transformed into The Backyard Violinist. The Driveway Drag Show has been doing house calls for people who have never made it into the city for a proper performance. The main entertainer, Michelle Livigne has even found herself playing for a Christian family at a remote cabin sitting on 600 acres of land.

donkey and a little boy

When I found out that Checkpoint One was open for private tours, our family was in. I’ve always found horses to be majestic. They have a quiet dignity that’s untouchable. Checkpoint One is a special refuge, offering non-riding equine therapy with trained specialists.

It’s one thing to stand at the fence and hope a horse ambles up to you. It’s quite another thing to be led inside for an intimate session. “Horses radiate their heartbeats, and humans adapt to the slower and more consistent heartbeat of the horse. It lowers our stress levels and blood pressure,” explains Kristin Fitzgerald. As co-founder of Checkpoint One and certified life coach, she and her team help people with PTS (post traumatic stress), and ERES (Emergency Responders Exhaust Syndrome). In fact, anyone feeling overtaxed and stressed can unwind at this rustic hideaway, where even yoga classes are offered to help heal the community.

blind horse one eye

Our favorite horse was George, (pictured top). He’s a nuzzling, cuddling beast that likes to lay his regal head upon your shoulder. There were two wild mustangs brought in from Nevada. They were “gentled in” as opposed to being broken in, so they learned not to fear humans, but without the use of force or pain.  Shadow (pictured above), is a horse who recently had an eye removed. She’s adapting well, but it won’t stop your nurturing instinct from coming out in full force. There’s a sweet donkey that loves to get close and smell everything on you (including your face). We brushed them to help shed their winter coats. The animals felt itchy and you could tell they were grateful for the attention.

checkpoint one doswell equine therpy

We were grateful too. We’ve been in quarantine since March. To be able to drive to this lush hilltop in Doswell and soak up the sun, and to be so intimate with animals that innately calm us – it was a memorable afternoon. Its close enough to the city so that it’s not a hassle, and far enough so that it feels like an escape. It’s special enough to make you feel like all that isolating was worth the wait.

RVA Doubles Down on the Ultimate Self-Care: Equine Therapy

Self care is more than a trending hashtag. In fact, it may not be a trend at all. Recently Barnes and Noble said that for the first time, January’s self-help books for mental health outpaced books about diet and exercise. And interest has been quietly building for years. As younger generations slowly erode the stigmatization around mental heath, we’re more comfortable addressing it, and tackling it head on.

Why is equine therapy the ultimate in self-care? While a mani-pedi gives us confidence, equine therapy forces us to go deeper. It helps to understand the therapeutic value of horses. They are herd and prey animals, and a major part of their survival is their intuition. They watch one another and communicate quietly on an emotional level. If one horse is frightened, they all become frightened.

Horses serve as our mirror. If we’re angry, even if it’s not on the surface, horses can sense this and pull back as you approach. If you’re sullen, they will pick up on this and have the ability to comfort you. Horses are majestic animals, and can pull the feelings right out of us. Caring for them is a lesson in our own self care.

Life coach Florencia Fuensalida and Kristin Fitzgerald, an Experiential Equine Practitioner, are holding a much-needed equine therapy session on April 6th. People from Central Virginia and beyond are invited get outside and kick off the spring season with this event. Whether you’re suffering from anxiety, recovering from trauma or simply want to shake off the winter blues, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t tried this sooner. No experience with horses is necessary, since you won’t be riding with them but bonding with them. To register, please see details below. Happy trails!