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Horses offer emotional healing to recovering addicts, others facing mental health challenges

Holly Zachariah, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio on

Published in Health & Fitness

DELAWARE, Ohio -- Tim Funk slid open the barn doors, and his herd of horses thundered into the arena, kicking up thick clouds of dust that mixed with their steamy breath to dance on the slivers of afternoon sunlight that peeked through the windows.

Six men, bundled in heavy coats and hats and wearing borrowed boots, leaned against the rail and watched.

"See if you can pick out the leader of the group, and who's low on the totem pole," Funk told the men. "Watch them, and see if you can find one out there that matches your own personality."

Some of the horses dropped down and rolled on their backs in the dirt like playful puppies, others stood passively and alone at the closed doors that led to their stalls just waiting for someone to let them go in.

The men all laughed as a giant draft horse named Stanley chased a miniature horse named Wyatt in circles around the ring, the animals' manes whipping around as they raced.

"Stanley follows the little one wherever he goes. It's like a codependent relationship," Vinny Vincent, who was visiting Stockhands Horses for Healing for the fourth time, explained to some of the newcomers beside him. "It's kind of toxic, to tell you the truth."

 

The men all laughed even more. Toxic relationships are something they know about. All were part of an inpatient program at the Ohio Addiction Recovery Center in Columbus, each on a different step in his journey toward sober living.

They were one of several groups that regularly visit the nonprofit Stockhands organization, which rents a sprawling 38-acre ranch on Olentangy River Road in Delaware County that, just as its name suggests, uses horses to help the wounded heal.

Funk, who started the program about five years ago, uses his 26-head herd as therapy for adults and children with special needs -- those who have behavioral issues or physical disabilities or are on the autism spectrum. But his niche is serving veterans and those in addiction recovery, two things he knows all too well.

A combat veteran with the 2nd Marine Division and a recovering alcoholic, Funk said that those in recovery who visit the farm build relationships with the horses that help them in ways they don't even realize.

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