Special Reports

Healing Horses: A Holistic Approach To Heal Addicts

Augusta, Ga. (WJBF) - - It's estimated that tens of millions of Americans are addicted to some sort of substance - whether that be drugs or alcohol.

There are so many treatment options, including taking medications or taking a more holistic approach.
"The unbroken horse helps heal broken people," said Dale Phillips, Equine Therapist at Bluff Plantation.

Dale Phillips was once one of those broken people. Sexually abused as a child - he had no idea horses would be his therapy. Nearly 30 years later, he's brought this special therapy to Bluff Plantation, an inpatient rehab facility in Augusta.

"Words can't really describe how it makes you feel," said Phillips.

Over the past 3 years, hundreds of horses who need healing themselves, have come through the Equine Therapy program. 

"You never know where someone is at. So one thing may work well with someone and another thing may work well for someone else. And with the equine program it's really unique because it allows people to kind of get out of themselves a little bit, and identify with the horses and Dale and most people in the program find that extremely valuable," said Rachel Ryan, Director of Bluff Plantation.

The horses we got to meet were in 3 different stages of life.

"I'll bring a variety of horses. Sometimes I'll bring - over here we have a baby that's been handled maybe 2 or 3 days, a colt over here that's maybe been handled 2 weeks, and we've got little Tator Tot over here that the patients have named  - but we rehabbed his mother and him when he was a foul," said Phillips.

This is what Tator Tot's mother looked like before she was rescued. He and his mother were about to be sent to the slaughterhouse. Fully rehabbed thanks to the patients at Bluff - she went on to be a therapy horse for a girl who suffers with PTSD. 

"In order to get a horses trust you have to earn it. And that's a lot of the parallels with treatment," said Phillips. 

"Most people who come through here have children. And they can look at this horse over here and say 'oh my gosh I can see her ribs and she looks terrible, and she looks awful.' And I'm like 'well you know, who's keeping your kid when you're on the streets?" said Phillips. 

Staff at Bluff say most people who graduate from the program say the equine therapy is the part they enjoyed most. Taking care of them creates a sense of responsibility - giving them that feeling of purpose that so many can lose when addiction sets in.

"Have you seen some pretty tough people come thru here thinking this wouldn't do anything for them and all of a sudden it does?" asked Barclay Bishop, Reporting.

"Daily. But the fortunate thing is that some horses are pretty tough too," said Phillips.

Tough horses and tough people. Meeting in a barn. Healing together.

"These are the therapists, okay? But to watch that happen in front of you? I mean who gets to witness miracles, you know? Other than doctors, ya know? They're on the operating table doing heart transplants. And that's really what we're doing, we're doing heart transplants," said Phillips.


"The unbroken horse helps heal broken people," said Dale Phillips, Equine Therapist at Bluff Plantation.

Dale Phillips was once one of those broken people. Sexually abused as a child - he had no idea horses would be his therapy. Nearly 30 years later, he's brought this special therapy to Bluff Plantation, an inpatient rehab facility in Augusta.

"Words can't really describe how it makes you feel," said Phillips.

Over the past 3 years, hundreds of horses who need healing themselves, have come through the Equine Therapy program. 

"You never know where someone is at. So one thing may work well with someone and another thing may work well for someone else. And with the equine program it's really unique because it allows people to kind of get out of themselves a little bit, and identify with the horses and Dale and most people in the program find that extremely valuable," said Rachel Ryan, Director of Bluff Plantation.

The horses we got to meet were in 3 different stages of life.

"I'll bring a variety of horses. Sometimes I'll bring - over here we have a baby that's been handled maybe 2 or 3 days, a colt over here that's maybe been handled 2 weeks, and we've got little Tator Tot over here that the patients have named  - but we rehabbed his mother and him when he was a foul," said Phillips.

This is what Tator Tot's mother looked like before she was rescued. He and his mother were about to be sent to the slaughterhouse. Fully rehabbed thanks to the patients at Bluff - she went on to be a therapy horse for a girl who suffers with PTSD. 

"In order to get a horses trust you have to earn it. And that's a lot of the parallels with treatment," said Phillips. 

"Most people who come through here have children. And they can look at this horse over here and say 'oh my gosh I can see her ribs and she looks terrible, and she looks awful.' And I'm like 'well you know, who's keeping your kid when you're on the streets?" said Phillips. 

Staff at Bluff say most people who graduate from the program say the equine therapy is the part they enjoyed most. Taking care of them creates a sense of responsibility - giving them that feeling of purpose that so many can lose when addiction sets in.

"Have you seen some pretty tough people come thru here thinking this wouldn't do anything for them and all of a sudden it does?" asked Barclay Bishop, Reporting.

"Daily. But the fortunate thing is that some horses are pretty tough too," said Phillips.

Tough horses and tough people. Meeting in a barn. Healing together.

"These are the therapists, okay? But to watch that happen in front of you? I mean who gets to witness miracles, you know? Other than doctors, ya know? They're on the operating table doing heart transplants. And that's really what we're doing, we're doing heart transplants," said Phillips.
 

To learn more about Bluff Plantation and the Equine Therapy program go to: www.BluffPlantation.com 


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