Equine and Parrot Therapy at Malibu Beach Recovery Center
At Malibu Beach Recovery Center and the Brentwood House, clients go to Big Heart Ranch for equine therapy. Big Heart explains its approach as follows:
“Through a series of activities, participants identify with the horses and learn how to better communicate with others. Participants work on problem-solving games, such as moving the horse through an obstacle course. Activities help clients learn to trust their thought processes as well as work in a team to think and act outside their comfort zone. Equine Therapy increases empathy through grooming activities and caring for the horses. The horses keep the participants in the moment, focused on a task and completely honest. All EAP sessions are facilitated by a licensed therapist or a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern under supervision of a BBS licensed supervisor.”
Casey, an MBRC alum, said that his four visits to Big Heart helped put him in touch with his feelings. “You learn that you have to control your feelings,” he said, “you have to talk gently to the horse to get him to do what you want, you can’t act angry or scared.” He rode a horse, walked him, and cleaned his hooves. But first, he had to put a chicken on his head to overcome any hesitancy, and if it’s possible to hear someone smile, I heard Casey grin a little when he said that.
Casey recalled that the counselors who accompanied them from MBRC were really good. If anyone doubts the value of equine therapy, he’d encourage them to try it.
Kevin, another MBRC client, characterized his visits as spiritual. He saw how raw and detached the animals were, and that they were away from “all the stuff that addicts and alcoholics are in.” They have a simple outlook. “This is the way life is, we have all the food we want, we have people paying attention to us, life is good.” Horses are in the present, it’s enough to be outdoors on a beautiful day, he explained.
Kevin saw a metaphor during his work with them – “their stability, their firm hold on life, and the challenges they face each day.” If he helped them navigate an obstacle course, he noticed how they might stop at a two by four. He thought of what it’s like to be in recovery, he said — being aware of every footstep and of a person’s actions.
Kevin and Casey also attended Serenity Park Parrot Sanctuary, a rescued parrots’ home that is part of The Association for P.A.R.R.O.T Care. It’s on the grounds of the Veterans Affairs Center in Brentwood, and the LA Weekly has called it the Best Secret Bird Therapy in 2011.
Kevin has a touching story about one visit. He has a buzz cut, and when the owner let the MBRC clients into a bird cage, one bird immediately flew over and perched on him. His previous owner had been a serviceman, who had the regulation short hair. He had been killed in action in Iraq, but the bird remembered that he had short hair.
“It was an awesome experience,” Kevin said. Such a simple experience, a simple interaction, gave him such gratitude. Very cool, he recalled.
Photos: (Above) MBRC Counselor Tamra Youngblood at Big Heart Ranch (photo by Craig Sadler)
(Below): Brentwood House Counselor Myra Estes at the Parrot Sanctuary spends time with “Baccardi”