Tangerine and scarlet-streaked clouds fill the South Texas sky. The fields and fences reflect the colors of the setting sun as handlers lead a parade of prancing horses, like a children’s carousel, to their stalls.
The horses show their faces over the stall doors, waiting for a good-night caress, a gentle hand sliding across the nose and cheek, a few softly spoken words. They have done well today, performed in ways few people can understand. The horses understand. They are therapy horses. They are here to give, and to receive, unconditional love.
Dr. Julie Hollingsworth and the Hoof Prints and Heart Beats Organization
There is something different about Dr. Julie Hollingsworth and her small herd of horses, something that enables them to reach deep into a person’s soul where fears and insecurities hang like chains.
Hollingsworth and her horses work together to free the spirit from the pain of the past at a non-profit called Hoof Prints and Heart Beats Organization in Needville, Texas. They work with children with autism, ADD, ADHD, Cerebral Palsy, and any other special needs. They also work with children and adults with addiction and trauma disorders.
The therapists at Hoof Prints and Heart Beats care for the horses and facilitate the process, but the horses make the connections on their own, and sometimes that connection is magical.
“Magical moments happen here,” Hollingsworth tells Decoded Parenting. “Moments that most people don’t understand, like when an autistic child who has never spoken or smiled climbs onto a horse and suddenly giggles, and laughs. Some parents have never heard their children laugh until they bring them here.”
“We call it healing with horses,” Hollingsworth explained. “It’s usually referred to as Equine Assisted Therapy or Equine Enhanced Counseling, but here, it’s healing with horses.”
Equine Assisted Therapy, or Healing with Horses
Equine assisted therapy is therapeutic riding techniques experts believed are beneficial for children and adults with a wide range of cognitive, physical, and emotional conditions. The Hoof Prints and Heart Beats Organization performs a similar service with the added component of Hollingsworth’s spiritual guidance.
“The autistic child is sensitive to everything, overstimulated,” she continued. “I view this as a gift, others call it a disorder. I tend to think they’re here to teach us.”
“I don’t even begin to try to explain,” Hollingsworth said. “Healing with horses is a very spiritual thing. It’s something we don’t understand quite yet, and that’s okay.”
“The children get better. They look forward to it,” Hollingsworth continued. “These children don’t have strong trunk muscles, but for some reason they can increase their balance on horses. They don’t even use saddles, just little pads. We set them on the horse, one person on each side, one person leading the horse, one person with the child. They’re strengthening their muscles, coordination, and balance.”
Hollingsworth believes the key to healing with horses begins with the basic instincts of horses. Horses are prey animals, not predators. Like deer, or rabbits, the natural instinct of a horse is fight or flight. Horses are sensitive to everything that is happening around them, in the same way that children and adults who have experienced severe trauma are sensitive.
“Horses are able to connect emotionally with those who have suffered from severe trauma because they are on the same frequency,” Hollingsworth explained. “It’s connecting with something that understands them when the rest of the world does not.”
Hollingsworth has found that rescue horses are particularly successful as healers. “Horses that were abused often have problems with trust, but they do trust children,” she said. “It’s like a pure spirit needing another pure spirit.”
Therapists and Horses
The Hoof Prints and Heart Beats Organization also works with children and adults on addiction and trauma issues, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“Our goal is to help people with special needs to function at their highest potential, and horses are able to help with this goal,” Hollingsworth explained. “Horses give people confidence. Horses are intuitive, sensitive and compassionate. Horses know what a person needs even before the person knows.”
Hollingsworth’s partner, Brenda Ettinger, is an RN. Ettinger works with special needs children, as well as with the horses. She has 22 years experience in pediatrics. Dr. Hollingsworth is a licensed counselor with a PhD in Esoteric Studies. She specializes in Energy Psychology and Intuitive work, joining horses with people. Hollingsworth has 20 years of experience in her field.
Perhaps their greatest qualifications, and the reason for starting the organization, is the fact that Hollingsworth and Ettinger also have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Meet The Therapy Animals
Seri is one of ten horses at the facility. Each has a distinct personality and a unique way of helping people.
- Fabian, a former racehorse, has PTSD, but he performs wonderfully as a therapy horse.
- A cutting horse ranch donated Peppy. His owners put him out to pasture for three years and he is highly sensitive. If he senses that someone is suffering emotionally, he will follow that person around for hours, and yet, he is literally afraid of his own shadow.
- A favorite with the children is Hoss, a 26-year-old massive Quarter horse. The children feel his power and strength and feel secure beside him.
- The organization also has a French donkey, Flapjack, who came from the SPCA. He is one of only 800 French donkeys left in the world, but he doesn’t let his rare status go to his head. He is just as compassionate as the rest of his stable mates. If someone is crying, Flapjack will put his head on the person’s shoulder to give a hug. Flapjack loves spending time with children.
- Jasmine is a 40-inch Welsh Cob Pony. Welsh Cob Ponies were once used in coal mines because they’re small enough to fit in the mine shafts. Jasmine is a 12-year-old rescue animal. She works well with people in wheelchairs, and little children who like to braid her hair.
Hoof Prints and Heart Beats: The Future
Hoof Prints and Heart Beats Organization officially earned nonprofit status in August 2012. The partners have applied for grants, but for now, they support the business by boarding horses. They also have a specially-designed pool for endurance and rehabilitation work with horses, and the equine swims support the equine therapy services. They do not charge for healing with horses, ever.
“We want to help people,” Hollingsworth explained. “We started by charging for our services. Then we discovered many people who could not afford the therapy and were cancelling appointments. Now our services are always free, and they always will be, until the day I die.”
The only thing Hollingsworth would like to change about the organization is the number of adults with trauma and addiction disorders that they are currently helping. They have the capability to work with many more adults in their organization, but few people know the organization exists.
“We would like to work with more Armed Service Veterans,” Hollingsworth said. “I hope that returning soldiers will learn about our program and try us out. We’re here, and we’re free, so just come!”
Hoof Prints and Heart Beats Organization is located at 5955 FM360, Needville, Texas.
To reach the Barn or to make appointments for children, call 1-281-382-2740.