• Nick Zacharias

Horses helping health workers


The woman pictured is one of first one of the frontline healthcare workers who took A Horse Tale up on their offer to spend some time with their equine adoptees and was clearly having a moment with the animal.

A Horse Tale Rescue in Vaudreuil-Dorion is a not-for-profit, volunteer-driven organization that is dedicated to giving a home to horses in need of one; recently they’ve been recognized for welcoming former calèche horses when carriage rides in Old Montreal were banned last January. Funded completely by donations, they currently house a total of 14 horses in a calm setting, allowing them to live out their remaining days in peace and put any previous hardships they had behind them. AHT not only rescues former working horses, but also horses that come from other difficult circumstances: perhaps they had health issues or their former owners may have become unable to properly care for them. “We’re not here to judge anybody,” says Executive Director Mike Grenier, “all we care about is helping the horses that need us.”

A touching experience

Not only do their 80 or so volunteers give time to care for the horses, AHT also makes possible a great program to care for the community. For the past four years they’ve been running a free ‘equine exposure’ program called A Horse Tale Experience (AHTE) where groups of people with special or specific needs, such as those with developmental, intellectual and/or physical challenges for example, can interact with the horses in a soothing environment. In light of the extreme challenges and stresses of the pandemic, they’ve now extended the AHTE program to welcome frontline healthcare workers, to offer them some reprieve from their sometimes overwhelming lives.

“From the moment they walk through our gates,” says Grenier, “there’s calm. Whatever is going on until then, they can just put that on pause.”

Focus on frontline workers

Aware of the detrimental impact stress can have on mental and physical health, and aware of the sacrifices healthcare workers have been asked to make, Grenier and AHTE organizer Lise Sandstrom wanted to offer something back.

Says Grenier, “We have all levels of involvement. We’ve just started offering it to frontline health workers, and we’ve had a lot of response already.” For the initial meeting, it’s just an introduction to the animals at their own pace. “We’re focused on you. All you have to do is be in the moment, just breathe.” After that what happens next is up to the individual – some will want to set up a schedule to return regularly, to be with the horses, to help groom them if they want, even to muck out stalls if that kind of physical activity gives them a welcome way to focus, to get centred and relieve stress. Or they can just come to be with the horses, take a step back and benefit from their calm energy.

Their own challenges

While they’re offering programs to help those who need it, AHT is having their own challenges with COVID-19. They had to adapt strict hygiene and distance protocols right away (as Grenier points out, if they were to get an infection there they couldn’t just shut down for two weeks and leave the horses to fend for themselves) and their critical fundraising efforts have been hindered somewhat by the pandemic – a major concern because feeding and caring for a herd of 14 large animals costs a small fortune. Expansion plans had to be scaled back or postponed. In spite of that, they are happily giving their time to help the horses, and continue to work hard to raise funds for the cause. The next big push will be for ‘Giving Tuesday’ this December 1, a movement that started as a counterpoint to the consumerism of Black Friday. Details will be coming on their Facebook page and their website soon, and Grenier said, “Hopefully people will recognize that we give from the heart, but money is also sorely needed to do what we do.”

In the end it’s all about the horses. Any frontline healthcare workers who feel they could benefit from an encounter in a respectful, supportive, no-pressure environment with these gentle giants are invited to reach out to Lise Sandstrom (lise@ahorsetale.org) for more information.

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