Imagine leading a life filled with so much anxiety and past trauma that you hide from the world...
A local residential youth treatment facility brought a group of teens to Project Horse for an 8-week program of equine assisted therapy. One of the participants was a young lady who hid from the world in a rather unique way: she wore her hair so that it covered her entire face. On the first day of the program, we began with staff and participant introductions. When we got to Lacy, we couldn’t even make out a single facial feature. There was nothing but thick shoulder length hair combed over her face, down to below her neck. I was pleasantly surprised when she agreed to shake my hand.
After introductions were finished, we walked to our back pastures, to meet all of our therapy horses. As we walked, the other participants talked with one another and eagerly looked around to see which horses we’d be meeting first. Lacy walked with her head down so she would not have to interact, and she continually used her fingers to comb her hair and rearrange it carefully to keep her face out of view. As a group, we stopped at each pasture, meeting the horses one by one. We shared a little about each horse’s life story, many of which are both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Lacy came up to each pasture and put out her hand in greeting, but made sure her hair remained safely over her entire face.
The last pasture we visited provided home to two special rescue horses – they were wild mustangs. We shared the story of how these beautiful mustang mares had once lived a free life in the West, until one day they were rounded up in a very scary fashion, taken from their families, and put into new homes with people who did not treat them well. The mustangs eventually ended up at an auction, where they were likely to be sold for slaughter. Fortunately, a rescue organization found them and pulled them to safety.
As the story was told, the beautiful and proud mustangs came to the fence. While both mustangs are lovely and personable, Faith, the dark bay mare, has a childlike curiosity about her. She was eager to meet the kids yet unsure of what to expect…
Faith has a very wild and long forelock that usually covers her eyes. We saw that Lacy stood very close to Faith. Normally, Faith would have been moving around to meet all of the visitors, always insisting on not missing anything. But on this day, Faith stood very still, allowing Lacy to gently stroke her on the nose and face. It was as if Lacy and Faith became connected the moment they met.
The time came for the group to return to the front part of the farm, in order to leave. We all prepared to walk away. Except for Lacy and Faith.
In a moment that none of us will ever forget, Lacy parted the hair out of her eyes, revealed her features, and gave Faith a kiss square on the nose. The staff who chaperoned the group was astounded. This was the very first time they had seen her face since she had come to the residential center, five months prior.
Something happened for Lacy that day, during those few minutes at the fence with Faith. It was nothing short of a miracle, at least that’s how Lacy’s parents viewed it. The horse, with its keen senses and gentle nature, intuitively knew what Lacy needed: an opportunity to expose herself, while remaining safe and unjudged. Faith gave Lacy the gift of unconditional acceptance, which allowed Lacy to build on this notion in other areas of her life, with a newfound sense of confidence and hope. Over the next several weeks, Lacy started to reveal more and more of her face on a regular basis, until she had her hair pulled back completely. She was fully engaged in all the program activities with all of the horses, not just the mustangs.
On the final day of their equine group therapy, Lacy brought a beautiful picture of horses that she created, which portrays happy images of horses grazing on green pasture, basking in sunshine. There’s even one horse that is flying toward the sun, and we suspect that is Lacy.