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Equine psychotherapy clinic heals through horsemanship

Barry Jacobs is a man with a mission.

With a background that has combined work with horses and work in mental health, Jacobs is taking what most of us understand about therapeutic riding to another level.

“It's all about relationships,” said Jacobs who lives on a farm near Rixeyville. “It's more than horsemanship, it's lifemanship.”

Jacobs is involved in an upcoming Natural Lifemanship clinic that will be held in August. While horses are certainly included as an integral part of the learning, you don't have to be an experienced rider or familiar with horses to benefit.

As a counselor and a parent, Jacobs sees the principles of Natural Lifemanship being applied to parents, caregivers and educators.

“This isn't about horse training as much as about using equine psychology to develop relationships with children that foster trust and mutual respect,” said Jacobs who has a personal interest in building healthy communication and cooperation.

Their oldest daughter, Morgan, who is now 12, was diagnosed with autism at age 4.

“It was a devastating diagnosis,” recalls Jacobs, “and one that has reframed our journey.”

Jacob's wife, Tori, is a professional firefighter. She's also trained and ridden horses for decades.

Much of Barry Jacobs work in mental health has been in critical stress counseling with firefighters and law enforcement officers.

“When a firefighter goes to the scene of a fire or a policeman to the scene of a crime, they are trained to use their coping skills to focus on the task at hand...they don't have the luxury of getting emotionally involved...but where does all that emotion go...it builds and builds...it has to go somewhere,” said Jacobs, “and that's where learning how the brain processes trauma and learning skills to regulate the stress of that trauma can be learned by understanding how a horse responds to the same stimulus.”

It's a warm morning. Jacobs takes a call from his wife who is headed to an outdoor riding ring with their two daughters astride two of their horses.

As he walks to meet them, Jacobs talks about this innovative program where participants will learn about the principals of 'pressure' and 'release' as it relates to building a healthy and non-confrontational relationship with their child.

Horses, like humans, respond to body energy and intensity. In many ways, working with a horse is like guiding a child. Parents need to be in control of themselves if they want to teach their children self-control.

Particularly in dealing with special needs children, learning how the brain is triggered by certain stimuli and how the child can better learn to control themselves and build an internal reward system are skills Jacobs hopes to share.

“It's important that the child or traumatized adult learns to make the right decision...not out of fear or intimidation..but because they believe it is the right thing to do.”

Horses ignore, resist, argue and fight. Jacobs believes that when you work with a horse and begin to understand his responses to your requests that these skills are transferable when dealing with frustration, confusion, anger and other emotions that make effective parenting a challenge.

Into the ring

Twelve-year-old Morgan Jacobs sits confidently atop Penny. She smiles broadly as she talks about Penny's four white-stocked feet and blaze down her face.

“She's a Welsh pony,” says Morgan who had been in the public school system but is now home schooled.

“We've eliminated wheat from her diet and she seems to be thriving in this environment we've created on the farm,” said Jacobs who also raises free-range chickens.

Once inside the ring, Tori leads Morgan's younger sister, Cammy, who seems very at home on a small pony named Peetie.

Morgan is on her own with Penny.

“She may have difficulties in some areas, but she's such a good rider,” smiles Jacobs who watches his two daughters with obvious pride and care.

One of the features of Natural Lifemanship is Rhythmic Riding where the rider will attempt to get the horse to move in stride with music.

“It's not always easy,” opined Jacobs but Morgan and Penny got in the groove when 'Touched by an Angel' wafted through the hot air. Morgan sang as the two walked and trotted around the arena carefully avoiding Cammy and Peetie.

“I really like that song,” said Morgan who would gently brush away flies from Penny's face or take pleasure in watching her younger sister.

Jacobs cautioned that Peetie would probably be more interested in eating grass than listening to him but with tack off and the space left to just horse and man, some interesting interaction occurred.

“I'm not hitting him,” said Jacobs as he lightly touched Peetie's hindquarters with a rope, “I'm getting his attention.”

Once tapped, Peetie would look up from his grass eating to Jacobs as if to say, 'what do you want?'

“I'm inviting him to walk with me,” said Jacobs, “without pulling him on a halter.”

After several tries, Peetie ultimately stood looking squarely at Jacobs from a distance and moved a foot forward. The two were clearly communicating and there was no overt harshness, loud screaming or dominance involved. It was simple cooperation.

It's skills like these and more that Jacobs would like to teach because he believes they have direct correlation to how parents, caregivers and educators can be more loving and respectful. Jacobs is convinced that the growth experienced in a simple and sound relationship with a horse can be transferred to the complex interactions with children, veterans and those suffering from brain trauma.

For Barry and Tori Jacobs, this unique brand of training makes a lot of horse sense. In the end, it will allow caregivers to teach their children how to be self-sufficient adults and empower them.

Some might consider Jacobs a 'horse whisperer' but he would rather be thought of as a 'life whisperer.'

“It's all about sound principles regardless of where they are applied.”

Natural Lifemanship
August 3-6

Four-day training clinic for mental health professionals, equestrian trainers, educators, parents and other care providers including special needs children (Autism, Adhd) foster children and veterans. Sponsored by Piedmont Therapeutic Riding.

3-day professional clinic $450
1 day parenting seminar $100
Clinic will be held at Childhelp Alice C. Taylor Village in Lignum. The 1-day parenting seminar will be held in Amissville.

Contact Barry or Tori Jacobs at 703-508-5685 or 703-507-5138

What to expect at Natural Lifemanship clinic and parenting seminar – it's a new brand of counseling

*Use the psychology or the horse to address the psychology of human trauma
*Use mounted skills for self-regulation
*Learn how to utilize the concept of 'body energy' to help recognize and change how trauma is stored in the body
*Learn how music affects the brain and how rhythmic riding can help
*Learn how to use the power of a real relationship with a horse in trauma focused care
*Learn to more effectively interact with and teach children
*Learn how to work with a large spectrum of behavioral issues from children with severe emotional and behavioral challenges to children with typical developmental struggles

Learn more about Natural Lifemanship at www.NaturalLifemanship.com

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