Some of the horses in Carrie Fuller's barn were donated to her because they got old; others she rescued before they were slaughtered.
But where others saw animals with no value, Fuller saw a way to help them and people in need.
Since 2013, Fuller has been running Horses of Hope in Denham Springs, which assists people with emotional and physical issues.
“I think they’re really like angels on earth, that God created them to help us transform some energies in our bodies that need help,” said Kristi Meaux, a hospice nurse who comes to deal with anxieties of her job. “It’s really amazing what they do and how they do it.”
Fuller, who has owned horses since she was 13, had been both a client and a counselor in couples therapy and women’s groups when she heard about the concept of equine therapy.
After attending a conference at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, she started Horses of Hope.
The horses are not just tools to help clients, Fuller said. Rather, they are active participants.
“I feel like I just sort of facilitate between the horses and the clients,” she said. “I really do feel that God is really in what happens out there. The horses and the people come together, and I just kind of create a space for that to happen. I feel like it’s really directed by God in a way.”
Clients, relying completely on their own intuition, first pick out a horse. Although they may eventually ride the horse, that isn’t the main objective.
They brush the animal, spend time with it, lead it around the yard and engage in other activities that bond human and horse.
In one exercise, Meaux said, she laid her body across the horse’s back, allowing it to hold her up.
“When I did that, it released anxiety I wasn’t aware I had in my body,” she said. “I was able to breathe easier. … Just by having physical contact with the horse, you can literally feel that anxiety transmute out of you. He felt like this neutral, strong, grounded, very safe space. He was letting me know it was OK for me to let go and surrender the anxiety that I felt.”
Another client, Erin Sullivan, said she has emotional trauma from violence she witnessed as a child and also suffers from psoriatic arthritis, a type of inflammatory arthritis that can cause joint pain and stiffness. She believes the two are linked.
Time spent with Prince has not cured her, she said, but it has helped.
“The horse has such a huge energy field, so just being around it is what I wanted to be, and it changed my energy from being scared, traumatized, always on the defensive,” Sullivan said. “After so many traumas, a person’s adrenaline system starts operating in overdrive, which is what autoimmune is. Your body is in overdrive in certain areas.”
How the client finds the right horse — or vice versa — fascinates Fuller.
She recalled a boy with autism who struggled to understand the appropriate social distance to keep with people. The horse he chose, named Tyler, had similar traits and always wanted to be close to him and lean on him.
“On his own, one day the lightbulb came on,” Fuller said. “He said, ‘When Tyler gets really close to me, I just feel like I need him to back up because he’s in my space. Is that how I make people feel? Is that what they’re talking about?’ I said, ‘Yes. That’s exactly what they’re talking about.’ He was able to experience that with the horse and be able to relate that to how he was creating a feeling in somebody else.”
The horses have no special training, Fuller said.
“I had prayed about it and said, ‘Lord, you just bring the horses that are supposed to be here, and you bring the people that are supposed to be here and you put them together and I’ll create that space for that healing to happen,’” she said. “But I feel it’s not really me. It’s more the horses and the experiences that people have out there. I think God is orchestrating more of it than I do, honestly.”