“That’s awesome, I can tell you’ve been working hard,” cheers Dakota Getrouw, CORRAL Riding Academy’s Equine Manager, from the sidelines of the arena to a nearby client. Today I’ve been graced with the opportunity to photograph a “rhythmic riding session,” at CORRAL Riding Academy in Cary, North Carolina. CORRAL is a non-profit equestrian school that pairs young, at-risk women in the community with rescue horses for trauma-focused, equine-assisted therapy. Today, Sabrina, a young woman participating in the program, has volunteered to share the progress she’s made with her rescue horse, River.
To begin the session, Sabrina, River and Diane Spots, an equine specialist, walk the fenced perimeter of the arena. To the naked eye, Sabrina and River are simply enjoying a summer morning stroll. But this promenade offers much more than the gift of quality time spent together. This time spent lapping the arena offers these young women time to disconnect from what Dakota Getrouw refers to as, “the trauma brain.” She then goes on to explain that the cadence created by the horse’s movement stimulates portions of the brain that help to counteract the often overactive fight-or-flight mode in these young women’s minds.
Those that participate in CORRAL Riding Academy’s programs have been afflicted by what researchers refer to as ACE, short for “adverse childhood experiences.” These can include abuse, neglect, being witness to experiences like crime, parental conflict, mental illness and/or substance abuse. Studies have shown that in response to these events, the brain significantly alters itself in several areas. One of which directly increases the production of cortisol, aka Mr. Stress Inducer. Research has also shown that high levels of stress in the human body have been linked to depression, substance abuse, personality disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. By fostering a healthy relationship between these young women and the rescue horses, CORRAL Riding Academy aims to break the cyclic cycle of intergenerational trauma posed by these traumatic experiences; offering an opportunity to properly identify and work through trauma.
Following today’s ride, Sabrina confidently dismounts River and removes both her helmet and River’s saddle. The duo take a moment of downtime by the fence; quietly enjoying the benefits of their walk. Sabrina goes on to thank her four-legged companion with a grooming session before beginning skills practice.
Not too long thereafter, Sabrina takes holds of her lunge whip and directs River to begin cantering in a circle. River lapses for a minute, but Sabrina has seen this before. She steps by River’s side, increases her energy and guides River to follow the direction of her hand.
These momentary lapses in River’s stride call for Sabrina to use the skills she’s garnered from her time at CORRAL; to remain calm, cool and collected, guard down and headstrong. On this farm, these young woman are metamorphosizing to become a force of reckoning on and off the horse.
After successfully practicing her list of commands, Sabrina thanks River again, but this time with a much needed hose down from the North Carolina summer heat.
“Let’s not forget to use the good bottle afterwards,” Dakota reminds her. She’s referring to Absorbine’s Ultra Shield Red Insecticide Repellent that has become a well-known favorite around the farm. River gladly accepts the spa treatment and is soon on her way back to the pasture to mingle and graze with the rest of her friends.
Sabrina, bright-eyed and sporting a beaming smile, runs off too, ready to take on the rest of her day.
To learn more about CORRAL and how you can get involved, please follow the link below.
Photographs and prose by Alexandra F. Young
Alexandra F. Young is the great, great, great-granddaughter of Absorbine founders Mary Ida and Wilbur Young. Alex is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Appalachian State University. In her free time, Alex enjoys snuggling with her trusty canine companion, Teddy; traveling, hiking, and exploring the deep-rooted healing properties nature has to offer.
Bremner, J. (2006). Traumatic stress: Effects on the brain. Retrieved July 23, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181836/