[caption id="attachment_1873" align="alignright" width="225"] Kathy Kelly poses playfully on the horse Rogan during a June 2014 retreat. During one retreat activity, riders often have the chance to sit atop a horse in various positions, as part of a day meant to build confidence.[/caption]When Kathy Kelly read about retreats at Ironstone Farm for people with cancer diagnoses, she learned a professional facilitator would help people address personal issues and build confidence. Still, she says, “I was really picturing the day as ‘fun with horses.’”
Turns out, she got plenty of both.
“I came away with so much more than I ever could have expected. It wasn’t about horses. It was about finding your inner strength,” says Kathy. “The message was delivered subtly but was felt very powerfully. It helped tremendously with a renewed perspective on dealing with cancer – that there’s a whole lot more in you than you used to be aware. Just ‘fun with horses’ would have been great, but this was really fabulous.”
Ironstone Farm offers free Equine Encounters for survivors and people living with cancer like Kathy. Kathy heard about the opportunity through the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
“It sounded different – fun – something I hadn’t done, a wonderful change of pace and a new experience. It kind of puts the cancer on the back burner and lets you just enjoy life,” she says.
Kathy’s retreat was run by Pam McPhee, MSW, UNH professor and the founder and executive director of The Browne Center.
“None of the other messages would have gotten through if it wasn’t fun. It was all smiles. It doesn’t feel intense when you’re there. It feels happy and relaxed,” says Kathy. “But the message is there and it gets through to everyone: You can do things you thought you’d never be able to do, in ways you never thought of doing them.”
By showing people ways they can work in concert with the horses, people such as cancer patients see they have the skills and talents to control other new, unexpected and powerful things in their lives.
“It gave another resource for being able to withstand the ups and downs of what’s going on in your life, including what’s going on medically. You can handle it. I found it a very peaceful message and one I keep going back to,” says Kathy, who attended a retreat in June of 2014.
Would she recommend the program?
Asked if she would recommend the program to someone else, Kathy says, “Absolutely. Without question. It doesn’t matter where you are in your treatment or what your condition.”
Ironstone Farm accommodated people with a variety of different conditions and diagnoses, she says. She says she was impressed with both the number of volunteers involved in the program, and the number of elements involved in the day. Little details, such as an opportunity at lunch to talk with others with similar medical issues were appreciated.
“They created the chemistry and part of that is relaxing people and making them know they don’t have to share anything they don’t want to,” she says.
Kathy jokes that she attended “4 billion seminars and meetings” during her career.
“I used to be in corporate America. This was exceptionally well-run, and exceptionally well-planned and well-timed. Someone really put a lot into this program,” she says. “It’s sort of magical when something comes together that well. And it doesn’t happen by accident.”