When horses become counselors
Jeff Buchik and one of his therapeutic B horses, Cracker. Can horses communicate? We’re not talking about Mr. Ed, we’re talking about common (and uncommon) riding horses.
If you run in the circle of Equus Outreach Inc. and its owner Jeff Buchik, you become certain that horses can, indeed, communicate, and they help us communicate better amongst ourselves. Mr. Buchik has been a biol biology ogy teacher for 41 years and states proudly that he marches to the beat of a different drummer.
In his years of teaching, Mr. Buchik has noticed disturbing changes brought upon the society he knows. There’s less respect all around. Adults fall into situations of despair. There’s a perceptible call to fill the needs of special and at-risk kids.
The good news is that part of what makes Mr. Buchik march to a different drummer is that he’s willing to throw himself into making a difference. He has taken his passion for horses to create opportunities for people of all ages to connect, refocus, regroup and recharge.
Mr. Buchik o owns 14 horses in Punta Gorda, and emp employs their subtle communication munication as th therapeutic outlets to help people at risk of poor social development, with special need needs and those battling substance stance abuse abuse. Working in conjunction the Equine Assisted Growth with and Learning Association (EA EAGALA), Equus Outreach’s str structured programs bring to together people and horses for everyone’s benefit. It all started some 55 years ago, when the Sears catalog offered ponies for sale. To his young mind, Mr. Buchik figured it would take him only two years birthday cash to save for a pony. He never did get a Sears pony.
Instead, he said, “My dad would take the family to two horse shows a year. One was the rodeo. One was with thoroughbreds, dressage, jumpers and that sort of thing. I learned how to distinguish the ‘caste’ system. I wanted to be a cowboy.”
He’s not exactly what you’d call a cowboy, though he sports a Hoss Cartwrightinspired hat and slugs buckets of feed to his 14 horses.
“See if you notice anything about the hierarchy,” he said, going off to feed the fold.
Within the ranks of the 14 horses, there are noticeable cliques and outcasts, much like in our schools and society.
Mr. Buchik has realized his dream of owning a horses, and with the guidance and support of EAGALA, he has formed Equus Outreach an experiential programs that help people in need see things in themselves they might not have.
EAGALA’s programs for at-risk youth are modeled by Equus Outreach and its supporters.
Mr. Buchik devotes three school nights a week to helping his fellow man with his horses. More time is allotted during the summer.
A program for at-risk teenagers challenges the teens to, as a group and without hand contact, lead a horse back to the stable. The teens converse among themselves, devise a plan and enact it. One such team devised a plan to encircle the horse as a group and herd the horse along. If the person in the rear fears being kicked, the supervised group has to sort it out. The lessons in this one exercise are many: brainstorming, problem solving, inter-reliance, trust and teamwork. And that’s just one exercise.
Mr. Buchik’s wife, Nancy, has been a long-standing teacher of exceptional student education at the Charlotte Harbor Center, a program of the Charlotte public schools for children with disabilities. It was Mrs. Buchik who first ignited Mr. Buchik’s passion to use the horses to help people in need. In 2001, Mr. Buchik introduced two of his horses to students of the school. Some children were seemingly emotionless, and many were rigid. Each was given an opportunity to interact with a horse.
“Every single kid, by the end, and almost at the beginning,” Mr. Buchik said, was transformed. Children with tension caused by neuropathy seemed to mellow. “Expressionless kids were smiling. Kids who never verbalized were giggling,” Mr. Buchik said. Aides who had worked with the children for years remarked they’d never seen certain children smile before that day.
Equus Outreach programs don’t allow children to ride, but they allow them to interact, to care for and bond with the horses.
“Kids will open up to the horse but not a counselor,” Mr. Buchik said.
“We are the medium,” Mr. Buchik said. “We just provide the horses.”
Can horses communicate? Ask Jeff Buchik.
— To learn more about Equus Outreach, visit equusoutreach.com and equus-outreach.com. ¦