Posted on Tue, Oct. 29, 2002
A unique symbiosis
At Garrard farm, rehabilitated horses rehabilitate people
By Jim Warren
HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITER

BRYANTSVILLE - It's a brisk fall morning at Pine Knoll Farm in northern Garrard County, and Justin McGaughey is up on a pony named Duke, getting in some therapeutic riding time.

They are both miracles.

McGaughey, 19 and from Lexington, almost died in a pickup crash in April 2001, suffering brain and other injuries so severe that he didn't speak or move for five months. His left side still is affected. Yet here he is, on horseback.

Twentysomething Duke was abandoned at a racetrack in Pennsylvania, essentially
left to starve. Rescued and brought to Pine Knoll, he now helps injured patients like McGaughey put their lives back together.

Things like that happen at Pine Knoll, a 130-acre former dairy farm where owners Francis and Gillian Vallis have created a place for injured people, and injured horses, to find healing.

The couple recently formed the Four Harmony Foundation to support the farm's four holistic programs: life enhancement, equine health and rehabilitation, therapeutic treatment for the physically or mentally challenged, and rider training.

Riding and working with horses can help injured people in several ways, therapists at the farm say.

The three-dimensional movement of a horse can help an injured rider improve balance, coordination and perception.

For someone who might never walk again, the horse's movements can provide brain and neurological stimulation, as well as helping to prevent the atrophy of muscles.

Finally, just interacting with horses can give the sick or injured stimulation and hope for recovery, practitioners say.

"I like to quote Winston Churchill, who said, 'The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man,'" Gillian Vallis said.

Other facilities in Central Kentucky offer therapeutic riding programs intended to help sick or injured people. But Pine Knoll aims to help humans and horses.

"The whole goal is to have a facility where you could empower the healing of both horses and people," said Deborah Bowerman-Davies, one of the non-profit farm's certified therapists. "No one else is doing this -- it's totally unique, and it's right here in Garrard County."

Two success stories

Justin McGaughey's mother, Tina, needs no convincing.

She thinks being on a horse and moving with the animal has helped her critically injured son improve his balance and strengthen his mobility.

Until coming to Pine Knoll, McGaughey had never been on a horse. Now, he usually rides twice a week and loves it.

"Since he started the horse therapy, he's actually able to take a few steps, and after the crash, we were told that he might never speak or move again," his mother said. "Now, the rehab doctors have raised his prognosis from poor to fair to good. There's a really good possibility now that he might be able to walk one day. Between the therapy and the good Lord upstairs, he's where he needs to be."

Leslie Worley of Garrard County is another believer.

Her daughter Abbey, 9, who has attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, has been receiving equine therapy at Pine Knoll for several months. In her therapy, Abbey works with a horse in a round pen, learning to direct the animal by means of body language and eye contact only, using no verbal commands.

"A horse is like a person. You have to develop a relationship to gain their trust, just as you would a person," Worley said. "It's definitely been good for Abbey. When we started, she wasn't participating in much of anything and didn't show any interest in animals whatsoever.

"Now, she's much more loving, more open, more relaxed. I can't say enough about the place."

Dream becomes reality

Gillian Vallis' dream of having a facility like Pine Knoll began in England, where she grew up. Her grandfather trained racehorses, and she was an exercise and dressage rider.

"I can't even remember the first time I got on a horse," she said.

Later, when Vallis was living in Bermuda, one of her horses came down with a serious illness but eventually recovered through a combination of chiropractic, acupuncture and nutrition treatments. That fueled Vallis' growing interest in alternative therapies for ailing horses.

When she and her husband acquired Pine Knoll seven years ago, they quickly saw it as an opportunity to create a facility to help horses. But the idea soon grew.

"It's been a work in progress," Vallis said. "When we decided that we wanted to do something with horses, we realized that we needed to do something for people as well. Now it has evolved into a broad-ranged educational program for adults and children, centered around the equine-human bond. It's people helping horses, horses helping people."

Among the horses being helped at Pine Knoll is Phoenix, a quarter horse who was badly burned when lightning set fire to a barn on Fayette County's Greenwich Road in August 2001. Six horses died in the blaze; another died of injuries after escaping. Only Phoenix survived.

Phoenix was so badly burned that veterinarians didn't think he'd make it. But he did. Now most of his burns have healed, and he's growing a new coat. He still has a large spot on his back where the skin is gone, and he has lost the tips of both ears. Nevertheless, his recovery is progressing.

Now he shares a pasture with some other animals Pine Knoll has rescued -- a few donkeys and two miniature horses.

A special horse

Deborah Bowerman-Davies speaks with special affection when it comes to Duke, the horse she rescued from Pennsylvania and brought to Pine Knoll. He has a talent for working with sick or injured patients, she said, somehow sensing their fears or limitations.

"You can put a small child on him, and he will just take care of that child," she said. "Drop a bomb in front of him, and he's just going to stand there if he has one of those therapeutic kids on him. He's worth his weight in gold."

In addition, she says, children who are sick or injured gain inspiration and confidence from working with or just being around horses like Duke and Phoenix who have recovered from serious problems themselves.

"You can just see their faces light up," she said. "It's amazing."

Vallis said the only thing now standing in the way of more progress at Pine Knoll is money.

"My husband and I have been supporting the program ourselves, but we've reached the point where we need seed money," she said.

One need, she said, is a new headquarters building, with space for seminars and clinics. A three-bedroom house has been donated for the project, but it must be dismantled and moved to the farm, she said.

To complete that and other improvements, Pine Knoll needs corporate sponsors whose funding could help keep the program going.

"We're hoping to find people who can help us keep making a difference in the lives of people ... and horses."

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