Friday, October 18, 2013



Originally published in Horse Directory, November, 2013

by Tom Gumbrecht

The other day I read with interest, followed by deep sadness, about a young girl in Canada named Lacey Jamieson who was an accomplished equestrian. To watch her riding or just interacting with her horses was to understand what the horse-human bond was all about. She had, more than I had before witnessed, attained the oneness between horse and rider that is the stuff of horsey dreams.
Lacey Jamieson (RIP) Her confidence radiated;
she continues to inspire...

That was not, however, Lacey's claim to fame. Lacey Jamieson was also gifted with the ability to take her love of horses and riding and put it into words so as to spread it as joy via her daily postings to tens of thousands of devoted followers on the social media site Instagram. Though still in high school, she offered sage advice and support to other students as well as young adults who found themselves facing some of life's toughest challenges. One of her frequent topics was bullying.

Having experienced bullying herself, she well knew the fear, low self-worth and depression that can accompany its victims on their daily journey. Lacey fought that off by throwing herself into her interactions with her horses. Last weekend, Lacey passed away suddenly as the result of a rare and undiagnosed blood disorder. It hurt my heart even though I never knew her, and I wanted to find out more about her.

In doing so, I uncovered a flood tide of love, respect and gratitude being shared in the moment, by some of her 60,000+ Instagram fans. And it made me think about how our horses are so perfectly adapted to assisting in the treatment of victims of things like bullying.
Diana O'Donnell of PonyStrides

No stranger to the value of the horse as therapist, my thoughts went to Pony Strides, the amazing and tireless effort of longtime friend Diana O'Donnell and the H.E.A.L.S. program (Hope with Equine Alternative Life Solutions) which I have not only observed but benefitted from personally.

Diana has championed the concept of using equines (in this case two miniature horses named QJ and Cooper) in a unique anti-bullying program which she offers in collaboration with Long Island school districts.  The minis facilitate activities and exercises stressing communication, team building, leadership and other qualities.

Inexplicably sometimes, the equines' mere presence can create a safe environment to talk about things that students would not normally talk about in groups of their peers, things like feelings, needing and offering support, and giving and receiving positive feedback in the roles they execute in the team exercises.

One such breakthrough witnessed at a recent session of intermediate school students saw two groups who would not ordinarily mix collaborate on an exercise with one of the miniature horses. The minis demanded that the participants communicate effectively with one another in order to successfully execute it. One student's reaction to the change precipitated by working closely toward a common goal with someone outside of their clique:

"We may not start hanging out together, but when we pass each other in the hall, we will know
QJ, Frankie, Cooper & Jamie
that we have each others' backs."

Indeed. A statement eloquent in its simplicity, which illustrates perfectly the effectiveness of the program.

For those of us no longer of school age, we know that everyone's life can be affected by bullying to one degree or another. It might be from a boss, a client, a government agency or anyone that holds some small authority over any little area of our lives. Everyone is susceptible. Speaking from my own experience, here are a few of the ways in which I have observed how horses can help both the bully and the bullied:

1) People who have been hurt tend to hurt other people. Horses tend to take away the hurt, just by being who they are: understanding, non-judgmental, loyal, and loving.

2) A characteristic of bullies can be false bravado. Horses respond to the true nature of a person, not who a person pretends to be. To be loved by a horse requires only for you to be who you are. They reward authenticity.

3) Horses are big! Nothing like having a big friend when dealing with a bully! Seriously, since they are so much bigger and stronger than we are, successful interaction with horses requires effective communication as opposed to threats and aggression. A new set of skills must be learned.

4) Horses respect deeply those who show respect to them. Being respected can be life-changing.  For some, both the bully and the bullied, it may be the first time respect has been experienced in a long while.

5) When handled with confidence, horses can be supremely confident. When we learn the skills to interact confidently with a horse, we become a member of a formidable team that exudes confidence. We do not leave that confidence at the stable, we bring it with us. And when we do, we are less attractive as a target for bullies.
Having a best friend that's huge is helpful!

Having that one special friend can make all the difference in matters of self-esteem, and self-esteem can make all the difference in the opportunities that life offers us. For myself, I love having horses as friends. It has changed the course of my life and brought only a positive influence to all of my human interactions. Robert Duncan said it best, in his "Ode to the Horse:"

"Where in this world can you find
Friendship without envy
Beauty without vanity
Nobility without conceit
A willing partner yet no slave..."

I find it every day one hundred steps from my back door in a stable I have the privilege of sharing with some of my very best friends.

Archived stories are available on Visit us on Facebook: Tom Gumbrecht
To find out more about Diana O'Donnell and her innovative programs at Pony Strides, visit

Crystelle Salimbene with Bella. She is gifted with
with an ability to communicate effectively
with horses..

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