Finding Healing in Unexpected Places

(Published in the Inspire Magazine, Fall 2020)

I was on my way to see a man about a horse.

In no way did it make sense why I was spend­ing a morning driving to a ranch to volunteer with wild horses. While horses were a child­hood passion, living with chronic pain, I had never dreamed I would work with horses again. Thoughts of being too old and too injured were playing on repeat in my mind. Yet, there I was driving up the mountain to the Second Chance Cheekeye Ranch, being pulled forward by some unseen force.

Living with chronic pain has psychological consequences including anxiety, poor sleep habits and a lower quality of life. (Bellampalli, S.S., & Khanna, R. 2019). My pain, related to injuries resulting from a car accident have limited by participa­tion in most of the activities I once enjoyed. I experimented with various pain medications but they mostly left my brain mushy, forcing me to find alternate coping strategies to keep my brain sharp enough to work but turning down the volume on the pain enough so I could push through the day.

Meditation, breath awareness, and emotional freedom tapping are the tools I reach for now to manage the pain. But after a summer volun­teering at the ranch I learned some new lessons in managing pain and how to expand the happi­ness in my life.


Living with daily pain and exhaustion can make your world very small as simple tasks become overwhelming. The horses were a great motivator for me to get out and head to the mountains.

There is an abundance of research highlighting the benefits of getting outdoors. From reducing pain, to increasing happiness and Vitamin D levels, which has great disease-fighting pow­ers, getting outside helps in many ways. Getting outside is good for the body, mind, and soul


Thinking of getting active when you are a chronic pain sufferer can be daunting. While I have tried to stay active by walking my dog, many days I would get frustrated that I couldn’t do the things I use to do to do such as cyc­ling, paddling or running so I wouldn’t bother doing anything.

But my love of horses and making a difference again pulled me forward despite the pain. I decided I could start small. I spent time sit­ting with the horses in a paddock and helping them rebuild trust, I took a horse for a walk on a lead line instead of riding. I limited groom­ing to just a few minutes. By focusing on what I could do I moved from feeling victimized by the accident to being back in control of my body and life.


Animal-assisted therapy is a growing field that uses dogs and horse, and other animals to help people recover from or better cope with health problems, such as heart disease, can­cer and mental health disorders. (Creagan ET, et al. Animal-assisted therapy at Mayo Clinic: The time is now. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 2015;21:101.

Research has shown that interaction with ani­mals can decrease the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in your body and raise levels of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine.

At the ranch, besides horses there are donkeys, mules, pot-bellied pigs and a plethora of dogs to help soothe and heal. The moment I first arrived and parked my car to see horses roam­ing freely around the property I could feel the myself relax and joy spread throughout my entire body.


Thinking about your pain is the way to keep the volume on high. I found that the less I did the more time I had to think about the accident and the residual pain. Going to medical ap­pointments became reminders of what I could no longer do and heighten the frustration and helpless I experienced. Moving my focus beyond my pain to something that made my heart happy helped me stop thinking about all my limitations.


What did you love to do before pain was part of your life? What things did you enjoy as a child? Maybe it wasn’t being with horses but knitting, dancing, writing or hiking, were your thing. Whatever your thing is that makes you forget about your pain, time, food and even using the bathroom is your soul’s deepest passion. Care enough about yourself to make the time to re­connect with what bring your joy. You might not be able to do it at the same intensity or in the same way as you did in the past, but finding a way to do the things you enjoy is a guaranteed path to a happier life.

It’s easy to say “I can’t do _____” (you fill in the blank) because of pain. It’s harder to push our­selves out of comfort zone, and break through our limiting beliefs to try something new. But you never how much you can do, until you try.

I wanted to volunteer at the ranch despite my limitations because I wanted to help horses. Turns out the horses did more for me. My time there hasn’t made my pain disappear but I am happier and enjoying mo