And the Horse Will Play Your Grandmother: My Day of Equine Family Therapy
“Will you be my father?” Connie asks with the twisting posture of a nervous child. We just met half an hour ago. She’s old enough to be my mother.
“I’d be honored,” I reply.
She places her hands gently on my shoulders. “This is my father,” she affirms, smiling sweetly.
Connie hasn’t spoken to the real man in 20 years, making this a tricky role to play. Rounding out the family is a Jack Russell Terrier named Jack (her daughter), a chestnut mare named Jackie (her grandmother), and a few other human strangers in various roles.
The matriarch of our little clan is Sara Fancy—a former competitive bodybuilder and ex–punk rocker who developed a love for horses in midlife. She was particularly fascinated by the animals’ apparent intuition, their ability to read and respond to human emotional cues. This sensitivity, she believed, could be harnessed for therapeutic purposes. Building on the work of psychoanalyst Bert Hellinger, Fancy bought several of the animals and a desolate plot of land in Southern California. She erected stables and a yurt, and named her new homestead the Silver Horse Healing Ranch. I drove down from LA this summer to experience Fancy’s horse therapy firsthand.
The cars arrived in clouds of dust stirred up from the dirt road. We all met one another inside Sara’s kitchen. There was Connie, a longtime Silver Horse client, and her friend Kay, who was there for support. After them came Christopher Rutgers and his wife Stephanie. Like many visitors to the ranch, Christopher had been referred here by a traditional therapist.
“We also get a lot of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts from the clinics,” Sara added in her cheerful British lilt.
After several cups of tea and slices of watermelon, we strolled to the stables under a blazing blue sky. A horse named Pretty Boy sauntered to the edge of the corral, pushing his cheek into Sara’s hand. “Pretty Boy’s owner was going to shoot him in the head and throw him in a landfill,” she explained, rubbing his muzzle. “Luckily, the man called me first and asked if I wanted him. I can’t use Pretty Boy with clients because he’s a little mousy, but I took him anyway. Ironically enough, some time later Pretty Boy’s owner ended up shooting himself in the head.”