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How Horse Therapy Helps HIV and AIDS Community | NBC Left Field

September 23, 2019


For the last 20 years, Sunnie Rose has used horses to help those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS in California. Horses are stoic, they’re regal, they’re understanding, they’re kind and they can be your best friend. This week, Tag is back, on horseback that is, because of a comment from Kevin. He told us we had to go meet Sunnie and her amazing friends at The Life Group. My very first rodeo was an International Gay Rodeo Association sanctioned rodeo. I won the buckle for the barrel-racing. By the end of the rodeo we had already made friends that were sincere and honest, and you could feel the camaraderie, whether they were gay or straight it didn’t matter. And at the next rodeo, they didn’t show up. So when you start asking questions, people said, “Oh, he’s got that AIDS thing.” It became real very quickly. In Los Angeles a memorial has been dedicated to the 58,000 people who have died from AIDS. A lot of people died, but some people lived. And we’re having post traumatic stress disorder. Over 99% of those long term survivors are suffering from this. It all made sense, because I was fighting not to be one of those statistics, and begging for help, and nobody knew what to do or they wouldn’t help me. It hadn’t really crossed my mind how I could make a big difference, for the masses, but I knew how I could make a difference for those who were close to me, and following that, bringing people up to the ranch and letting them live out here comfortably doing whatever they wanted to do. Are you hungry? Yes, yes you are. Whether it was sleep all day, rest all day, or be out, and play with the horses. It wasn’t until 1996, that I decided that I would start an equine facilitated mental health program. I’m a therapist, and there’s a really powerful thing that happens when you bond a human with a horse. Horses have a way of sensing your emotional well-being without you even knowing what it is yourself. Animal assisted therapy has existed since the 18th century, and today, it’s most widely used to treat individuals who’ve experienced trauma. One recent study found a 63% reduction in problem behaviors in 30 children, after equine facilitated therapy. While another found an increase in quality of life among war veterans suffering from PTSD. So when we first started Life Group LA, I thought well, I’m a cowgirl, why don’t we do an AIDS ride on horses. And a number of people thought, oh no. I know it’s not a fancy gala where we all get to sit down in fancy clothes, but we’ve almost raised $60,000. It’ll help significantly in being able to continue to provide our weekend seminars for people who are either infected or affected by HIV. Saddle Up has absolutely given people, regardless of disease, regardless of any sort of trauma or bad experience in their life, has given them a lot of liberty, a lot of freedom, a lot of expression. It’s an animal that’s rooted in spirituality. It is an all non-verbal, permissive, loving creature and I think she gets that and I don’t even know if she realizes it Sunnie is willingness, exemplified. She is a horse. It’s not a pandemic anymore, but AIDS is not over. Certainly we’d love to get to 0 by 2020 that would be in my lifetime, I’d love to see that happen, but we can’t become complacent.

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