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Equine Therapy- A Legacy of The First Southerners

As Gwinnett county’s population approaches one million, it’s difficult to picture the landscape as it existed in the early 19th century, when there were no paved roads, no subdivisions and, believe it or not, no traffic. At that time, the county was occupied primarily by the Creek and Cherokee tribes, which are referred to by many archaeologists as, “The First Southerners.”

Dave Emanuel, Cut to the Chase

Although very few members of the Creek and Cherokee populations now live in Gwinnett County, a vestige of their culture remains. Just a few miles from an intersection traversed by almost 100,000 cars a day, is a peaceful pasture that is home to a group of therapy horses, some of which are spirit horses, (also known as medicine horses) that trace their lineage back to the horses of the first Southerners.

In spite of numerous cultural differences between the tribes, like most Native American groups, both the Creek and Cherokee Nations held all horses in high esteem, and viewed medicine horses as having exceptional wellness and healing powers. This particular pasture is part of a facility that uses horses to improve a variety of health and wellness problems. It’s especially fitting that the pasture is in an area once considered a “no man’s land,” a sacred ground that served as a buffer between the lands controlled by the Creeks on one side and the Cherokees on the other.

Caroline Jaffe gets a kiss from River, while Rainbow looks on.Caroline Jaffe gets a kiss from River, while Rainbow looks on.It’s also fitting that this Native American sacred ground is home to medicine horses that trace their roots back to those of the tribes that once inhabited the area. Nvwati, which means “good medicine” in Cherokee, is a descendant of Native American Spirit horses from the Cherokee Nation. His blue eyes make him particularly unique as that trait is taken to mean he’s a messenger horse. Rainbow is a descendant of Lakota Nation Spirit horses, one of which served Sitting Bull.

While the concept of horses having healing powers might be regarded as no more than the lore of an old and distant culture, it has been borne out by the numerous equine therapy facilities now located throughout the nation. Equine therapy, also called equine-assisted therapy, has repeatedly been shown to be one of the most successful treatments for a variety of health and wellness challenges. According to a number of professional treatment organizations, equine therapy has become an integrated part of programs for children and adults who are being treated for substance abuse, addiction, behavior disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, learning challenges, ADD/ADHD, autism, Asperger’s, grief/loss, trauma, sex addiction, compulsive gambling, bipolar, depression and related conditions.

Fortunately, in spite of Gwinnett’s booming population growth, there remain places-and horses– in the county that are just as peaceful, and as healing, as they were 200 years ago.

For more information about equine therapy, or volunteer or intern opportunities, contact