LEE, Maine — Isaiah scratched Mr. Max behind his ears and along his neck, and Max, enjoying the attention, brushed his nose and face against the 15-year-old boy, buffeting him gently so that Isaiah rocked slightly as his hand continued to work along Max’s neck.
“I really found his spot,” Isaiah said with a smile.
Mr. Max stretched his neck high into the air and even seemed to be wagging his tail slightly — normal enough behavior for a dog, perhaps, but somewhat out of character for an almost 2-ton Arabian mixed-breed horse. But that’s what equine-assisted therapy, and KD Stable, are all about, says Debra McKay, owner of the Thomas Hill horse farm.
The interaction between Isaiah, a foster teen who lives in McKay’s home, and Mr. Max is the kind of watchful relationship that McKay, a certified horseback riding instructor and equine assisted psychotherapist, tries to develop at KD.
Mr. Max “loved that touch, and touching is important for Isaiah, too,” McKay said Friday. “A lot of the kids who come here have been hurt, in a way, and touching is dangerous to them. It’s scary for them to reach out and touch a horse, but it’s very healing for them, too.
“Horses are very in touch with what the people riding them are really feeling versus what they’re trying to conceal,” she added. “When they [riders] have a problem, I know it in a second, no matter how hard they try to hide it, because I can tell from the way the horse reacts that something is going on.”
Equine therapy can help treat a variety of mental health problems, including attention deficit disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, anger management and conflict resolution. To learn to ride or care for a horse, people must overcome fear, develop self-confidence and learn skills in verbal and nonverbal communication, assertiveness, creative problem solving, leadership and teamwork, McKay said.
“The horse learns that people aren’t going to hurt them, and they also learn that they are going to have meals on time every day. They learn that they can trust people,” McKay said. “It’s just like with kids. They need consistency and rules. They need to know what is going to happen next. Kids are the same way.”
Since 2000, KD Stable has helped about 300 teens and several horses overcome various illnesses or issues, McKay said. The stable has 13 horses, almost all of them rescues, that she is nursing back to health. She has had as many as 16 horses, she said.
McKay is very good at helping kids and their parents to heal, said Susan Waas, a licensed clinical social worker who has worked with KD Stable for several years.
“She relates very well to them, better than a lot of people do,” Waas said. “She’s wonderful.”
McKay, who offers riding lessons to nonclients, will hold fundraisers 3-7 p.m. Nov. 27 and Dec. 4 to help pay for the cost of caring for the horses she rescues. The events, which will cost $10 per family, will feature sleigh or wagon rides, ornament crafting for children, hot cocoa and cookies, plus drawings for gift certificates and gift baskets, she said.
Anyone interested in attending, seeking horse-riding lessons or looking to volunteer or otherwise contribute to KD Stable can call 738-2248 or visit kdstable.com. McKay said she hoped many people would attend.
“It’s definitely a grass-roots effort here,” McKay said. “I am not a nonprofit. There’s just me and the people who want to help.”
WHAT: Christmas at KD Stable
WHERE: KD Stable, 210 Thomas Hill, Lee
WHEN: 3-7 p.m. Nov. 27 and Dec. 4
WHY: To raise money to assist KD Stable’s efforts at helping troubled teens and abused or neglected horses.
HOW: The event will feature sleigh or wagon rides, ornament crafting, cocoa and drawings for gift certificates for $10 per family.