A new equine therapy program created to help Rogue Valley women recovering from breast cancer is seeking volunteers and funding for its fall kickoff, instructors say.

A new equine therapy program created to help Rogue Valley women recovering from breast cancer is seeking volunteers and funding for its fall kickoff, instructors say.

The carefully guided exercises in "Riding Beyond" help cancer survivors who sit and/or lay atop a steady steed by improving blood circulation and oxygenation, respiration and blood pressure. They also improve balance, strength and endurance.

There are incalculable emotional and spiritual benefits to be gained through the heart of a horse, said Trish Broersma, a certified therapeutic riding instructor, former head instructor at HOPE Equestrian Center in Ashland and author of "Riding into Your Mythic Life."

Hippotherapy, the art of using horse movement to aid humans, likely has been around for as long as humans have straddled equines. But as equine therapy opportunities continue to gain popularity and grow, so do their applications and potential benefits, she said.

"For the past 80 years in the U.S., people with a wide variety of disabilities have explored new horizons from the back of a horse," Broersma said.

Broersma has decades of experience sharing the healing and transformational nature of horses with those who need it most.

Children and adults locked in wheelchairs have learned to walk because the complex motion of their horses stimulated their nerves and muscles in the same complex rhythmic pattern of walking. That same neurological integration has helped children who were slow to learn to talk.

Riding has helped children with autism learn to connect with others in their environment, she said.

Benefits of the horse/human connection are not limited to those with physical disabilities or mental and emotional challenges. However, treatment for breast cancer can leave a woman suffering from all of the above, for chemotherapy, surgery and/or radiation treatments impact body, mind and spirit, she said.

Broersma said her "Riding Beyond" program is based upon a California program that helped Catherine Hand survive her breast cancer struggle in 2007.

Hand and Broersma met at a conference years ago, after Hand had survived what doctors told her she would not, she said.

"She had a hole in her lung and a damaged heart," Broersma said. "She'd given away all her dogs and her horses, except one."

Ravaged by her cancer treatments, Hand writes in her blog that doctors had given her just weeks to live. Wheelchair-bound and on oxygen support, Hand asked to be helped onto the back of her horse. Once astride, she laid back, exhausted. Hand recounts her experiences laying backwards on the horse, near its lungs and heart.

"You can feel when the horse breathes in and out," Hand wrote, adding she was eventually able to push herself to sit up.

"My diaphragm, which had become compressed, dropped and air rushed right into my lungs. It let the air out and released the toxins from chemo. It was such a dramatic experience."

Horses are increasingly emerging as sentient beings who contribute significant insights for healing interactions, Broersma said. Horses are prey animals whose survival has been inextricably linked to their ability to pick up on subtle energy shifts in other creatures.

"Horses are experts, for instance, at detecting when a person is distracted by something that has preceded their arrival at the barn, often when the person is not even consciously aware of their state of dissonance," she said. "When people engage in partnership with a horse with the intention of exploring these subtle talents, they have the opportunity to develop new aspects of themselves."

Volunteers and donors are needed to help local women recovering from cancer explore, grow and heal, she said.

Experienced horse folks, grant writers, research coordinators and client finders are all needed, along with $3,000 in donations, to get the program off the ground.

Breast cancer survivors make the best volunteers to walk alongside another survivor experiencing the exercises, Broersma said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.