WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Animals give us unconditional love and that’s good therapy. Longmire Ranch in Touchet, operated by Tracy and Shane Longmire, offers equine-assisted resilience-building.
The couple loves their animals — a dog, some chickens and their horses. The horses provide love and companionship, as well as good therapy for those who make an appointment to come out to experience the ranch. Much of what is being dealt with is the pain from adverse experiences, many from a person’s childhood.
“We moved here to the ranch in 2009,” Tracy said. “My husband is from here. In 1994 we moved back to the area. He never dreamed he would end up living in Touchet on a farm. Years ago if you would have said that, he would have laughed. He was headed to the big cities.”
Shane now works as a mental health counselor, while she heads up the equine activities.
The ranch is a multilayered operation. The 501(c)(3) operation’s volunteers and staff help guests build resilience through activities with the horses. That can include more than riding; it could just looking at a horse’s kind, gentle eyes and spending some quiet time out on the ranch.
Visitors to the ranch go through a series of steps.
“First is getting to know the horses,” Tracy said. “We have 13 on the property — three miniatures. The horses tell me a lot. The person gets to pick the horse they want to interact with.
“First we walk among them and I pay attention to which ones come up and which go away, and how they go away. Once we’ve met everybody, I ask which one they want to work with, and why. Then we catch them, bring them over and groom them.”
Often because of the driving distance involved, a family will just wait on the farm rather than leave and then return to pick up the client. Time out in the quiet can benefit the whole family.
“A lot of times the parents are doing for the child what they wish had been done for them,” she said. “It’s holistic.”
Getting the project going has been a long and complex journey.
“We’ve been working on it almost 12 years. We started with a group based out of the College Place Presbyterian Church for one year. Then I worked with another gal in the training process, with a series of learning experiences along the way. I kept feeling there was still more to do,” Tracy said.
A series of seemingly miraculous events led them to the property and being able to purchase it.
“All these doors just opened,” she said.
But the difficulties didn’t stop. In 2014 she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer; but they kept moving forward.
“After a year of treatment and a year of recovery with people telling me, ‘If you can survive cancer, you can do this.’ Life is short, you don’t know when it’ll end. I want it to end doing what I love,” she said.
After the diagnosis, Tracy went back to teaching, putting in long hours and dealing with exhaustion.
“I’d come home and I had nothing left. I let go of my job and had some down time,” she said.
This got her back on track with the ranch and its mission. But they still had difficulties. The cancer and the ranch seemed way more than they felt they could afford; then, within six months, Shane lost his job. But they kept their sense of purpose, faith and belief, and circumstances fell back into place for them.
In a session, “I get kids to lift themselves up onto the horse and look at the mountains. If they’re afraid of falling, I tell them, ‘Well you might, but right now you can look up and see the mountains and the sky,'” Tracy said.
It’s about a client’s perspective, grounding and being right here, right now, fully awake and aware.
“What do you hear? Birds? … Parents also get a chance to breathe and experience it. The ultimate healing comes when you connect to nature,” she said.
“It’s a one-on-one session with a participant. They get all of my attention. Our brains really can’t multitask, we just think it can.”
Tracy sees about 23 clients a month, ranging in age from about 4 years old to grandparents. Another part of the ranch is a 4-H club that some guests join, but all have the opportunity to learn about it. Longmire Ranch is working on developing partnerships with other community organizations that provide help.
This summer they put out a challenge to get the arena fenced.
“We met half the goal, through private donations and matching donations to get solid fencing,” she said.
Volunteers are essential for the operation of the ranch.
“Each session is its own energy,” she said. “There’s no set program, no curriculum. We take each child and work with what they’ve got and we get where we’re going.”
Sessions are 45-90 minutes, depending on when they reaches a natural conclusion, although Tracy works with the parents’ time concerns
“Every horse has a handler and undivided attention,” she said. “For safety we keep two eyes on every horse.”
“There are other ranches doing similar things,” she said. “But they want everything to be perfect. I’ve heard people say, ‘Don’t let people see manure.’ Well, life has manure in it. If we’re only going to be OK when things are perfect, then we’re never going to be OK.”
Tracy focuses on natural joy in relationships, parents and kids, kids and animals.
“In that, we find the peace and healing. That’s why they come back, not because things are perfect,” she said.
Information from: Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, http://www.union-bulletin.com