In Honor of the Horse:

A Symposium and Fundraiser for the Four Harmony Foundation

By Kate Hester

Gillian Vallis is a woman with a VISION - of a better life, of people helping horses, and horses helping people. This vision is ever growing, ever expanding... a work of love in progress and gaining momentum!

Gillian is an Englishwoman with horses in her blood. Her grandfather and father trained racehorses; she can't remember the first time she climbed up on a pony. Then, away from horses for many years, she was confronted by a request from her husband's daughter to assume care of her horse, Second Thought. Unfortunately, Second Thought had to be retired because of an injury, but she had re-ignited Gillian's passion for riding so she decided to look for a young horse. She had been told about a horse, FloJo, who was an incredible athlete. FloJo was in an eventing yard at a Pennsylvania stable, but was living on the edge, ready to explode any second. FloJo was being handled by a multitude of people at the training center, and had actually been banned from the track in her earlier years. She was certainly a major project.

Gillian confesses she's always been drawn to "problem horses" (she quickly amended that phrase to "horses with people problems"), and so she went to the stable to meet FloJo. The deep dark eyes of the mare connected to Gillian's heart and Gillian just knew that what she saw externally was not the real FloJo. So, of course, you can guess what happened!

She decided that FloJo, whose given name was Truth With Love, was a worthwhile project, and took her on. Gillian took the horse home with her to Bermuda and started working with her when the mare developed anhidrosis and had to be retired from work. Gillian read everything she could find about the condition, but couldn't find any veterinarian who offered her any hope of successfully dealing with the problem, until by chance she consulted with Dr. Judith Shoemaker . "I have a mare with anhidrosis, and I'm seeing this and this and this," she said and, FINALLY, she heard the words, "Yes, of course, and you need to do this and this and this to deal with it."

And so, with a sick and troubled mare that she renamed Zoe, meaning Loved One, Gillian began a journey that would eventually bring her to Kentucky and a beautiful bluegrass farm she calls Pine Knoll Farm. But that was over ten years ago and in the beginning, on an island in the middle of the ocean, with advice from Dr. Shoemaker, Gillian didn't have the resources she needed, so instead of acupuncture, she learned equine acupressure for Zoe. There were no equine chiropractors, so Gillian learned equine massage to help Zoe. She became a Reiki master, learned all she could about homeopathy and flower essences and various other complementary modalities, and absorbed Dr. Shoemaker's principles of balancing the entire horse by the most appropriate and judicious mix of treatments, whether allopathic or complementary.

Zoe recovered from her anhidrosis, but never returned to racing. Through a series of events in which Gillian tried to find a farm in the Pennsylvania area, they arrived instead at Bryantsville, Kentucky and now Gillian and Zoe both serve to inspire and lead a dedicated and growing team of equine professionals in the establishment of a horse farm that is truly dedicated to the enhancement of life in harmony, for humans and equids.

There are two separate organizations operating at Pine Knoll Farm. One is the "business side" which includes boarding, training, and riding lessons. The other is the Four Harmony Foundation, which originally was meant to be a holistic healing center for rehabilitating and rescuing horses, while offering therapeutic riding for disabled people. Early on, though, Gillian realized that in addition to holistic healing for horses, the need was equally great for people to be educated and to experience life enhancement. And so her vision is expanding and just the right professionals in various fields are drawn to her endeavor seemingly at just the right time.

The common philosophy underlying the two organizations is based on compassion for horses as sentient beings. Horses in training are "gentled" rather than "broken," the riding instructor is a Peggy Cummings certified instructor, who strives for "connection" rather than domination, the owners of boarded horses are introduced to and encouraged to use chiropractic, acupuncture, regular dentistry, free choice minerals, magnetic and laser therapy, and many other complementary modalities.

There are many aspects of horsekeeping that a natural horsekeeping purist would fault: the horses are stalled approximately 12 hours a day; blankets, boots and other articles of clothing are regularly used; many of the horses are shod all around or in front (although Gillian told me her own horses were barefoot unless their use required shoes, but that she had to allow the boarders to do as they wished); all horses are vaccinated and chemically dewormed regularly. However, regardless of the deviations from the ideals of Natural Horsekeeping, Gillian is undisputedly a woman on a mission to do the best for horses, both her own and horses in her keeping, and by educating the horse public toward better horsekeeping.

Thus, the symposium "In Honor of the Horse" was conceived. The speakers were many of the professionals who are on staff or who consult regularly for Pine Knoll. Topics included health, nutrition, dentistry, biomechanics, saddle fitting, and horsemanship from the ground and in the saddle.

Chris Irwin was the featured round pen professional. His work is based on learning and practicing the body language of the horse in working with the animals. He does a good job of translating the body language of the horse to the student and explaining to the student how to give a clear message to the horse. This work has led him to develop new dimensions in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, so that the horse, instead of being used merely as a tool in the treatment of human problems, becomes a willing partner in therapy through clear communication in equine language. Chris and Gillian have found that many times a horse who has experienced and recovered from a trauma or abusive history will be one of the most effective and willing participants in therapy sessions designed to help the human participant.

The role of the horse in psychotherapy was further discussed by Dr. Dehra H. Glueck, MD, who is a psychiatrist at the University of Kentucky . Together with Dr. Pam Shirley, MD, psychotherapist on the staff at Pine Knoll, she is planning to do a study to scientifically evaluate the long-term effectiveness of Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy.

Other symposium speakers included Dr. Judith Shoemaker who brought her message of the importance of physically balancing the whole horse, beginning with teeth and feet, then assessing the biomechanical and neurological balances, before focusing on a particular symptom or "disease" that may be present. She particularly advocates the correct use of chiropractic treatment, which she demonstrated, and the use of acupuncture, which was discussed further by Dr. Chris Cahill, DVM and acupuncturist. Lee Follett, IAED/C (International Association of Equine Dentistry Certification), gave a brief, concise lecture on proper dentistry, performed by certified technicians.

Doreen Hudson of Respond Systems presented a session to demonstrate magnetic and laser therapy. Kay Cansler of Young Living Essential Oils offered information on her products and their use.

Kirsten Johnston of Kesmarc talked about a new adjunct therapy called hyperbaric oxygen therapy. In this treatment, a horse is confined to a small enclosed space and the atmospheric pressure is increased with the intention of forcing oxygen into a wound or otherwise diseased area to encourage more rapid healing. The enclosures pictured in the literature look much like a huge MRI unit or tube that the horse walks into. However, Kirsten said they were working on a treatment enclosure that is more like a small stall or trailer that the horse would enter. This particular treatment is not meant to stand alone, but should be used in conjunction with other treatment as prescribed by the attending vet. It is a therapy that is being used in a research capacity by one of the largest equine hospitals in Lexington as well as the University of Tennessee and a couple of other universities. At $400 per treatment, with a series of treatments typically recommended, this is not something for the backyard horse owner.

James Helfter of Advanced Biological Concepts presented his line of ABC free choice minerals, designed to allow the horse to self-balance his mineral intake. Also in the area of nutrition, Dr. Tom Swerzek, DVM, PhD, who is an animal pathologist at the University of Kentucky , offered his pithy observation that "What's good for the grass is bad for the beast," and cautioned against the use of fertilizers such as nitrogen. He also discussed a product he developed some years ago in response to an outbreak of venereal disease in Kentucky breeding farms. An antibiotic was developed at the same time that successfully eradicated the VD and so he shelved his natural product until another problem in the Kentucky horse population prompted him to bring it out for further study. He is now in the process of patenting and manufacturing it, so watch for "Woundade" to appear on the markets one of these days.

The theme of holistic care carried through the discussion of many healing modalities to the maintenance of health and balance in everyday activities. Mimi Porter, Equine Therapy, Inc., demonstrated some exercises to maintain balance and flexibility in the equine athlete.

One of the most interesting clinicians was Carol Brett of BALANCE International Saddles, who several years ago investigated saddle design and its typically detrimental effect on the ridden horse, and took her findings to the saddle making industry only to have her recommendations fall on deaf ears. Rather than letting it go, she and a friend found a master saddler who agreed to build saddles to their design specifications and BALANCE Saddles was born. Like Gillian, she is a missionary with a zeal to improve the lot of the horse. She does this by imparting to riders an understanding of how saddle fit affects the muscular development, performance, comfort, and well-being of the horse.

There are many individuals who have benefited tremendously from Gillian's dream of providing a place where horses and humans can heal. Some of these are horses, such as the locally famous Phoenix , who was terribly burned in a 2001 barn fire in which he was the only survivor. His treatment at a Lexington equine hospital was so costly that his owner was forced to give him up and Phoenix came to Pine Knoll. He has been treated with all of the modalities discussed at the symposium, including the hyperbaric oxygen and the continuous use of Woundade. Over the past two years he has made tremendous progress, and is clearly on the (admittedly long and slow) road to full recovery.

Another inspiring story is that of Special, a pituitary dwarf of a miniature horse, born to an indescribably extremely foundered mare. The mare, named Hope, was treated for her founder by expert hoofcare, nutrition, and the hyperbaric oxygen. Special, the foal, required leg braces and other intensive treatment, but today both of them are clearly healthy and happy and sound.

The whole farm is full of success stories, many of which are human tales told by therapeutic riding clients and summer camp attendees. Pine Knoll Farm is a beautiful place and the most exciting part is that it is so ALIVE and growing! In everything, Gillian is looking for balance and life enhancement for people and horses. She truly has a living vision of a wonderful, wonderful place.

For more information:

Pine Knoll Farm, Inc.
PO Box 75
Bryantsville , KY 40410
fax: 859-548-2628

Four Harmony Foundation
9863 Lexington Road
Lancaster , KY 40444
859 548 2768