By Karen Rifkin
Harmony, a 35-year-old white Arabian, is one of two therapy horses participating in a newly-formed volunteer group facilitated by Megan Prout, Esther Seigel M.F.T., and Kay Lieberknecht.
It’s a beautiful thing sitting in the sun in a wooded arena out in Redwood Valley with 28-year-old Maggie, a white Arabian, warmly nuzzling the top of your head and gently nibbling your ear lobe… the only drawback being the fully-salivated, partially masticated clumps of grass that have fallen out of her mouth onto the keyboard of your laptop.
Maggie and 35-year-old Harmony, another white Arabian, are two therapy horses participating in a newly-forming volunteer group facilitated by Megan Prout, Esther Seigel M.F.T., and Kay Lieberknecht, R.N. It is dedicated to working with grieving children.
Prout grew up in the Bay Area, moved around the world and ended up living in the Caribbean. When her husband died unexpectedly in 2011, she came head-to-head with the pain and anguish of grief. She returned to the Bay Area and joined an adult grief group. One of her sons was only 4 at the time and too young to join a group but when he turned 6, he was old enough to understand and deal with his grief.
“It was an amazing transformation,” says Prout. “After my husband died, my son was reluctant to join anything; he had his guard up and he suffered from anxiety. Then he went to the group and began to relax; he felt connected to others who had experienced similar situations. For the first time, he no longer felt alone with his grief. The experience normalized him.”
And it was healing for Prout to meet other single parents who were trying to help their kids with grief while also dealing with their own.
She moved to Ukiah and looked for similar groups. There were none. In January, she contacted Dick Lumaghi, bereavement coordinator for Hospice of Ukiah, who pointed her in the direction of the Lake County Hospice program. They said that their services could only be accessed by a referral from a local school.
Someone called her back five minutes later and asked her to attend a comprehensive bereavement skills training in Lake County. She participated with the goal in mind of starting a grief group for children that would be affiliated with Hospice of Ukiah.
Siegel, who had some young clients whose parents had died and were lacking services, contacted Lumaghi; he helped the two women connect.
“I described a group with horses I had done in the past for families who had lost children, mostly through suicide,” says Siegel who has been working with horses, teaching riding for over 30 years and doing therapeutic riding with people with disabilities.
Lieberknecht, who worked on and off with Seigel over the years, says horses have always been a huge part of her life, have been her salvation. She lost her daughter in 1989; although it was some time ago, she still has, of course, thoughts and feelings over this enormous loss.