HASKINS - For a small group of area children, an afternoon spent in the company of silent animals may have equaled several speech-filled sessions with a therapist.
|Joey Boben (left), 10, pets a horse named Katie during the first Grief Trails Horse Camp in Bowling Green, Ohio. (Photos: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
Six boys and girls, ages 10 to 12, were part of the first-ever "Grief Trails" experience held last week at a farm on Haskins Road. The program, hosted by Bridge Bereavement Services, offered youth in and around Wood County a chance to work through grief by spending time with horses at On the Bit Farm, owned by Lexi Brewer.
"With a horse, you can show the kids that verbal is only 7 percent of our total communication," said Amber Wolfrom, Bridge Hospice bereavement coordinator.
"They were really able to work a lot with the horses on nonverbal communication," she added. That's important since there are other successful ways to communicate our emotions and needs to others - especially family members who are, themselves, coping with grief.
A similar Grief Trails session is being held today at the Triple T Western Bed & Breakfast near Findlay.
"This was our first time offering it, and we were happy with the way it went," Wolfrom said of this week's pilot program. "The kids were all very eager to be there."
"We'll definitely repeat it next year."
The children at the Haskins event were a carefully selected group. All have experienced the loss of an immediate family member to death - in some cases a parent, in others a grandparent.
"Some were actually there for anticipatory grief," Wolfrom said, as the family member in question is terminally ill and death is likely not far off.
Other bereavement camps have used horses, with success. Bridge included a few hours spent with horses at a location in Putnam County as part of its 2012 Bowling Green-based Group S.T.A.R., a three-day camp for bereaved children. But the extended distance limited the amount of time the children could spend with the horses.
So Bridge Hospice staffers went to work developing a local four-hour Grief Trails experience.
|Olivia Adams, 11, grooms a horse named Walker with Nora Blair (middle) as Joey Boben (right), 10, adjusts his hat July during the first Grief Trails Horse Camp.
|Caitlin Fritch, 12 rides M&M, a horse, while guided by Courtney Wallace during the first Grief Trails Horse Camp.
On the Bit Farm proved an ideal host location as they already offer riding lessons for area children, so they are experienced with young people and those for whom close encounters with horses are a new thing.
The farm, with a complete indoor arena, even provided three volunteers of their own, one per horse.
Among the children in the Grief Trails program were 10-year-olds Joey Boben and Lee Hogrefe, both of Deshler; Caitlin Fritch, 12, from Rossford; and Arelia Adams, 10, and Olivia Adams, 11, from McComb. Fostoria was also represented.
The children each groomed their horse, gave it a little exercise, and sprayed it down with water when they were done. If the horse "did its business" while the child was on it, that child even took on clean-up duty.
The unspoken, but obvious, lesson was that each horse was an individual.
Some liked being petted or groomed a certain way; others didn't. Some relished the spray from the hose; others not so much.
The kids learned about reading unspoken cues. Flared nostrils or pulled-back ears held a meaning as clear as a shout.
Grieving children, too, can find it tough to speak their pain, and sometimes so can mom or dad.
"Communication can get very short in these families," said Wolfrom.
"This is a chance for the kids, in working with horses, to get some immediate feedback on nonverbal communication.
"So many therapies are done with equestrian; we're applying it to grief," said Wolfrom. "Because (horses) can sense your intent. They are intelligent animals."
Wolfrom and Haskins camp coordinator Theresa Scherger like the regional nature of Grief Trails.
"It's important for (grieving) kids to see they're not being singled out," said Wolfrom. "When they see people from Fostoria, from Deshler, they understand: This isn't just happening to me or my family. It isn't anything I did wrong."
Bridge's next kids' program, the 2013 Group S.T.A.R. (Special Times Always Remembered) day camp, will be held Aug. 5-7 in Bowling Green. Registration is still open. Call Bridge Hospice at 1-800-982-3306 or e-mail