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INDIAN LAND – Tucked away in the Black Horse Run neighborhood, on one acre of land, is a place where horses hurt on the outside get healed on the inside.
Resident Katie Holme runs Healing Horses, a program for abused horses. Horses like Dakota Messenger, a Standardbred she recently found at an auction, come to Holme in bad shape, with cuts and wounds over their dingy coats, ribs and hip bones jutting out from starvation and the baggage of behavior problems that come from being mistreated.
"He was just sucked in from dehydration," Holme said, describing Messenger's condition when he arrived at her place several weeks ago. "And he was terrified."
But Messenger now stands calmly next to Holme. While talking about his progress, she soothingly runs her hands over his chest and neck. He's gained weight, and Holme has been able to ride him over the trails at Black Horse Run.
Holme heals these horses by teaching them to follow her body language. She uses what she calls "gentle cognitive connections" and natural herd psychology to bring the animals from suffering to safety, as her brochure says.
She doesn't need a halter or lead rope to connect with animals 10 times her diminutive size. The horses learn a conditioned response to her body language. This kind of training is not a quick-fix, but is least traumatic to the horse, Holme says.
"Horses have a sixth sense," she said. "They have a range of emotions we don't have. You have to heal their soul. If you don't heal the soul, the body won't follow."
Horses as healers
Holme is patiently waiting for Messenger's full recovery, which will come when he maintains eye contact with her and reconnects with people.
"He's still holding back," she said. "I want him to be the best he can be. They never forget (the mistreatment), but they can forgive and move on."
Horses have helped Holme move on from a traumatic event in her life she doesn't talk about very often. But the incident left Holme prone to panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive tendencies, like checking the locks repeatedly at her house.
It's gotten better over the years, but some days are still a struggle. That may be why she understands these traumatized horses, like she has a sixth sense of her own.
She has a connection with Chief, her 20-year-old Tennessee walker, where she learned her way with horses years ago.
"He was the most broken-down horse I've seen to date," Holme said. "Bad things have been done to Chief. But he and I connected from the start. He's been a constant guide and a teacher for me. We've been inseparable."
Holme understands the effect horses can have on hurting humans. She'd like to start a program for adults who are suffering from emotional problems that will allow them to spend time with horses like Chief, who has a calming spirit.
"When you get close to them, they take you somewhere," Holme said. "They will mirror back all you are."
A cat fancy, too
Horses aren't the only animals Holme has a heart for. A number of cats roam her land.
An old white cat with orange tabby patches named Jake raises his head from his comfy bed in a shed to greet a visitor. He's rangy like a lot of old cats, and is missing one of his back legs. But he hasn't lost his sense of curiosity as he makes his way off his cushion to follow Holme.
Jack, a tabby with white paws and belly, meows loudly and makes his way across the pasture as quickly as a three-legged cat can to greet Holme. Holme said Jack was abused so badly that his left front leg had to be amputated. Holme has rescued other cats from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina and other storms and adopted them out to new homes.
Helping provide hay, feed
Holme is reaching out again, to horses who may not have enough hay this winter due to this year's relentless drought.
She and her husband, Ed, are spreading the word, asking for donations from local Rotary clubs and other organizations for a feed bank that will buy hay from out-of-state.
"Most people use their garages for cars," Holme said, opening her garage door to reveal bales of reserved hay. "Don't you just love the smell of hay?"
Holme has plenty of places to store the hay and bags of Purina feed – now she wants donations to buy the feed, so owners won't have to sell off their horses and horses don't go hungry.
Healing Horses is also selling T-shirts for the cause. At $20 each, the sale of one shirt can feed a horse for about a week.
"We're right on the edge of a crisis," Holme said. "It'd be like not being able to feed your children."
Healing Horses is a division of Project Halo, a North Carolina-registered 501(c3) non-profit organization. Donations for the feed bank may be mailed to: Healing Horses, P.O. Box 667924, Charlotte, NC 28266. For details about the feed bank or Healing Horses, call 804-0544.
Contact Jenny Hartley
at 283-1151 or