An Arab-Berber immigrant to France from the Maghreb region (around Algeria) in northwestern Africa, Hassen Bouchakour, became the several times world champion in artistic dressage. He brought his culture's appreciation and respect of the sick and elderly.
He is now demonstrating that culture of kindness in ways that align with his talent and purpose. He is uniquely reminding France and the International community of a higher road for our infirm. It is this mirroring and renewing gift of the immigrant that brings us back to our principles...and our principles back to us...
Because of a loss of someone dear to him, Hassen began training his award winning stallion, Peyo, to control his balance on slick floors, to "make is needs on order" (aka potty trained...) and to get used to a whole lot of noise. According to an article written by Clémentine Mercier, a journalist from Quest-France, Hassen's goal is to make people understand that just because we get ill or old, we should not be abandoned.
"We must not forget that there is always a heart that beats." - Hassen Bouchakour
Hassen and the big stallion walk through the halls of hospitals and care homes together tending the sick, lifting morale and more. The horse is at home, rides the elevators, makes sharp turns in the corridors and is allowed to choose which rooms to go into.
Many of us have heard of equine therapy...
Horse therapy is where relatively able people go to a ranch or stable and interact with horses. It, like pet therapy, is effective for lowering blood pressure/heart rates, alleviating stress, and reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
"Dr. Peyo", as many call the horse, and Hassen walk the halls of an elderly care home facility twice a month. The man and rider are in constant touch and connection with each other. The imposing horse brings a mysterious connection (or perhaps a re-connection) to the ill and frail. It seems to be reminding us of something pure and untouched in our own natures, which time and living tends to push aside. The horse is given reign to choose which room to go into, after a strict protocol of sterile preparation of fur, hooves, mane etc. Peyo always makes a connection with the patients. Their reactions are unexpected and hard not to describe as pure magic.
"We must not seek explanations for everything." Dr. Marie Lombard, Geriatrician
Hassen makes the point that " Peyo is not Lourdes..." but the transformation of patients that is seen by caregivers is miraculous. People are moved to awe, to appreciation, and to some new level of wonder.
Nature as a healing force
As a chaplain, I see how nature and references to the natural world at bedside are a consistent healing force of remembering something from our original natures or something untouched and pure.
I can see how the imposing yet quiet power, and grace, watching from above, of this beautiful horse's head, a healthy person might be moved. But for those who are experiencing a tender human valley of illness and decline might be change.
According to Elements of Behavioral Health, Equine therapy has many documented benefits:
Here is a video in English...
Check out this video to see Peyo and Hassen in action.
You can see the one re-made into English on my Facebook page.
The following two videos are in French but shows more of the horses's interaction with the patients and a bit of the hygenic preparation they require before the horse is allowed into the skilled nursing facility.
Can you imagine this ever happening in a SNF in the States? I would appreciate that miracle.
on a Chaplain's life