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Holliston - Local Town Pages

Horse Sense

By Sean Sullivan
Before we spoke last month, Lindsay Andon and I had been coordinating via email and text messages a good time to chat over the phone.
She is the founder and executive director of Project Comeback, an organization that partners horses with people toward the goal of coming to terms with (and hopefully overcoming) trauma.
Project Comeback sees its mission as helping horses and humans heal, and military veterans coping with post traumatic stress syndrome have made up a large share of the latter group. 
Andon has done this work primarily from the organization’s cornerstone compound in Holliston, but was unable to meet in person for an interview when I first reached out. She was then busy in South Carolina, working there to set up Project Comeback’s new 45-acre southern sister campus.
The morning we were scheduled to chat, I received a text that our conversation might be delayed. It seemed there was a chance to help a neglected dog that Andon had been keeping tabs on, and the rescue group she’d been in contact with would be there shortly.
“I know my mission isn’t to rescue dogs,” the message concluded, “but whenever I see an animal in need I can’t help myself I have to do something.”
Andon’s missive about the dog ended with a few photos of a thin and forlorn-looking canine standing along a roadside.
“Trauma is pretty widespread and takes a lot of forms,” she would later say when at last we connected over the phone.
To that end, Andon left Project Comeback wide latitude in its literature, so it could help those from all walks of life recovering from trauma – including people who hadn’t served in the military. 
Mothers working through post-partum depression have also taken part in the program, as have other categories of people who are working through past difficulties.    
Andon was also careful in creating a program that was sustainable for all parties involved. From the perspective of the horses, that meant steering clear of a system that would simply trade one life of servitude for another.
The program, as described in its literature, is “Designed with horse and human in mind.”
Project Comeback is first and foremost a sanctuary for the four-legged animals, a place they can live out the rest of their days free from the drudgery and utility they’d been born and conscripted into. Their “forever home,” as Andon puts it, borrowing from language popular at animal adoption centers.
Since founding the organization in Holliston in 2017, one of Andon’s guiding principles has been to make both parties equal participants in the process. She studied psychology and business in college, and had lived around horses from a very early age.
In observing similar animal-therapy programs, Andon saw that the bargain was largely one-sided - the well-being of non-human participants an afterthought if considered at all.  

“It just kind of got the wheels turning. You know - how do we make this mutual?”
The first phase of the program focuses on what might be called horse sense - but from the perspective of the humans involved. This includes primers on how to safely interact with horses, instruction on their body language, etc.
Yoga, Tai Chi, and other exercises in mindfulness can also be part of the initial sessions.
“Just to help people get in the moment,” said Andon.
The second week becomes more personal, with human participants learning each horse’s story, how they might have suffered and at last came to live at Project Comeback. Many participants, said Andon, can see a version of their own trauma reflected in the lives of their equestrian counterparts. That commiseration can start people down a road to healing.
“They can make a connection with these animals.”   

Andon said her rescues tend to come from any of three categories of occupation in their former lives. First is the thoroughbreds, horses born into the world of competitive racing. That function is particularly injurious to horses, said Andon, as it taxes both body and mind in unique ways.
The physical wear and tear of racing is an obvious toll that’s part and parcel of the sport. But a more covert injury endemic to competitive racing is the loneliness that comes along for the ride in that life. Much is invested in and riding on the success of race horses, and thus they live solitary lives, kept separate from their kindred species.
“They live kind of an isolated life,” said Andon.
The next category of horses is mustangs, horses that were born and lived wild until some development of human civilization drove them into captivity. Socializing with we bipeds can make for a jarring transition, one that requires years of growing accustomed to.    
At last there is the “work horse,” creatures that have served a role on a farm or ranch, or some other similar service occupation.      
What all these horses have in common is that they’re subjects in a system that ranks their well-being a distant second.
That feeling or reality of being discarded after they’ve served, is something veterans and these horses might also find they have in common.  
“I realized that these people had a lot to offer the horses,” said Andon, adding that some human participants in the program are skeptical at the outset, wary of the stigma they see attached to anything having to do with therapy. Though by the end, most are among the converted.  
“Our biggest feedback is that the veterans wish it was longer.”