A Blessing in Disguise
Cynthia Sweeley began riding horses at ten years old, and she says her hobby quickly turned into an obsession. During her years as a student at Pennsylvania State University, a career woman, and young mother, Sweeley says she kept dreaming of the day she would own her own horses. Finally, in 2002, Sweeley and her husband bought seven acres out in the country in Central Pennsylvania, built a 6,000 square foot log home for their family home and business, and purchased ten horses to start a horse ranch. For six years, Sweeley lived what she describes as the “perfect life.” She says her business was booming, her family lived in a beautiful home surrounded by grazing horses, and she spent her spare time riding horses and leading trail rides through the nearby forests.
Then, within a three-month period in 2008, Sweeley says the business went bankrupt, her husband gambled away their money and filed for divorce, the IRS demanded an interrogation over employee taxes, she was sued by both a printer and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, her log home went into foreclosure, and she spent a large portion of her time in a wheelchair due to sciatic nerve damage and back pain. At one point, Sweeley was rushed to the hospital. She says the doctor told her she was experiencing early symptoms of heart failure.
As her depression developed, Sweeley says her life became meaningless, and she began thinking of suicide until, Sweeley says, her young daughter noticed something that would change her outlook on life forever. Each day, when she was caring for the horses, she seemed to be happier. Once she realized that just being near the horses was having a therapeutic effect on her, she began to experience an increase in her piece of mind.
“I actually wanted to live again,” said Sweeley. “There was hope.”
Sweeley says the significant impact that the horses were having on her life led her to research equine therapy for depression. Sweeley spent two years researching equine-assisted therapy and was fascinated by the almost magical impact that horses have on those who are facing all sorts of emotional battles. Inspired by her own experience and research, Sweeley became an equine therapist and officially started Wildfire Ranch Spiritual Retreat in 2012.
“Horse therapy shows people that they are just existing and not living,” said Sweeley. “Horses can pick up on your emotions even if you don’t feel them.”
Because of this, Sweeley believes horse therapy at Wildfire Ranch has an extreme impact on people. When people arrive at the ranch for their first therapy session, they are often suppressing their emotions. Sweeley says because of horses’ natural instincts as prey animals, they have a special way of sensing how others are feeling and behaving. This natural behavior leads the horse to mirror the emotions that are locked up deep inside a person. Sweeley believes the therapy helps people realize what feelings they are masking and opens up the door to healing.
“Having the ability to control a 1,200 pound horse gives people the emotional strength to realize that they also have the power to control their own lives,” said Sweeley.
The guests at Wildfire Ranch have the opportunity to work with the horses on the ground, in the saddle, and even on the trail. During the therapy sessions, Sweeley says her daughter and her lead exercises that empower the people.
“Sometimes all it takes is one interaction with a strong, majestic horse at Wildfire Ranch to expose what a person is keeping bottled up inside and to move forward on a path towards healing,” said Sweeley.
Cynthia Sweeley says the one horse that helped pull her out of her depression was Image.