The story is like something out of a fairy tale. Girl meets horse. Girl and horse heal each other. Horse gets adopted by a loving family. Girl learns to respect animals, the world and herself. The story may seem unique, but since the inception of the Hope Foal Project at Medicine Horse Ranch five years ago, more than 150 girls can now tell the tale.
“There is kind of a magical moment that I can’t describe very well when [a person] makes a connection with a horse,” says Kathy Johnson, executive director of the Boulder, Colo.-based Medicine Horse Ranch.
The Hope Foal Project is based on equine-assisted psychotherapy, a cyclical type of treatment that helps both the young horse and the teenage girl recover from traumatic experiences. The message of the program resonated with Myra Michelle Eby, founder and president of MyChelle Dermaceuticals, in a profound way. So much, in fact, that the Louisville, Colo.-based personal care company sponsors the entire program; in 2009, MyChelle spent more than $40,000 on everything from vet bills to equipment costs.
“I felt it was important to back this program as a company. This was something I could really wrap my brain around, wrap my heart around. When I first heard about [the foals], I cried buckets,” Eby says. “I absolutely cried buckets.”
For the foals, traumatic experiences begin before birth. They’re considered “foal byproducts” of pregnant mares that supply urine to make the hormone-replacement drug Premarin. MyChelle and the ranch purchase these foals at what Johnson calls “meat-market prices” and bring them to Colorado to be rehabilitated through work with at-risk teenage girls.
For the girls, who suffer from any number of issues, including low self-esteem, depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, or who are just struggling to cope with foster families, broken homes or trauma, these horses are lifesavers.
“One girl said her foal, Nitro, really taught her to come out of her shell and open up,” Johnson says. “This is a girl who is doing her life all over again.”
Eby’s involvement in the program includes volunteering at the ranch and even taking in a foal “graduate” or two when they are ready to leave the project. Eby had never owned a horse before she got involved with Medicine Horse Ranch. Now she owns 10.
“There is one thing that I experienced with one of the foals named Spirit. The horses were all being giddy in the back of the corral, and I was scared and nervous. The second I told myself: Just let her know you aren’t going to hurt her, I literally felt this whole armor fall off me. As soon as that happened, Spirit came to me,” Eby says. “It was just the most astounding experience I’ve ever had.”
That experience is intertwined with her company’s natural and ethically aware business practices and products. MyChelle doesn’t use any estrogen or estrogen mimickers in any of its products because Eby feels those ingredients are highly threatening to a woman’s immune system as she ages. She hopes by sponsoring the program and marketing MyChelle’s products as estrogen free and vegan friendly, more women are learning not only about the Premarin industry, but also about the importance of self-confidence.
“This [involvement] just stems from my passion to create something for myself and my family that we can use without harming animals or the environment,” Eby says. “I like my wrinkles. We all have chapters in life and should be proud of them. Every gray hair tells a story.”