Local sanctuary combines therapy for horses, people

Santa Ynez Valley resident Alexis Ells has created programs in which active or retired military members suffering from PTSD or brain injury can work with her horses.

By Robin Laroche

“Horses are big, majestic and powerful, much like our soldiers,” Alexis Ells explains, “yet they are fragile, too. We all are,” said the founder and director of The Equine Sanctuary.

The Santa Ynez Valley resident is as passionate about her work with horses as she is about her work with humans. Since the opening of The Equine Sanctuary in 2000, Ells has created and designed community programs to encourage rehabilitation and therapy for children and adults.

In 1975, Ells first launched herself into a world of healing that started with founding The Body Balance Center. Driven to create a healing and wellness regimen for the body through organic, whole-food nutrition, she began developing health supplements for humans and animals. By 1995, she had created Terra Oceana. The nutritional line has been the backbone for funding her Equine Sanctuary.

“Our supplements’ costs are covered, and all proceeds go back to the sanctuary,” she explained.

Today, Ells has created programs where military members, active or veteran, suffering from PTSD or brain injury can work with her rescue horses and heal themselves.

“I had a bad injury and for four years I was in recovery … reading, writing. But I had my horses, and they saved my life,” she recalled.

Exploring the world of horses, she felt a solid connection and bond with these four-legged athletes that had been injured and simply let go. She felt that their experiences paralleled those of military men and women.

“An injured horse that has been a warrior and a soldier for their whole life that is now turned out … It directly relates to our wounded soldiers,” she said passionately.

“The parallel between the two is astounding, and very healing,” she added.

When military personnel meet the horses for the first time, the experience is all about connection.

“We let them stand in a pen with a group of horses,” Ells explained, “a horse will approach, and they kind of pick each other.”

Horses and people are very much alike. Both are smart and have minds of their own, can be stubborn and hard-headed, but can also be gentle and calm. It is in those commonalities that Ells has found the success in these programs.

“(They) learn to trust, to regain balance, and express emotion,” Ells said. “It creates a harmony in life.”

The interactions between human and horse are at the ground level. The participants are taught general equine etiquette from cleaning and grooming to chores. In the time spent together, walls break down and bonding begins, she said, and “a broken horse and a broken soldier heal together.”

Her passion and her drive show in every way how seriously she takes her job. Not only does she run multiple organizations, but she maintains her barns, does the dirty work at times, and must be her own vet at a moment’s notice.

The horses “touch a place in my soul that I cannot express in words,” Ells said.

To learn more about The Equine Sanctuary visit www.theequinesanctuary.org.

To learn more about Terra Ocean, visit www.terraoceana.com.