An anorexic teen and a horse named "Spirit," who had been starved, found common ground at the Brown Ranch a few miles from Blackhawk. Melissa Caplan Austin, of Danville, is founder and president of Horses Healing Hearts, a community-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity located at the ranch, whose mission is to provide assistance to equines in need and educate the community about the value, benefits and life-changing gifts that horses can provide humans.

The teen had seen various types of health practitioners, including a nutritionist, psychologist and psychiatrist, but no treatments had helped with her eating disorder. Her mother turned to Austin, a certified Equine Guided Educator, for help.

"Spirit was the first horse she saw," Austin told me. "You could see all of his bones. For her, there was nothing I could say beyond her seeing the horse. He helped her see something she wasn't seeing till then. If kids are suppressing emotional baggage, the horses sense it."

Equine Guided Education provides an opportunity to interact and communicate with horses (without riding them).

"Horses can provide immediate expanded awareness and emotional, physical and spiritual benefits to people of all ages," Austin said. "For many healing arts and therapeutic practitioners, EGE brings an additional level of depth to the work they are doing with their clients."


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Spirit, a five-year-old thoroughbred gelding, is a great-great-grandson of Secretariat, one of the greatest racehorses of all time and winner of the Triple Crown in 1973. Racing as "Lichtenstein" at Golden Gate Fields in 2011, he suffered a foot injury (a common break for racehorses) Austin said. Despite winning the race, she said he was bandaged up and trucked to an auction house. What transpired thereafter remains clouded in mystery, but it's apparent that he was not treated well over the next couple of years. Austin said she rescued him on Dec. 31 from pasture land in Castro Valley where no one lived. He'd evidently been left without food for multiple weeks and had lost 450 pounds (she said his healthy weight should be about 1,100 pounds). Austin, who just received his racing papers from the Jockey Club a week ago, said she changed his name from Lichtenstein to Spirit because he embodies the spirit of Secretariat.

Spirit is still in rehabilitation and needs another year to heal, but in the meantime he's been certified as an EGE horse and is serving as a "spiritual ambassador" for Horses Healing Hearts, or 3H, as Austin calls it. He is joined at the ranch by Penny, a miniature "ambassador" horse, and two horses, Bien Amour (Big B) and Dixie, who are available for adoption.

3H also offers temporary assistance for horse owners in need. Donations and in-kind contributions are sought for Wish List items, including grass hay, alfalfa, vet care checkups, farrier treatments, halters, lead ropes, saddles and tack and larger items such as a small mobile home for an office, a shed storage unit for feed, sanctuary land (for retired horses) and more. Austin said they are in the process of building a barn for the rescue facility and need funds for its completion as well. Austin was born and raised in Livermore. She and her husband, Mike, moved to Danville about 12 years ago. They have a 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son.

A special introduction to EGE is being offered from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at the Brown Ranch, 7101 Camino Tassajara in Pleasanton, to teach firsthand about the program. A $75 donation is requested. Other EGE sessions are available by appointment only. For further information, contact Austin at Melissa@horseshealingheartsinc.org or call 415-260-2232.

Contact Georgia Lambert at arounddanville@yahoo.com.