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Sandie walking with her horse, Bird. (Photograph by Shannon Switzer)

The Horse Healer in Arizona

The word “energy” has been popping up a lot along the Road to Wellness so far. And my adventure in Scottsdale was no exception.

I would be learning about Reiki, the technique of directing “universal energy” through the hands to promote healing. But there’s a twist. My instructor would be showing me how to practice Reiki…on horses.

I’d found Sandie Miller through Camelot Therapeutic Horsemanship, where she teaches a clinic. When I arrived, I noticed it was different from most therapeutic riding centers I’d seen, where riders were usually led around an arena. No one was leading these kids, and they were wearing ear-to-ear grins.

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Sandie demonstrating how to sense Rosie’s energy field. (Photograph by Shannon Switzer)

When Eileen Szychowski founded the organization 30 years ago, she vowed to keep the services free. And it’s a promise she’s managed to make good on thanks to a team of more than 40 dedicated volunteers.

After taking a quick tour of Camelot’s facilities, Sandie and I made our way to Santolina Farm, where she usually practices. As we walked, she gave me a primer on energy work. “It’s the same idea whether you’re doing it with people, dogs, or in this case horses,” she said.

Sandie explained that she pairs other techniques that borrow from Chinese and Indian traditions with Reiki — along with a healthy dose of her own intuition.

But when she mentioned that there was a way to scientifically prove that “thoughts can be measured as energy and that energy has the ability to manipulate energy,” my ears perked up.

I’d been trying to keep an open mind about all the energy talk I’d encountered so far, but found the abstract concepts difficult to grasp or even believe at times. So a reference to the scientific method struck a chord.

A long-lost thought from college physics resurfaced: If energy can be studied and measured, why does is it sound so fluffy when we speak of it flowing or transferring through touch?

I’d never been able to answer the question to my satisfaction, and Sandie kept things moving forward by posing another question. If, as Sandie claims, she can manipulate her thoughts to impact other beings, that leads to the question of “How do I want to use that power?” “It’s a big question — a big responsibility,” she said.

With that, she hovered her hands above my outstretched palms and asked me to close my eyes and move my hands toward hers until I felt something.

The first thing I perceived was heat. We repeated this several times, and each time I was able to sense this heat a little farther from her hands. After I’d refined my energy sensor, Sandie had me do the same thing with the horses. I hovered my palms over each horse’s body and stopped when I felt something. For each one (Raisa, Bird, and Rosie), I stopped at a different distance. Sandie explained that this was because they each had their own unique energy field. “Some horses’ energy radiates out for quite a ways and others’ not as much,” she said.

Finally, she told me to stand about seven feet from each horse and just listen. “You have to be aware of all your senses when you do this,” she instructed.

I felt completely foolish standing there staring at Rosie as if I was waiting for her to start talking to me, but after a few minutes, I relaxed. That’s when the thought popped into my head: She’d had major trauma to her hind legs, and had felt frustrated for a long time.

When I shared this with Sandie, she confirmed that the mare had come to Santolina with one leg nearly severed after a costly encounter with a barbed wire fence. She had shown signs of restlessness during her recuperation period — until Sandie moved her to pasture and began using her as a therapy horse for clients.

Next, I stood in front of Raisa and felt the same self-conscious silliness. But this time, the thought came more quickly: She was the matriarch and boss lady, and had once lost a foal. I shared it with Sandie. “Hmmm. Well, that could be. We haven’t had Raisa her whole life,” she said. “Did you get anything else?” I hadn’t.

To end the session, Sandie demonstrated how she channels her good energy and healing thoughts to the animals. She put her hands on both of Rosie’s hips and said: “I let her tell me when she’s had enough. If she’s fidgety and starts moving around, we’re done.”

I watched as Rosie visibly relaxed and lowered her head in response to Sandie’s touch. “I might never be able to prove that this does any good — and we still treat the horses with Western medicine when they need it — but I figure in the end it definitely can’t hurt,” she said.

A few days later, I got an e-mail from Sandie saying that she’d asked her sister if she was aware of Raisa’s ever having lost a foal. “Oh, yeah, she aborted a foal between 7 and 8 months into the pregnancy right before she came to Santolina,” her sister had responded.

Sandie signed off with “Interesting, isn’t it?”

Yes, interesting was the perfect word.

Shannon is driving a Ford C-MAX Hybrid on her Road to Wellness tour. Follow the Curious Traveler’s adventures on Twitter @CuriousTraveler and on Instagram @ShannonSwitzer.