|The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.
Phillip Whiteman Jr., right, and his partner, Lynette Two Bulls, teach natural horsemanship based on the medicine wheel concept. PHOTO COURTESY/PHILLIP WHITEMAN JR.
Medicine wheel model for horsemanship attracts wide range of followers
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor
RAPID CITY — More and more people are adopting the Medicine Wheel Model to Natural Horsemanship, not only for equestrian proficiency but also to achieve mental and physical health improvements, practitioners revealed during an event at the civic center and fairgrounds Oct. 4-5.
The model, developed by Northern Cheyenne Phillip Whiteman Jr. and Oglala Lakota Lynette Two Bulls, of Lame Deer, Mont., was the centerpiece of the Fourth Annual Healing the Sacred Child Through the Spirit of the Horse conference.
“We use horses to connect to the human spirit, to heal the children,” Whiteman told Native Sun News. “It’s growing, it’s a movement.”
“We take this model and it teaches philosophical values we can use in our life,” Two Bulls said. “It uses right-brain circular thinking for reconnecting to the spirit, place of origin and values that our ancestors lived by.”
Whiteman demonstrated the model with a horse in the arena, explaining how each one of the quarters of a horse corresponds to a quadrant of the medicine wheel, sacred symbol of the circle of life “where we are all connected – man, animal and all living things,” as he puts it.
A former champion saddle bronc rider, Whiteman has abandoned the use of power tactics in horse handling, shunning manipulation of the predator-prey relationship. He stresses instead the importance of fostering a reciprocal relationship between human and horse.
Two Bulls’ daughter Kyla, who Whiteman helped raise from the age of six, used the model for a high school science project that made her the first Native American in Montana to take the top prize in the state science fair. She also won the National American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) Fair in Albuquerque, N.M.
Her project “The Blood Sugar Chemistry in Horses” compared the effect of diet and exercise on two pairs of horses. One pair consisted of the grass-fed horses of an Amish community, who were exercised pulling a buggy on a 40-mile daily round trip to Ashland. The other pair was her school’s horses, who were grain-fed and not exercised, she explained at the conference.
From the higher glucose levels in the latter group, she concluded that their bodies could not utilize the comparatively larger starch amounts in grain, especially without exercise. From that she went on to draw a comparison:
“I always had a love for horses and my parents started the process of developing the medicine wheel model. One of the main ideas is the concept of how Native people and horses mirror each other,” she said.
“Our lifestyles have changed with our horses, we once lived off the land, natural, like our horses. Once the government came, we started to rely on rations; our horses were no longer needed to hunt. Our horses developed colic and much more. Our people developed diabetes.”
Stretching the mirror concept further, she used it to argue a point for good nutrition. “Even though we should exercise and feed our horses right, we need to improve our own health first, before setting foot near a horse,” she said.
Social workers across the country involved in foster care training, alcohol and substance abuse recovery, mental and behavioral health therapy and juvenile rehabilitation programs are putting the medicine wheel horsemanship model to the test.
“Our medicine wheel family is growing,” Lynette Two Bulls commented. She said 35 social workers in government institutions are involved, many of whom were among the approximately 100 people attending the conference.
The Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board has begun to accept horse therapy in several grant-supported program areas, according to psychologist Jessica White Plume, a native of Manderson, on the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota, who lives in the Mandan Hidatsa & Arikara Nation located in North Dakota.
“The health board has really gone out of their way,” she said. “Tribal leaders have said, ‘We believe when people connect with the horse and the land, this is health’.”
A doctor in clinical psychology with a specialty in mental health, White Plume confirmed that horse therapy is becoming popular worldwide.
“We are part of a new era,” she said. “People are ready to support us if we can come out of the box and say what we believe.”
However, she said, she doesn’t really consider it to be horse therapy. “I don’t call it that; I call it horse wellness treatment,” she told conference-goers.
“We teach how to reach out to nature and to the horse to make a lifestyle change. People in treatment who are able to just have families come out and ride, that is mental health,” she said. “Being with horses touches them in a different way; it reminds them of deep truths of the universe they have within themselves,” she added.
Conference keynote speaker Roy Shelton, an ordained minister from Detroit, told Native Sun he took part in the conference because the medicine wheel horsemanship model is “similar and directly related” to his own professional work training teachers both on- and off-reservation to coach right-brain thinkers in their classrooms.
About 20 percent of students are right-brain, or circular, thinkers. They struggle both in school and outside because standard teaching is left-brain oriented, or linear. Among them are geniuses and successful public figures, including Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy and Michael Jordan, he said.
“The medicine wheel model is a way of teaching that we are spiritually connected, we need each other and depend upon each other,” he added.
The model made the headlines in the glossy, national Cowboys & Indians magazine this April. It drew television journalist Jim Thompson to interview Whiteman for the Blue Highways show. The American Paint Horse Association’s magazine had an article in its winter edition about Whiteman blessing the world equestrian games.
An introduction to the model is available on DVD at www.medicinewheelmodel.com. It is intended to be the first in a series of training lessons. Western Sky Media Inc. of Spearfish recorded and edited the production with support from First Peoples Fund.
(Contact Talli Nauman at email@example.com)