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The Washington State Horse Expo: Exhibitions, Living Art, and Therapy Sessions
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The Washington State Horse Expo: Exhibitions, Living Art, and Therapy Sessions

Clark County, with a horse population the size of a small city, hosted equine enthusiasts from all around the Pacific Northwest this weekend.

The Washington State Horse Expo took place Friday through Sunday at the Clark County Event Center. The expo included information booths, multiple corrals with shows, and various other horse-related exhibits.

Clark County seemed a fitting place for the event considering that it’s home to more than 30,000 horses, according to county Community Development.

Keith Thompson of Battle Ground owns five of them. Thompson, 63, stood at the Clark County Saddle Club booth Sunday, promoting the group’s upcoming nearly 300-square-foot arena.

Thompson has been riding his entire life, but he joined the club last year to spend time with his granddaughter, Mikinley, 7. She has two horses, Molly and Misty, and has ridden since she was 3 years old, which is just fine with her grandfather.

“Keeping them involved with horses keeps them from getting involved with other things,” Thompson said, referring to potential bad decisions children and teens may make.

On the other side of the arena, two Icelandic horses showed off various running styles. While trainers rode and controlled the equines, which are smaller and with thicker manes than most horses, a commentator explained the different styles over the loudspeaker.

One small corral allowed kids to place colored handprints on Pepa, a therapy horse that doubles as a living art project. The corral also featured Shelby, a horse dressed as a unicorn.

Perhaps the most niche booth at the expo belonged to Vonie Kalich of Vancouver. For four years, the life coach has operated A Tail of New Beginnings, featuring horse-based therapy sessions for people who have encountered emotional and physical trauma.

Kalich uses Gestalt therapy techniques, a form of psychotherapy that relies on the individual’s experience in the present to resolve past issues and often involves role-playing. Kalich allows participants to groom, train and pet her horses.

A friend introduced Kalich, 58, to the therapy as she grappled with a divorce. After spending years as a fitness trainer, she made a career switch.

“It was a natural progression from trainer to life coach because people would tell me about their problems all the time when I was their trainer,” Kalich said.

One woman Kalich worked with was disillusioned with her job at a pharmaceutical company at a time when her grandmother and brother-in-law had recently died. In a video of a therapy session, the woman attempts to teach a horse how to stand on a small platform.

“She was just trying to figure out what to do with her own life,” Kalich said. “But right then, she was helping a horse face its own obstacle.”

Kalich said the woman is doing better and found a new job with a marketing and advertising company.

“It helped her to understand a little bit about the losses in her life,” Kalich said.

While Kalich’s program is typically tailored for women, she once helped a man who recently endured a divorce, gained custody of his three children and lost his job in a short time span. When he started the therapy sessions, he was dating a woman who said she did not want to have kids, which put a strain on the relationship.

However, he eventually broke up with the woman and moved closer to the mother of his children, allowing them to see her more often. Now, the man has said he would like to become a life coach as well.

In a video of one of his sessions, a horse is seen licking the side of his face, making him laugh.

“He really just skyrocketed,” Kalich said.

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