On Therapy and Rescue

Wilderwood Equine Therapy and Rescue.

There’s a lot to that name. And, we’d like to take a moment to unpack it.

Wilderwood (waɪldərwʊd) comes from the name of our location, on Wildwood Lane. It is, therefore, pronounced wild-er-wood (not will-der-wood) as in a “wood that is wilder,” moreso than just ordinarily wild. It’s a play on words that captures not only a lighter side of us, one that enjoys word play and linguistic variance, but also reflects the deep love we have for this peaceful sanctuary we call our home.

Then there is the concept of Therapy and Rescue. What sort of therapy do we do? And what do we rescue? Of course, the word “equine” is prominent and our work naturally involves the magnificent horse. And yes, we do rescue horses – or, at least at this writing, one horse. Odie’s rescue story is outlined in other places, so we won’t repeat it here. What we will say is that whatever horse comes to Wilderwood is with us for life, and so our turnover is not very high.

We also see the word “rescue” as applying to people, too. All of us, no matter who we are, at some point in our lives will need some kind of help. For the very fortunate among us, this help may end after the helplessness of infancy. For many, the need for support is intermittent and fleeting, and yet for others it may last throughout a lifetime.

The precise support each of us needs depends on life events, circumstance, our personal history, physical and mental aptitude, ideals, beliefs, and hopes.  Because of this, we believe that the best and most potent predictor of successful therapy is the degree of connection between the recipient’s needs and what a particular therapist can provide.

The needs of those who seek therapy is a mosaic – though it could also be seen as a frenetic maelstrom – that has been cultivated by and culminates in lived experiences tempered by individual personality and different (dis)abilities.  Who is best to help with those needs? Who has the credentials, licensure, and qualifications? Perhaps the question is better posed to the recipient of the therapy who, faced with an array of choices, can weigh his or her needs with an educated understanding of what is being offered.

That brings us to the concept of “therapy.” This word is mired in a lot of ideological and cognitive weight. Put another way, there’s a lot of talk about “therapy” and who, what, and how is credentialed, licensed, qualified, or honored to provide it. In relation to equine therapy, there are those who claim it properly resides in the world of occupational, speech/language, or physical therapists, along with equine specialists, therapists, or teachers, medical practitioners such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and osteopaths, and other medical or mental health providers such as social workers, counselors, and clinicians.

We would say there’s a group that’s often left out of this list, and that is the horses themselves.

The truth is, it belongs to all of us. Those who perform therapy and enact a positive change in the recipient of that therapy, is by nature providing therapeutic benefit. The question becomes one of a person finding the best possible therapeutic environment for what he or she needs.

At Wilderwood, we have chosen to develop our therapeutic practices to best meet the needs of autistic adults and the horses we love. The qualifications of those who have developed the curriculum is grounded in multi-disciplinary theory and practice, including the fields of cognitive linguistics (itself a multi-disciplinary field blending psychology, philosophy, and linguistics); osteopathic medicine (particularly the biopsychosocial component of osteopathy); education (both andragogy and pedagogy); equine training and riding; psychology; philosophy; and – critically – autistic adults themselves.

Like any therapeutic intervention, our program is not for everyone. Despite our multi-disciplinary approach and the fact that Wilderwood is potentially open to anyone who wishes to apply, the recipient we have in mind is quite specific and focused: the two-thirds of autistic adults without intellectual disability who have been unheard and unassisted for years. This is their time and their place. The blending of philosophies of mind and body, along with the combined years of experience with teaching, medical, and equine practice has resulted in a program uniquely cast to offer therapy and rescue to those who wish to seek it from us.

Rebecca Evanko, B.A., M.A., Ph.D
Mark Evanko, B.Sc., D.O

For those who are interested in the theory behind the development of Wilderwood’s program, here is a list of some of the theorists and practitioners who have informed our work.

Tony AttwoodMichel FoucaultMichael Polanyi
Mikhail BakhtinPaulo FreireDiane Ravitch
Trudy BantaSigmund FreudMonty Roberts
Roland BarthesHenry GirouxEdward Said
Stephen BrookfieldEdmund HusserlRoger Simon
Noam ChomskyRoss JacobsEdward Soja
Catherine CromptonCarl JungA.T. Still
Jacques DerridaTania MarshallLev Vygotsky
John DeweyJean PiagetSharon Wilsie

Raised Gardens Volunteer Day!

Raised Gardens Volunteer Day!

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! — to our WONDERFUL volunteers at Wilderwood’s recent Volunteer Day to Build the Raised Gardens! By name, we’d especially like to thank Jayme, Joe, and Lee Anne.

Thank you also to RockIt Stonescapes in Peralta for much appreciated discount and help with the gravel and your expert delivery! Thanks for your continued support of Wilderwood and belief in our mission.

Thank you, too, for those who signed up as interested, but were unable to come on the day. We didn’t quite get finished what we’d planned, so may be having another day soon to finish off. We’re getting so close now to opening for the pilot it’s very exciting! … but there are still some things to be done.

The Raised Gardens are an important part of Wilderwood’s curriculum, particularly the Preceptorship. We’re so excited to see another vision and dream become a reality!

For now, here’s to another successful Volunteer Day and our heartfelt thanks to our amazing volunteers. Here are some pictures to show the “Before” and “After” of the Raised Gardens.

Before and After images of the Raised Gardens

Hautism: the Parallel World of Horses and Autism

Hautism: the Parallel World of Horses and Autism


“Horses were basically my salvation. If I hadn’t been able to go down to the horse barn and take care of the horses and clean the stalls … I would have just been miserable.”

~ Temple Grandin ~

My name is Bec Evanko. I write this as an autistic horsewoman, a Ph.D, a small and fragile soul, someone who, through a combination of luck and tenacity, somehow made it despite incredible odds against it, and someone who is forever grateful to the magnificent horses who were with me on this journey.

Horses are a lot like autistic people.

We are prey animals. In many ways we are gullible, naïve, open to literal interpretation, liable to be wary and learn our lessons well when we are hurt or frightened. We can be flighty and afraid of things for reasons that neurotypical people find hard to fathom.

But when we trust and learn to love, we are fiercely loyal, devoted, and dependable, willing and wanting to please, and also happy to be left to our own devices without the constant need for human company. 

We recognize and respond to kindness.

We fear and flee from that which we do not understand. We learn our lessons through repetition and reward. We seek reassurance and comfort. We find solace in our own kind (autistics with autistics; horses with horses) and find incomprehensible much of the neurotypical human world.

Whether (horse) grazing on grass in pasture or (human) working diligently at a computer on a given task, we can focus for hours and do not wish to be interrupted in our pursuit.

We need familiarity before accepting the new.

We do movements for our own understanding and comfort that you do not understand and sometimes strive to curtail.

We need to build trust before permitting you into our world.

VIV P&L WITH FRAME