Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Stockhands Horses for Healing: An Interview with Tim Funk


Stockhands Horses for Healing: An Interview with Tim Funk

by Gina McKnight
Archived from the April 2022 Issue of Florida Equine Athlete
No duplication without permission.

“A horse will tell you a lot about yourself if you listen.”

Facebook is a great tool for connecting people – and in this case horse people. I was out of town several weeks ago and noticed a man wearing a jacket with the Stockhands Horses for Healing logo on the back. I was in a hurry and didn’t have a chance to connect with the man, but I made a mental note of the logo. When I arrived home, I searched for the organization and found that I have a Facebook friend, Tim Funk, who is the founder of Stockhands Horses for Healing! Wow! I was excited. I reached out to Tim about his program. I have never met Tim in person, but he has invited me to his stables, which I hope to visit this summer.

Stockhands Horses for Healing is located in Delaware, Ohio. From their website: “Stockhands Horses for Healing is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization providing equine facilitated therapies to veterans, adults, and children with developmental, mental, physical, and emotional disabilities and challenges.

“Our mission is to facilitate a positive and non-judgmental environment for participants and their families. Stockhands is a place where human and animal relationships can flourish through effective and creative equine assisted therapy.”

Welcome, Tim!

GM: Tim, it is great to have you here. Thank you for connecting! I always begin with asking about horse history. When was your first encounter with a horse?

TF: My first encounter with horses was at a very young age. My grandparents had a couple of horses. Nothing really flashy, mainly pasture pets. They were my dad’s when he was younger. At the age of 13 I started working as a stall boy for a local breeder of Appaloosas. The job didn’t pay much but I gained some experience. After working there for about six months, I purchased a yearling mare from them and started the journey of horsemanship. I started her under saddle at the age of two. My father was able to help some with this - he was of the old school of cowboying them out. So I made a ton of mistakes along the way. She did turn out to be a decent trail horse. I never took any formal lessons and was pretty much a passenger until later in life when I relearned basic riding and training. My grandfather taught me how to do a basic trim as well. I got way from horses for a while and enlisted in the United States Marine Corp (1991-1996). During this time I had an opportunity to go to the Marine Corp Mountain Warfare Training Grounds in Bridgeport, California. There I was reintroduce to horses and mules. I took a packing course and learned how to pack and negotiate terrain with mules. I decided at this time that I wanted to be a farrier when I got out of the Marine Corp. When I got out, I was slated to go to the Kentucky School of Horseshoeing, but life changed plans and I had to get full-time employment rather quickly because my wife announced we were expecting out first child. So horses were put on hold again.

GM: Thank you for your service. You certainly have an interesting background with horses! How did Stockhands Horses for Healing begin?

TF: I struggled with alcohol after getting out of the Marine Corp and was without horses for a lot of years. So I decided to get back to my roots so to speak. I purchased a 13yr old Appendix Quarter Horse. Where again I had to relearn what I thought I knew about riding. I eventually purchased three more horses and my family of four started trail riding.

A friend of the family reached out to us and asked if she could bring her 12-year-old Autistic son out to ride one of our horses. Naturally I said yes, she then told me that he was nonverbal and didn’t want to be touched. So I picked out the best horse we had, a 4-year-old spotted saddle horse that I started the right way. This mare was quiet and very willing to please. The day came for the young man to come out and ride. My daughter had taken that horse to trail ride that day. The only horse I had available was the grumpy Appendix Quarter Horse. You had to be an experienced rider on him. He didn’t like to stand still and would crow hop, pop up in front every time; just full of energy and ready to go. I rode him before the young man showed up and  it wasn’t a great ride… The young man arrived and came into our small front pasture. He came over to where I had a mounting block and climbed right on the horse. The first thing I noticed was the horse’s demeanor totally changed. We stepped away from the block and he hung his head like an old peanut roller show horse. Every time the young man would shift his weight in the saddle, the horse would stop and turn his head back to look at him. We walked around for about ten minutes like this. My first thought that there was something wrong with the horse. I asked the young man if he was done and he shook his head, “Yes.”  He popped off the horse and landed on his feet, then his butt, and got back to his feet. At this time my daughter showed up and came and retrieved the horse. As soon as they were away from us, the horse went back to his normal high energy prancing self.

Me and the young man started to walk back to the pasture gate, about 40 yards away. He reached over and took my hand and held it till we got to the gate. His mother was there waiting for us with tears in her eyes. I assured her he was fine, me thinking she was upset because of his not so graceful dismount. So as I have learned, when women cry it is generally my fault so I made a haste exit. It wasn’t till later that night that I learned that he doesn’t hold his mother’s hand or his father’s or anyone’s.

After that I started to do some research on equine therapeutic riding and contacted another friend whose nephew was autistic and wanted to see if I could recreate the first experience with the same horse. This young man was four-years-old. The same changes happened with the horse and same change with the new rider. This is when I decided to Open Stockhands. I found a certified instructor and a facility to lease with an indoor arena. We opened our doors in July of 2014. Since then I went through the process of becoming a PATH  certified instructor. Currently we have five certified instructors and service 80 participants a week

GM: You offer many wonderful programs that connect horses with people; at risk youth, veterans and first responders, reading with horses, and much more. All of the programs sound intriguing. How can people enroll for a program?

TF: those who want to join one of our programs can reach us through our website or email me

GM: Do participants choose a horse? Or do you assign horses to individuals?

TF: Depending on the program. We try our best to match participants with an equine partner that will best suit their needs. Some riders may need a more forward moving horse to help with stemming or to build more core strength. Or riders may need a stouter slow-moving horse to be able to better support the rider. Programs that have the mental health aspect to them, the rider or participant generally connects with a horse while touring the stables.

GM: Tell us about your horses. How do you acquire them, how many do you stable, and what are the requirements for being a Stockhands horse?

TF: Currently we have 30 equine partners, they range from minis to a 17.3 draft horse. In the beginning most of our horses where donated. This came with problems - everyone has the perfect therapy horse and would like to donate, most are up there in age and come with various lameness issues. We except horse donations but they have to be between 4-18, sound, and be able to drive, walk, trot, and canter. They go through a very stringent evaluation period before they are allowed into the program. Not every horse can do this job. They must be calm and understanding of what is being asked of them and it can be a lot at times. We are not only asking our equine partners to carry us around an arena. We are also asking them to carry our trauma and or emotional baggage.

GM: Describe a typical day in your life with horses...

TF: As anyone with horses knows it is not a 9-5 type of job. There is always something to be done from cleaning stalls, feeding, lessons, stalls again. My role is program director, instructor, and barn manger. I teach on Monday and Thursday evenings. I love to watch the growth in our participants - from them learning to be a little more independent to saying their first words on the back of their equine partner. Believe it or not, I find great joy in cleaning stalls. I get to visit with each horse and relax and reflect on our progress, it is my own Zen Garden and I have sense of accomplishment after each stall. My favorite time of the day is morning walks into the barn; the smell of hay and saw dust, hearing the horses nicker when they hear the door open.

GM: Sounds wonderful. You are helping others while fulfilling your own purpose. What is the most important aspect of being with horses that people should know?

TF: Horses live in the now. For the most part, they are reactive verses proactive. They are not hanging on to their past or preparing for their future. A horse will tell you a lot about yourself if you listen. Horses will reflect what we are feeling - if I am anxious or nervous, they will be anxious or nervous. We are a part of their herd by default when we are working with them.

GM: What advice do you have for novice riders looking to find their first horse?

TF: The best advice I can give a new horse owner before buying is to take lessons and work with a riding program (stalls, feeding, etc.). Know exactly what you are getting into. Ride as many different types of horses possible and as many different types of disciplines. Talk and learn from everyone in the industry. You can never know enough. Constantly learn and keep an open mind.

GM: What does horsemanship mean to you?

TF: Over the years my answer to this constantly evolves. In the beginning, it was about controlling the horse and getting them to do what I wanted. Now it is more of learning to partner with them, understanding how we can support one another. Riding as one and not trying to figure out who is in control.

Connect with Tim… 

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