Olin: Building Bonds, healing others
A loud clip-clop from Olin's hooves on the pavement echoed through the barn as he sauntered outside toward his pen.
"You know what you're going to get with Olin," Mackenzie Johnson said. "He's really become a staple in our herd."
Johnson is an equine coordinator at Forward Stride, a center in Beaverton striving to improve lives through activities and therapies that involve clients interacting with horses.
Johnson said it was an exciting day in 2017 when Forward Stride heard they would receive one of the eight horses that formerly made up the Portland Police Mounted Patrol Unit.
"It was an emotional day, I think, for the police officers who brought him," she said. "I think that was really hard on them but also just so exciting for us, so it was really bittersweet."
Since Olin joined Forward Stride, Johnson said they've been able to serve and treat more people. "We've just been able to expand the clients that we see because we are able to take a heavier weight than some of our other horses," she said.
Forward Stride's programs consist of rehabilitation services, equine-facilitated psychotherapy, equine-facilitated learning, a vaulting program, a carriage driving program and a riding program.
Olin is involved in the organization's riding program, the equine-facilitated learning, a Women's Trauma recovery group and the equine-facilitated psychotherapy.
Johnson said equine therapy has always been her personal form of treatment because it makes her happy, and now Olin is a part of that. During psychotherapy sessions, Olin develops bonds with people and leads them through their personal barriers.
"Walking over a pole can signify getting over something or pushing past or through," Johnson said. "It's those little things that kind of signify the big things. Being able to do it with a horse, I think, gives them that feeling of not being alone, or having someone with them, or to even help push them through it. They have to be strong in order to bring the horse with them."
She said the horses often take on new personalities to help people overcome things, too.
"If they know that you need just a rock or someone to listen to them they kind of transform into that," Johnson said. "They also can be good mirrors to mirror how you're feeling."
She said Olin is always a "calming force," for clients.
With 35 other horses in the organization, Olin has plenty of friends and people who love him. Yet he has his own little friend group, too, like Mr. P, with whom he shares a pen.
"They play around, they're kind of the two old men," Johnson said. "They kinda hang out but then they have their days where they run around like the young 'ens."
Olin playfully bumped Mr. P, nipped him then scampered away, excitedly. "He's going to tell Mr. P what is up," Johnson said, laughing. "You know, he also can be that boss man when he needs to be."
In the pen next door, Olin nickers at Luxi and Lenna, two mares he often plays with from over the fence. The clique is always "being all silly," Johnson said.
But Olin also has a deep relationship with clients.
"He definitely has his people here," Johnson said. "You hear them in the parking lot like 'Oh, I get to see Olin' or ' Is Olin ready for me?' It's those little things that add up."
She said he is in twice-weekly psychotherapy sessions and has two riders who also see him weekly.
"He's just as excited to see them," she said.
Johnson has been with Forward Stride for 14 years and said Olin is a greeter, nickering at Johnson when he sees her and using his big brown eyes for attention. "He's just so cute; his own special kind of cute," she said.
She said his presence at Forward Stride has helped the organization and they are pleased to have his experience and lovable qualities on their team.
"Sometimes people have this notion that horses are so big and scary. He's big, but he's so safe and so easy to approach," Johnson said. "It's nice to have those horses that you know are just going to be OK with anything and be happy about it. I think he really loves his job, he doesn't really ever have a moody or angry day and it's nice to have that consistency."