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Horseplay that heals

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times

Dr. Allan Hamilton is featured in the documentary "Playing with Magic," showing tonight at the Third Street Center in Carbondale. The film, by Carbondale's Wayne Ewing, is based on Hamilton's book, "Zen Mind, Zen Horse." Mark Braun

As a kid, Wayne Ewing had a powerful attraction to horses. He couldn’t quite explain why at the time, but it was potent enough that he made an unusual request of his parents.

“I begged them to send me to military school so I could be in the cavalry with horses,” said Ewing, a 64-year-old Carbondale resident. “It was just instinctual. I knew I wanted to be with them.” Ewing was sent to the Culver Military Academy, where he happily learned trick riding, horseback gymnastics and polo with the Black Horse Troop, a collection of 164 animals. Ewing’s fascination lasted two and a half years — until he saw Ann-Margret in “Bye Bye Birdie,” and had his 15-year-old mind turned toward other interests.

Ewing took up polo again 15 years ago, which reignited his relationship with horses. But it wasn’t till early in 2012, when he read “Zen Mind, Zen Horse,” by the neurosurgeon Dr. Allan Hamilton, that Ewing got some real insight into why he was so drawn to horses. In his book, Hamilton argues that horses are highly empathic and sensitive creatures, and that humans, when interacting with horses, are thus made to look closely at their own inner workings.

“The light bulb went off, why it was so important for me to be with them,” Ewing said from Crawford, where he was training two colts to be polo ponies. “It’s an energetic connection. Language means nothing to a horse. But they feel energies and intentions, so it’s an exercise in getting to know your intentions, a great exercise for the mind. They’re really showing you who you are.”

Ewing is a filmmaker, best known locally for a pair of films he made about the late Hunter S. Thompson, “Breakfast with Hunter” and “When I Die.” As it happened, Hamilton, who lives in Arizona, was in the Roaring Fork Valley shortly after Ewing read “Zen Mind, Zen Horse.” In March of 2012, two months after reading the book, Ewing began making a film about horses.

“Playing with Magic” has its Colorado premiere tonight, at 7 p.m., at the Third Street Center in Carbondale. The screening is a benefit for Sopris Therapy Services, a local organization that uses horses to help physically and mentally challenged youth.

“Playing with Magic” centers in part on two cancer patients who work with Hamilton and his horses. Ewing says that people suffering from a variety of illnesses can benefit from contact with horses.

People with autism are calmed by the motion of horseback riding; being on a horse satisfies their need for repetitive motion. The 2009 film “Horse Boy” showed the dramatic effect horses had on an autistic child.

With those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Ewing says “they get the ability to trust again. That’s what they’ve lost. If they can learn to trust a 1,200-pound animal and see the horse trusts them, that’s their start.”

“Playing with Magic,” which premiered in March at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival in central California — “the epicenter of gentle horsemanship,” according to Ewing — also features Monty Roberts, author of the best-seller “The Man Who Listens to Horses.” The film ends at the Extreme Mustang Makeover in Fort Collins, where trainers compete with horses who have been rescued from the wild and saved from being slaughtered.

“I hoped to make a film that would start by showing how horses save people, and then end with people saving horses,” Ewing said.

DVD copies of “Playing with Magic” are available through playingwithmagic.com.


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