Where are they now? The Great Escape

The Flying Change Therapy Herd caused quite the scene one August morning in Tyrone, parading down the median on Ga. Hwy 74 with a trail of onlookers and first responders. Perhaps they felt they weren’t getting enough attention?

The grass was possibly greener on the other side of the road?

Or maybe they just needed a little adventure…

Adventure is right, says Lissa Corcoran, the owner of the herd and founder of Flying Change Equine Therapy. “The irony that I run a mental health program, with these horses that are driving me completely insane, is not lost on me,” she laughs, after confessing to binging on Oreos and breathing into a paper bag for an hour after their retrieval.

The non-profit, founded in 1996, has recently begun pasturing its horses in a 15-acre spread in Tyrone (the scene of the crime) for “vacation time” from working at the barn. Thanks to a storm and a fallen tree, the herd was “living like the fence is broken!”

Since Lissa and the herd were last featured in Fayette Woman (Oct. 2009), her continuum of services has broadened. Where the foundation began by assisting clients who needed traditional psychotherapy, they have expanded to personal coaching and group therapy, dealing with self-confidence and major life changes, she says.

The horses that Lissa rescues as babies are partnered with clients healing from trauma who help raise them as part of their counseling. Clients are often partnered with both a certified therapist and an equine specialist during a course of treatment.

Soon, Flying Change will be starting a new program called Riding Strong for young women in middle school and early high school. “It’s kind of our response to the ‘Me Too’ movement,” says Lissa, “to help young women to become confident and find their voice, and really be empowered. Horses have such a natural capacity to teach that. Any time you’re working with a 1,000-pound animal, you have to learn a lot of life skills in that process. You’re learning how to be self-confident, but also be respectful of their size and know how to watch out for yourself. You’re learning how to communicate and how to set boundaries, but in a way that still supports the relationship and is kind.”

Lissa says that because of COVID-19, Flying Change has had a surge in requests for therapy services. There are those who have been referred from drug court who are isolated at home and trying not to use, or clients from family and domestic violence court who are stuck at home with relatives who are under an unprecedented amount of stress. She’s also getting a lot of requests for family therapy and couples counseling, and many parents needing help with the anxiety of kids and not really knowing what to prepare them for during this time.

The Flying Change herd currently consists of 25 horses that are rotated out, between barn and pasture, to work with clients. Fortunately, being out in the open air of the pasture, or spread out in the barnyard, social distancing during equine therapy has not been an issue.

Lissa has certainly dealt with her fair share of troublemakers since starting the non-profit—horses, not clients. In addition to the nine involved in the great escape of summer 2020, there have been others who gave her a reason to pull her hair out.

When she bought the farm, it came with Monty, a strategic mastermind. Lissa decorated her new barn beautifully, but Monty had other plans, she says. He didn’t seem to like her new decor and let himself out of his stall to destroy her space. “He trashed it like Aerosmith in a hotel room,” she says. “Knocked over the furniture, emptied the garbage cans, trashed the potted plants, …complete destruction.” And no matter what she rigged up to keep him in his stall, he found a way around it.

“Monty is actually the reason we have a security system in the barn,” she laughs. “Not because I’m afraid we’ll be robbed but because I like to be able to get on my iPhone to see what he’s doing.”

On another occasion, Monty went missing for five days. There was concern that the 30-year-old had gone deaf or just couldn’t find his way back, so Lissa enlisted a team of drone flyers to search the area. They found him well-hidden in the woods of the very pasture they thought he’d escaped. (After that stunt, Lissa sewed jingle bells into his mane to keep track of him.)

Lissa says that over time they’ve discovered the fence of the Tyrone pasture they took over is “held together by thoughts and prayers,” but luckily, most of her horses came so young that she bottle fed them, and they come running when they see “Mom.” On a positive note, the equine escapade brought some needed attention to the herd, and Lissa has received many offers of assistance from the community, from donated T-posts and fence gates to people willing to volunteer their time to be on watch or build fences.

And as long as everyone stays put and doesn’t get stuck in traffic again, Flying Change will be starting up their group therapy program again in September and is planning to have some retreats this fall as well. Learn more about Flying Change by visiting their website: http://flyingchange.org/