T ammy was sitting in my office for the first time. She was medium height and thin, but not too thin, and her skin was clear. Her casual clothing was designed neither to highlight nor conceal, and her dark brown ringlets were pulled back into a tight ponytail. Nothing about her screamed eating disorder, but Rabbi Eckstein had given me a brief history.

Tammy, 26, came from a traditional American family that had made aliyah when she was five. There was no major trauma or abuse in the family, but in sixth grade, her class shunned her — a complete cheirem. Extremely intelligent, organized, and logical, Tammy was a creature of habit. And herein lay the problem. Tammy had a “habit” of purging once a day, and she wanted to stop.

“The rabbi said to tell you I need ‘horseback riding plus,’ ” she began.

I smiled.

“What’s the plus?” she asked. “And why horses?”

“I’ll explain about the horses,” I said, “and lots of other things that’ll come up. But explanations won’t help much, you’ll understand after you’ve done them.” I briefly outlined the rationale behind the type of therapy we’d be doing.

“You’re right,” she said, “I don’t understand.”

“You will.”

She frowned. “You want me to commit to something without knowing how it works?”

“What are your other options?”

“None.” She sighed.

“Not true, there are always options. You can keep doing what you’ve been doing until now. You can try to stop on your own. You can see a social worker or psychologist. You can go to a clinic that deals with eating disorders.”

One by one, she discounted the options. “I can’t do what I’ve been doing till now, it’s sick, enough is enough. I’ve tried stopping on my own, and always start again within a week. My mother suggested Rabbi Eckstein, and he believes this will be more effective for me than standard therapy. And no way am I going to a clinic! I don’t have an eating disorder, I just throw up once a day.”

“So that leaves…”

“You,” Tammy said. “But to commit—”

“No commitment. Try it, see how it goes.”

“I’ll see a big change after one horseback-riding lesson?”

“I doubt it, but you’ll start to understand what kind of work we’ll be doing together. It’s not just a horseback-riding lesson, there’s more to it.”

Her mouth twitched. “That’s the ‘plus’?”

I chuckled. “You got it.”

Tammy drummed her fingers on the armrest. “How long till I see a change?”

“That depends on you,” I said, “but if you don’t see any difference in six weeks, you’ll know you’re barking up the wrong tree.”

Her eyes opened wide. “Six weeks? That’s it?”

I nodded.

She exhaled. “Fine. Six weeks. What do I need to do?”


For Tammy’s first lesson, I held Luna by a lunge rope to maintain control, and as the horse walked, I explained to Tammy how to sit properly, which she managed well. Then I upped the speed to a light jog.

Tammy’s feet shifted forward, causing her to bounce in the saddle, which prompted her to grab the saddle horn for stability.

“Let go of the horn,” I said. “Lean back a bit, relax your legs.”

“Can’t, too bouncy!” Tammy managed between bounces.

“Do the opposite of what your instincts tell you.”

She made a face. “Our instincts are there to keep us safe.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 565)