Our dear friend and colleague Ann Kern-Godal died tragically after being hit by a car while on her favourite walk near their French holiday home in Mourex, France. Her funeral was held in France, and her wish to have her ashes dispersed over a beloved mountain in France was granted. A memorial service was later held in Oslo, Norway, with colleagues, friends and family flying in from all corners of the world. The turnout at the service, and the speeches held, tell of a woman dedicated to her work, to local and global health challenges and policies, her passion for bettering the living conditions for all human beings, and of her special interest and caring attitude for people leading less fortunate lives than herself. The generosity offered from her and her husband to people in need are telling.
Ann was born in Australia, as the second child of nine. She was early on very determined and dedicated in whatever task she took on, and was one of few women entering into politics on a high-ranking level in Australia. Her skills and keen interest soon brought her to Switzerland, Europe and The World Health Organisation in Geneva, where she met her husband Tore Godal. Ann worked closed with Gro Harlem Brundtland, executive at WHO and former prime minister in Norway. Ann was both a global citizen, and a down to earth person, residing in Norway with her husband Tore, with whom she had worked in WHO on global health issues and the global vaccination GAVI programs. In the wake of the 2001 terror attack at the Twin Towers in New York, Ann decided to resign her job as a senior executive director at WHO and realise her dreams of working with horses. From her childhood in Australia, Ann had gained a genuine love for horses, and at an early stage she realized the effect a horse may have on human beings. She was particularly engaged in riding for the disabled, and in how horses might be used in therapy.
Ann embarked on her late life horsey journey from Geneva, starting as a volunteer at the Anima stables (see link below) and at different equestrian championships. When the Godal couple moved to Norway in 2005, she soon volunteered at two different hospitals using horses in therapy for people suffering from trauma, mental health problems or addiction disorders. This eventually led her into research and the fulfilling of a PhD dissertation on horse assisted therapy in addiction treatment. Ann also put a lot of energy into riding for the disabled and para-equestrian championships.
Ann was a global person and extremely good at thinking BIG or to see potential or possibilities rather than limitations and threats. The European Para-equestrian Championships in 2009 in Norway, illustrates this. As President of the Organizing Committee Ann played a major role in the preparation and the running of the championships. Her ability to bring people together and to see how each of them could contribute in their best manner was extraordinary. With Ann as Chair we managed to get the three government ministers: Culture, Labour and Health to collaborate and hence contribute with a financial support to the Championships. By bringing political authorities, stakeholders and sponsors together, the Championships became a great success. Not only in terms of great sport and spectacular performances, but also in terms of the publicity and awareness received by the public. During the Championships data was collected resulting in an article in the Journal of FEI – the international equestrian federation. This illustrates once more Ann's ability to see the full picture and make use of all opportunities. "It's the possibilities that counts, not the disability!" she said. Eager to show and tell able-bodied riders and audiences how a different focus could help us learn from the para-riders, she arranged a show at the Para-Gala evening at the Kingsland Oslo Horse Show, a World Cup qualifier in showjumping. The best para-riders in the world together with the best Norwegian para-riders sent the message across.
In addition to her work for the para-sport and her voluntary work at the hospitals, Ann got involved in the Norwegian organization Horse&Health, she did voluntary work for the FEI and the Christopher Reeves Foundation, as well as for Horses in Education and Therapy international (HETI). Ann contributed to building a bridge between the para-equestrian sport and horse assisted therapy. Ann was a true entrepreneur and always networking, bringing people of all trades together for a common good – with horses.
Ann was a person you never forgot if you ever happened to meet and talk with her. Among the staff and clientele at Oslo University Hospital Department of Addiction Treatment, Norway, OUS, Ann made close friend with many, and contributed substantially to developing the horse assisted treatment methods at the Stables OUS. She engaged herself in the running of the Stables, taking part in mucking as well as scholarly discussions. She would use any opportunity to call for more research on the topic of horse assisted therapy, HAT, in addiction treatment for out-patients and in-patients alike. Ann literally worked her way from a volunteer to an employee and full team member and research fellow at the Stables OUS. Wherever she went, she would advocate HAT, and use her extensive network in the national and global polity to draw attention to how horses could be of value to human health and thriving. She would bring youths with addiction problems or severe disabilities to meet with world champions in para-riding, showing them that possibilities are more important than disabilities or addiction. Changes for the better can always be made – step by step.
Ann made a lasting impression within the equestrian research field. She was a true academic spider, creating networks and connecting practitioners and researchers alike. Ann worked hard to bring equine researchers from different fields together, whether their background was in sociology, occupational or physical therapy, ethology, psychiatry, social work, social pedagogy or equestrian trades. She believed that more perspectives created better therapy, enhanced our knowledge and fertilized the research. Ann engaged on a strenuous journey with her PhD, choosing a research design she believed would make the greatest impact in a medical world of knowledge. This created several barriers along the route, but the thesis was eventually submitted, and have been accepted for public defence in September 2017. Unfortunately, she will not be able to defend her work, but the articles written for partial fulfilment of the requirements for a PhD, are published, and available on open access platforms, see links below. Due to Ann's active role and attitude as a researcher The Norwegian Swedish Equestrian Research Foundation which funded the research together with OUS, have given the project an honorary award post mortem.
Articles from her PHD "The relevance of horse assisted therapy to young adults' substance use disorder treatment":
Nordheim, Kristoffer, Walderhaug, Espen, Alstadius, Ståle, Kern-Godal Ann, Arnevik, Espen, & Duckert, Fanny (2016). Young adults`reasons for dropout from residential substance use disorder treatment. Qualitative social work.
Kern-Godal, Ann, Walderhaug, Espen, Arnevik, Espen Ajo, & Ravndal, Edle. Poster: Riding out of addiction?
Kern-Godal, Ann, Brenna, Ida H, Kogstad, Norunn, Arnevik, Espen A, & Ravndal, Edle. (2016). Contribution of the patient–horse relationship to substance use disorder treatment: Patients' experiences. International journal of qualitative studies on health and well-being, 11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27291162
Kern-Godal, Ann, Brenna, Ida Halvorsen, Arnevik, Espen Ajo, & Ravndal, Edle. (2016). More Than Just a Break from Treatment: How Substance Use Disorder Patients Experience the Stable Environment in Horse-Assisted Therapy. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, 10, DOI https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5054942/
Kern-Godal, Ann, Arnevik, Espen Ajo, Walderhaug, Espen, & Ravndal, Edle. (2015). Substance use disorder treatment retention and completion: a prospective study of horse-assisted therapy (HAT) for young adults. Addiction science & clinical practice, 10(1), 1-12. https://ascpjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13722-015-0043-4
Riding out of addiction: https://nhi.no/psykisk-helse/rus-og-avhengighet/bedre-rusbehandling-med-hest/ (in Norwegian)
Anima Equestrian Therapy Center: http://www.associationanima.ch (in French)
Facebook interview with Horse Powers TV: https://nb-no.facebook.com/horsepowerstv/videos/433555406852127/
We offer our condolences to Tore and the rest of Ann's family, and promise to keep up her good work. Rest in peace Ann.
Kjell Myhre, Norwegian Equestrian Federation, NEF/FEI
Jeanette Lysell, The Stables Oslo University Hospital, Norway
Tobba Therkildsen Sudmann, Norwegian Riding Physiotherapy Association/NEF
Bergen/Oslo Norway 10. June 2017