One of the projects now on the boards (and as yet to be officially named, but springboarding from the Dust Off Your Dreams Women’s Retreat we had last spring at the Wildcatter Ranch Resort and Spa), is programming (some combination of live events and online/downloadable coursework) geared toward using horses and a series of reflective exercises (including some of those introduced in The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses) to help people in transition to build self-awareness, identify obstacles and solutions, and create a plan for moving forward with authenticity to find the fulfillment they’re looking for.
People ask me all the time exactly how it is that horses, of all things, can help people in this way. For people who haven’t spent much time around horses, it may seem ludicrous that a big “dumb” animal can open such doors to insight in the types of unmounted exercises known as “equine assisted learning (EAL).”
For those who may have heard of equine therapies, including therapeutic riding and equine assisted therapy, their understanding limits this idea to addressing serious physical, mental and emotional challenges. Far different, but in a few ways similar to equine assisted therapy, equine assisted learning is a wonderfully effective tool for developing the self awareness that can help us address any sort of dissatisfaction in our lives — and to help us identify and acquire the tools we need to move forward on whatever brings us joy and contentment — at any age or stage. “It’s kind of like when you have a splinter, ‘” one friend summarized recently as the distinction became clear to her. “You wouldn’t go to a surgeon to get it removed. You’d go find a mom with a pair of tweezers.”
We’ve decided we want to be that mom with the tweezers.
Pooling the combined wisdom and resources of key members of the Dust Off Your Dreams Retreats team, we want to share what we’re learning to help others get “unstuck” when life shifts happen. And, the more we learn about this process and the results it can yield to shore us up and move us forward through the more ordinary kinds of ennui that besets all of us from time to time — especially in the face of transition — we’re more convinced than ever of the good horses can do if we’ll just open ourselves to the process.
“True equine therapy occurs when people learn to extend the fundamental principles of horsemanship to the rest of their life,” says Deborah McCormick, PhD, co-author of Horse Sense and the Human Heart and Horses and the Mystical Path. “Horses show us with their behavior how we need to fine-tune in ourselves in order to achieve that balance and internal harmony we’re all looking for.” Deborah, along with her mother, Adele von Rust McCormick, PhD and her late father, Tom McCormick, MD, are the founders of Hacienda Tres Aguilas — The Equine Experience™ and the Institute for Conscious Awareness (ICA), a non-profit organization devoted to human development, advancement and leadership in which they pioneered the use of horses in psychiatric treatment and psychodynamic therapies.
By becoming aware of the basics of herd behavior, and then observing how horses interact with us in a series of non-riding exercises, we see in very concrete terms how we may be getting in our own way without even realizing it. When there’s inconsistency between what we want and how we behave, a horse will make this obvious in very concrete terms. For example, a horse may invade the personal space of someone who struggles with setting and enforcing boundaries; he’ll likely take a much wider circle around someone who is more skilled at holding the line. (When you watch a 1000-pound animal act out what’s going on inside of you, you can’t help but get the point!) As we learn how to observe and learn from this revealing dynamic, we begin to ask ourselves the important questions:
Why is the horse doing that?
What is my first impulse in response?
How does this interaction (or lack of) mirror other relationships/situations in my life?
From there, we begin to build your toolbox. How you use your tools and what you build from this experience is limited only by the edges of your imagination and your willingness to “go deep” in order to achieve the life satisfaction that may have given you the slip. If you’d like to know more about this program as it evolves, or if you would like to apply to participate in one of our test groups, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.