Got a splinter in your contentment?

News The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses Women and Horses

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 mkfolse@gmail.com.

Meet Maximo, the horse that nosed me under the midlife bus.

Book info Midlife News Projects The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses Women and Horses

When I went to the Equine Experience retreat at  Hacienda Tres Aguilas near San Antonio Texas, I had no idea what to expect. I had just bought a horse the summer before, we were still getting along pretty well at that point, but something about this new relationship in my life compelled me to want to learn more.

This retreat, as its literature explained, was hosted by the three “eagles,”  Doctors Tom, Adele, Deborah McCormick, who wrote two of my favorite horse books, Horse Sense and the Human Heart (Health Communications, 1997), and Horses and the Mystical Path (New World Library, 2004).

 

I discovered this opportunity quite by accident (if there is such a thing, which, increasingly, I’m starting to doubt). According to their course literature, passed on to me by a freind who knew I enjoyed delving into such matters, the McCormicks were trained in “Psychoanalytic and Jungian Psychology with an expertise in Object Relations Theory and mysticism.” I had no idea what all that meant, but it sounded pretty serious. I was intrigued.

My intrigue grew with the fact that they had traveled the world studying with an impressive list of greats in both psychology AND horsemanship, including the Celtic traditions of horsemanship. This last part REALLY  got my attention.  Folding what they had learned about horses and humans into this retreat, the Drs. McCormick called upon their championship Peruvian horses to help participants “explore the transcending connection between horses and people.”  The Equine Experience Retreat (which, by the way, is still held several times each year at their beautiful Texas Hill Country ranch)  promised  “a place to find inner peace, growth, and creativity.”

 

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been looking for that stuff for most of my adult life. Sign me up!

 

 

So I naively packed my riding boots and clothes (not understanding that this was not going to be a riding experience at all) and headed off to the Hill Country to hunt for that elusive “still place in my  heart”  the McCormicks promised would help me learn to connect with the “heart and rhythms of nature.” Especially, I hoped, with the heart and rhythm of my increasingly agitated horse, Trace.

 

Even then I realized on some level that it was my own escalating agitation and stress that was coming back at me through the misbehavior of my horse. He was simply mirroring what was going on inside me, but it would be a while before I learned about that. (Chapter 10, to be exact, of my new book,  The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, a somewhat errant chronicle of this journey. At this point, we are still in Chapter 1, headed toward Chapter 2 where a Peruvian horse named Maximo escorted me to the trailhead of my midlife horses journey.

 

If you're ripe for a comeuppance, this is just the guy to make that happen. (The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses)

 

Here’s a book excerpt to describe how it all unfolded:

 

“The day before, an aging Peruvian horse named Maximo had demonstrated for the group how he could use his buddy sourness to play my overactive nurturing instinct like a cheap fiddle. Then, as I later tried to lead him “with authority,” he plain-old ignored my pace and used each turn as opportunity to graze, oblivious to my “authoritative” yanks on the lead rope. “Max sees that you have no boundaries,” Deborah McCormick, Ph.D.,  explained to me and to the group. The message resonated with issues I had dealt with time and again in my life, without resolution.”

 

Do you cringe when people say how “nice”  you are? Do you habitually sacrifice your own needs (or wants) to accomodate the needs (and wants) of others? Then maybe it’s time for your midlife horses!

 

“Horses see us for who we are on the inside,” agree many of the popular “horse whisperers” of today (who are parroting, by the way, the grandaddy of them all, Tom Dorrance.). The bottom line for those of us who have chosen midlife horses as a journey to rediscover who the heck we are? Watch the behavior of the horses you interact with very closely. The inner reality is closer  than it appears.

 

Happy Trails!