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perfect feet pt. 1 by dml82.

“The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there… and still on your feet.”

Stephen King


Since I returned from Sonoita I have been assessing my emotional state, feet first.  There is a very pointed reason for this.  A wise horsewoman and trauma survivor with a casual penchant for qualitative research pointed some really profound things about the nature of the foot and reading body language from the toes up.  In all my time focused on somatics I had never given much attention to the foot–almost none.  But I met someone who spent her life’s work noticing the nuances of human and equine body language from head to toe and with a very finite lense on the feet.  In traditional psychotherapy the feet are not a focal point but in horsmanship the foot, where it is, the angle, the flexing and all, are the language in movement between horse and rider.  So, of course, the well-versed horsewoman Shelley Rosenberg has been spending a career looking at feet in a way that I, as a therapist, never would have thought to–she can read the language of the body in a completely different way than I and, it seems, feet have been speaking especially loudly to her.

Even at a distance her acute vision notices things like toe curling in a boot and feet flexing on tippy toes.  She tells me this as she notices my toes curling in my own Mountaineer size 7’s as I sit with some dis-ease atop Max–an elderly white horse who is teaching me a lot about what my body is saying to him.  She tells me that she noticed her own toes doing this while standing, walking, or crossing her legs as a sort of last stopping point for trauma or tension trapped in the body.  She found that even the trauma survivor that had peeled back all the other layers and evaporated all the other clenching of muscles seemed to linger at the toes–hanging on to that one last muscle of control and space to prepare for danger.  A person’s whole body could be lax, she tells me, but she can read what they are really feeling with one glance at their feet.

Until she mentions it to me I don’t notice my own toes clenching, unfamiliar with the back of a horse and the gait of a trot, I had ,unknowingly, clenched my last bit of muscle and flesh–hanging on when I didn’t even realizing it.  But since she pointed this out to me all I can do is realize it; I am assessing my life in steps and flexes.  And finding it to be amazingly accurate on a personal case study level.  I am beginning to explore myself and my emotions…feet first.

I was discussing the other day the ripples and waves that are created in the self post-trauma and post-PTSD.  I have shed the PTSD of my self and have been lifted to a beautiful place where I can explore this life after Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  In the process I am attuned and aware of my “self” at a new level of clarity.  In this awareness I am learning more about the ripples after PTSD.  I am exploring those things that linger in me that are nowhere near that of a DSM-IV version of any disorder but are, what I can only describe as, the ripples and aftershocks; the behaviors and responses in body and mind that have to be undone after years spent in a state of constant fearful survival, raw and empty all at once.

This exploration of my sensory responses and my emotional sensibilities through my feet is another layer of that onion of aftershocks.  Now that I am thinking feet first I have found my toes to be a very accurate barometer of how I am feeling, even below my own first glance interpretation of myself–at the layer below conscious or superficial self and down to the muscle and bone, “subtle self”, if you will.  I wonder what we all might discover about ourselves if we spent a little more time in our toes–also the place of grounding and centering and rooting into the earth.  In yoga I have spent much of my time for myself and for students exploring rooting into the earth with every toe, from heel forward, but in psychotherapy and daily life I have paid it less attention.  Now I find myself starting in myself, in my patients, and in general, eyeing the world feet first.

Take a look down at the ground and see what you find!

“Move and the way will open.”

Zen Proverb

REMEMBERING THE RESTORATIVE: FROM CLIENT-CARE TO SELF-CARE

As someone who has guided clients through the intrinsic healing experience of yoga from yoga studio students to combat veterans I know how amazing and rejuvenating it can be.  Likewise, when I integrated yoga into the equine therapy practices I felt this light of finding a combined practice that resonated so profoundly for people that I wondered how I could bring this gift to every client I ever worked with that day forward.  Combat veterans and other trauma survivors seem to find drastic levels of healing in the experiential practices of mind/body medicine with a yogic edge and relational therapy through the silent compassion of a horse.  I had seen this therapeutic magic in action, seen the teary eyes of a modern day warrior gently petting the flank of his equine companion.  I knew this was something un-ignorable and I wanted to spread the concepts and conjoined practices to every place of pain I could, and to every person in need of connectedness. 

In my fervor, however, I had still never been a participant so I had never experienced the combination of body scans, somatic attunements, centering and grounding exercises, yoga, and horses all in one gloriously zen package.  I got the chance to see the results as a therapist and take part in the clients’ processes but not indulge myself in the participant role.  By the time I was packing up my boots and jeans for my trek to Arizona I was ready for a temporary role shift and some horse & yoga indulgences of my own.  Perphaps even a few revelations and epiphanies of my own as well.

I knew there would be mind/body practices in Shelley and Nancy’s equine program but when I received the email 3 days before leaving for Arizona stating, “Bring yoga clothes for the morning,” I nearly wept from excitement–seriously.  I had been putting self-care on the back-burner for a while; a fact that came fully into focus while giving my “Room to Breath” self-care workshop to a room full of women desperately in need of self-care a few weeks prior.  I was exhausted, I was drained, and part of me was wishing to be on the other end of the room–to be more participant than guide (although I love both roles in their own way). 

What is it about the nature of a woman that makes us constantly take from our own personal well of energy long past the time that every drip has been ladled out of it–until we are digging up moist dirt looking for water?  That is a mostly rhetorical question because I could give about 50 answers off the top of my head–ones that always come up when I give self-care workshops and ones that always resonate with me being someone who preaches far more than I practice when it comes to self-nurturing activities.

Well, I thought, I would, finally, give back to me.  And the deliciousness of yoga mornings, greeted by a dawning sun in the guesthouse of a cozy Arizona farm, was definitely enough to bring tears to my tired eyes.  Since ending yoga school for my teacher training life had caught up with me fast between a new job, private practice, workshops, and fine-tuning materials for upcoming trainings, not to mention 3 weeks of a killer sinus infection.  I had not even had time to maintain my own personal yoga practice in any way.  I needed a dose of the yogic in a big way.  I always felt the response of my body, mind, and spirit when I fell into a yoga drought–my brain got more distracted and white noise crept in, my body stiffened up, and my shoulder muscles tightened to rigid blocks of muscular tissue.  I felt distanced from any semblance of soulful peace.

CHECKING INTO THE OM HOTEL…

So, you may be wondering, what is the Om Hotel?  Is it a place? Is it a state of mind? The answer is–yes.  You create the space in a place and it becomes the conduit to a state of mind.  The place can be as simple as a yoga mat or a wooden floor or if you have a penchant for improvisation, it can even be on the back of the horse.  It can be a squared off corner of a room, or a particular room in a house, or an Arizonan guesthouse down a quiet dirt road with plenty of sunlight, soft yogic crooning, and a singing bowl or two.  The latter is where I laid myself at 9:00am on the first day of the “Riding Your Way Into a Mutual Relationship” workshop which Shelley and Nancy had crafted with the Epona Method as a base and the flavors of their expertise sprinkled throughout which, to my great delight included a very qualified psychotherapist yoga teacher at one end (Nancy) and an expertly intuitive horsewoman at the other (Shelley).

My “Om Hotel” experience began every morning for 3 days with a fluid, peaceful, and restorative yoga practice led by Nancy which was such a gentle yawn into the morning I could have spent about 3 hours in the guesthouse studio.  Nancy wove together the best of somatics and language from both psychotherapy such that the merging was seamless and helped evoke people’s true states of self without feeling invasive or probing.  Her postures were gentle and meditative, bringing the practice to a room full of horsewomen without yoga background in such a palatable way that it left them all wanting to go home and begin a regular practice of their own–which I always love to hear.

The studio walls were coated in a sunlight shade of yellow and mats were lined across the cream tile urging anyone entering to melt into the cool earth and let their yoga take them away from the external and come back to the root of themselves.  As I always like to quote e.e. cummings, taking us equine yoginis on a journey to, “…the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life.”  There were sun salutations, light meditations, restorative postures, and soft melodies; the perfect sampler of the practice to a room of beginners and one lapsed-yogini in need for a lot of softness in her practice.

The “Om Hotel” practice provided me with a return to my inner yogini with a side of self-reflection and introspection.  I loved the morning practices and relished a return to my private practice every evening, returning to the Xanadu Ranch and taking my practice to a comforting place–for muscles sore from saddle sitting and other unfamiliar farm-related aches.  Another beautiful revelation was the increasing level of yogi in each of the workshop participants leading to the creation, by Cathy (one of the participants with a very earthy sensibility and highly attuned intuition), of such equine/yogic terms as “om trot” and “spiritual legs”.  I was in love with the blossoming of vocabulary and the embracing of the yogic in the equine.  Although my ability to achieve my own “om trot” later in the week was quite a difficult thing.

THE PRANA EQUUS IN ACTION…

Prana, in yogic terms, is the vital life-sustaining force that is the root of our root and is embodied in our breath–life begins and ends with breath and, in my study, how we breathe says a lot about how we live.  The same can be said about how we ride.  Our breath acts as a barometer for our emotional experience and while riding your horse, part of the communication in the “mutual relationship” and the language we silently convey to the horse, comes in the forms of movement and breath.  Much like in yoga it is in the movement and breath that all communication and all of the emotional experience is acted out.  So to find your yoga in the equine is crucial in my opinion–and luckily, it seems, it also is the same for Nancy and Shelley’s work and workshops.  I loved how much they integrated body awareness, emotional experience in the body, and our body and breath language into their workshop–for me it proved to be even more revelational than I expected.  And resonated so much with the work I had been doing integrating the two practices together in my own little South Florida pietry dish of life.

My riding, I have learned, brings out all of the survival mechanism responses and discomfort spoken in physiology which I will discuss more in the next few posts.  This was a vital deepening of my own body awareness and attunement to how the oldest of habits die hard.  I carried my om with me and my breath skills as much as I could but my personal mounted equine work definitely tested my yogic capacities.  

I am one of those people for whom it is difficult enough to, say, tie my shoes and chew gum symultaneously let alone find my horseback seat, balance, breath, and hand placement–this I am going to need to work on.  Perhaps I need to chew gum and tie my shoes more often to build the tactile multitasking.  For now I am going to try a few oms to recalibrate my brain after an already long week–even longer while reminscing and longing for days spent alongside roundpens, on horseback, or on a yoga mat.  There is something diminishing about the return to an office-based week and paperwork-laden life.  Here is hoping all of you find a little bit of “The Om Hotel” in your daily life!

Stay tuned for the upcoming posts in this series:

  • RUNAWAY BRIDLE: THAT WHICH IS LOST & FOUND AMID HORSES
  • FEET FIRST: A HORSEWOMAN-STYLED REFLEXOLOGY
  • REFLECTIVE ROUNDPENNING & BOUNDARY GOATS
  • ….& ending with a NEW interview with yoga & equine enthusiast, Margaret Burns vap of COWGIRL YOGA & BIG SKY YOGA RETREATS!

“The infinite is in the finite of every instant.”

Zen Proverb

Pegasus on Pont Alexandre, Paris by Max London.

O for a horse with wings!

William Shakespeare


SO THIS IS YOUR PASSION?

I am sitting on the plane trying to whittle out the nuances of stories, looking for a way to bottle the last three days of experiences in the container of words.  It’s hard.  The woman next to me looks anxious and I brace myself for another flight next to a severe flight-o-phobe but instead she asks me why I was in Tucson while staring with curious amusement at the large and stiff ring of rope I am trying to stuff below my seat.  I say, “Horses,” but seeing that she isn’t quite satisfied and her eyes, still shifting between me and my lasso ring, are asking for a little more than a one word description.

I pause, thinking how to encapsulate what I was doing in Arizona, knowing that whatever I say could be less than enlightened.  I tell her I am a mental health therapist and I work with horses to help people through emotional problems but admit that I am trying to learn more about riding and horsemanship for my work.  She pauses and then in rich rolling espanol she says, “So this is your passion?”  Both question and answer, as if something in my eyes or the tone of my voice revealed the not-so-hidden-truth.  I smile, sigh a deep ujjayi breath, and say, “Yes.”

THE PRELUDE…

I knew in going on this journey out west and into the mountain-ridged skies of Arizona that I would be confronted with many things: emotional truths, passions envisioned, and dreams taking flight.  I set out from West Palm Beach prepared with pen in hand, yoga pants in tow, and hiking boots–yes, I still had not yet managed to get myself a good pair of riding boots.  I knew there would be yoga, creative exercises, mindfulness, and riding.  It was a yogini-equine-therapist-writer’s dream!  Although, before even landing I was already very nervous about the riding.

My riding experience was limited to the blissful summer camp experience and a variety of trail rides in a variety of countries; all with horses that were either spastic or sleepy from being over-riden by clunky tourists (like myself).  All my therapeutic “horsemanship” came from face-to-face time with my four-legged counterparts, not bottom-to-back.  I remembered the little girl who fearlessly cantered on her last day of summer camp and I hoped to rediscover some of her bliss–but I was afraid that age had only instilled skepticism and fear where imagination and bravery used to reside.  But as my stomach flopped with daydreams and fantasy I was hoping there was as much childlike excitement to outweigh the adult mind’s pesky critical thinking.

CHASING DREAMS TO THE BORDER OF MEXICO.

In the southeast corner of the southwest, an hour south of Tucson and less than an hour north of Mexico sits the unassuming town of Sonoita where the biggest restaurant is gas station adjacent and you can map out every constellation in the night sky.  I had chased my passion all the way to the Mexican border and found bliss on the first morning waking at the Xanadu Ranch, named by the owners since they had carried the sign and their horses from Ohio to New Mexico and finally settling on a large stretch of land in Sonoita.  Three black horses grazed in the tall dry grasses and the quiet of the air and the laziness of the hammock out in front of my door made me think I could spend days just hammocking my way to a higher state of being.

I had come out here to commit.  To commit to the dream of mine that included horses, yoga, and healing–something I believed in so strongly and had seen impact people so profoundly but I wanted to experience it at the other end of the lunge line and see what my clients saw.  In creating Prana Equus I knew I was giving myself over to my dreams but in coming out to Sonoita I was giving the dream wings and seeing what magic might come from seeing a space of healing outside of my own little cul-de-sac space with Angel Smile Farms and Maurette in South Florida.

I think the first morning, 9:00am, sun brightly shining through the windows of Shelley Rosenberg and Nancy Coyne’s yoga house on the property of their home and their barn, breathing in unison with my workshop-mates Deb, Cathy, and Ann at the direction of Nancy Coyne (MD, psychiatrist, and yogini-du-joir) I realized this was a special space and I was about to share a wonderful three days with a beautiful mosaic of souls.  Maybe horses can’t sprout wings like the golden Pegausus in the photo above but my dreams and my work with them felt like they were already taking flight to new and beautiful lands–in my mind and on the ground in every deep ujjayi breath.

So. This is my passion.

Nancy whispered softly with a little hint of jest, “Welcome ladies to the Om Hotel…you can check out, but…well you know the rest.”  I felt like I had come home inside and out.

CHECK OUT THE NEXT POST IN THE SERIES “GREETINGS FROM THE OM HOTEL”…UPCOMING!

Plane Wing by aka Kath. //

The modern airplane creates a new geographical dimension.  A navigable ocean of air blankets the whole surface of the globe.  There are no distant places any longer:  the world is small and the world is one.

Wendell Willkie

Well, maybe not my life but definitely the last month feels like it has been more in flight that on the ground.  I have been flying and flying and flying and between plane changes and 24 hour turnarounds between trips I find myself contemplating the excitement of what my next beverage will be on my next flight–seltzer or tomato juice or tea, oh my–or who my intimate plane seat companions will be.

Heading from NJ to Palm Beach in April after giving a training “Emotion In Motion: Yoga for Trauma Survivors” I sat next to a woman with a flying phobia who downed two Bloody Marys while asking me questions like, “How do you think this heavy metal can stay in the air without careening to the ground?” and “What does it mean when the plane shakes like this?”.  We discussed breathing and grounding methods, although she seemed to prefer the liquid courage to my techniques and I gave her my card, at her request, before we disembarked.

On the way back from my sister’s college graduation in NJ heading to Ft Lauderdale I found myself next to an elderly Messianic with loose teeth which, mid-nap, mid-flight, and mid-drool, accidentally lost their grip on the gums they were held to and his dentures flopped suddenly onto his shirt.  Later in the flight as we were landing he asked, “Young lady, what do you do for a living? I saw you scribbling the whole trip.”  I had been engrossed in my audio from the IAEDP (International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals) Conference and was writing down notes, apparently copious enough to rouse even my dormant elderly seat neighbor.  When I told him I was a therapist he proceeded to disclose, quite loudly, that his nephew sitting in the seat in front of us was dyslexic and had “a lot of problems”.  He also discussed the mission of the masons to give money towards good causes in anonymity to avoid accolades saying, “We do good but we don’t need or want people to know about it.”  My husband assured me later that, that is because free masons run the world; if running the world means anonymous donations to good causes then I will take more of that in the world–although perhaps with a little less of the denture mishaps.

Waiting for my delayed flight back again at the West Palm Beach airport, eagerly anticipating my Equine training in Arizona, I took a moment’s reprieve on the $1.00 massae chair tucked behind the newstand.  The 10-year-old boy gleefully “riding” the chair next to me like it was a carousel asked if I was a teenager.  I replied, “I am a little bit older than a teenager.”  The boy’s younger brother came running over and chimed in, “She’s not a teenager!  She’s a mommy! You are a mommy aren’t you?”  I tried to explain that I was not a teenager or a mommy but apparently the delineation of any role between teenager and mommy didn’t compute to the 10 and under crowd.  I left before I had to pick on category between the two.

The West Palm Beach flight finally took off and upon landing in Fort Worth/Dallas airport (the first leg of my journey to Arizona) a toddler sitting in the row in front of me lifted his hands in the air emphatically and shouted, “All done!”  Although I was not done with my flights for the day, I still had an hour wait and a flight to Tucson ahead of me I was definitely “all done” with the plane delays and the uncomfortable position of being in the person in the  middle seat which was code for “one-who-gets-no-arm-rest”.

Flying back from Arizona I met a melange of interesting characters between 3 airports and a 3 1/2 hour layover in Dallas/Ft Worth I met a woman traveling from Sierra Vista , AZ to go to her grandchild’s graduation and asked me (when I told her I was a therapist) if there is such thing as sex addiction.  I met woman flying to New York to visit her boyfriend and about to move across the country from Arizona with her children in a month to live with him on the east coast.  I met a trainer of airplane pilots who flies for free and asked me about real estate in South Florida as he is beginning to plan for retirement.  Oh, and a little British boy who had way too many “sweeties” in his system and could not stop making noises like a Halloween wind-up toy: “Wooo hooo hooo haaa haa haa!”

So I have been in a haze of rumbling engines, condensed air, tray tables, and iphone records for the past month.  Turbulence, turbulence.  Prayers, prayers.  Complimentary beverages and in-flight yoga stretches.  And passing the time with the vocal stylings of talents like Marsha Linehan (creator of DBT, zen& centering prayer enthusiast), Bessel van der Kolk (trauma guru), Andrew Weil (natural medicine titan), and the cast of the Integrative Mental Health Conference, Psychotherapy Networker Symposium, and IAEDP Conference (all great performances if you can get them on audio).  And, yes, I am a nerd.  While others are listening to jazz, country, pop, or musicals I am listening raptly to the rhythm of psychological exploration and the melody of theory and practice.  Hence the psycho-nerdish scribblings my Messianic neighbor astutely observed.

One training given, one training taken, and one sister’s college graduation attended–all respectively amazing and profound in their own wonderful ways.  I am finally just sitting back and absorbing the sum total and taking the time to breathe–between having seen a client in North Palm Beach, running to teach a yoga for trauma class in Lake Worth and then back to Delray to discuss potentially giving some educational programming on Centering Prayer (Christian contemplative practices) in my local spiritual community.

So, between trips, starting a new job, and 3 weeks of a monster of a bronchial sinus illness, the blog has been so sparse!  I apologize sincerely and promise that beyond a few new interviews on their way, some great activities I am so excited about on the horizon, I have a whole series I will be dedicating at least the next few weeks to but probably about a month in total around equine therapy, yoga, passion, and an amazing experience in Sonoita, Arizona with SHELLEY ROSENBERG, NANCY COYNE and my lovely group members for this training DEB, CATHY, and ANN.  I am excited about this new leg of both my cerebral and visceral journey and to explore the profoundness of this trot into the new with all of you!  I will begin with my first post tonight or tomorrow but in the meantime please feel free to look back at the preceeding equine posts to get in the zone :).

HORSE & YOGA POSTS ROUND-UP…

Equine Enamored: Adventures in Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy

http://myembodiment.com/2009/10/25/equine-enamored-adventures-in-equine-facilitated-psychotherapy/

Present Moment Living: Horses, Yoga, Therapy & How They All Come Together

http://myembodiment.com/2009/11/23/present-moment-living-horses-yoga-therapy-how-they-all-come-together/

Yogic Equus Part 1: Finding the Yogic in the Equine

http://myembodiment.com/2009/12/07/yogic-equus-part-1-finding-the-yogic-in-the-equine/

Yogic Equus Part 2: Horse as Metaphor for Relationship

http://myembodiment.com/2009/12/14/yogic-equus-part-2-horse-as-metaphor-for-relationship/

Horses & Finding Freedom

http://myembodiment.com/2010/01/28/horses-finding-freedom/

Q&A with Nancy Coyne, MD:  Trauma Therapist, Yogini, and EFP Practitioner

http://myembodiment.com/2010/02/28/q-a-with-nancy-coyne-md-trauma-therapist-yogini-efp-practitioner/

Q&A with Shelley Rosenberg: Horsewoman, Author, Trauma Survivor

http://myembodiment.com/2010/03/03/qa-with-shelley-rosenberg-horsewoman-author-trauma-survivor/

“Taking one breath after another with my horses–and you must breathe with them if you want to understand their rhythms and emotions–I can settle myself, become calm, take stock of my surroundings.”


“I have spent my life with horses, eventually becoming a horse trainer and riding instructor.  Horses were my true teachers so I tell my story through them.  They are why I stand and speak.  They are my touchstone and bridge to my own kind.  They help me heal myself and go into human relationships a little stronger. “

Excerpted from MY HORSES, MY HEALERS by Shelley Rosenberg

Shelley Rosenberg is a courageous and impassioned woman.  Wounded by the trauma of childhood abuses she was not broken.  Her relationship with horses over the course of her life helped her to bolster her own inner strength and eventually write her memoir, My Horses, My Healers, which explores horse-human bond, her personal intimate experience with horses, and how the bond between horse and human can create healing out of traumatic experience.  She has collaborated with Dr. Nancy Coyne, MD (whose interview was posted earlier this week) to create a workshop entitled “Horses as Healers” which incorporates mind/body techniques, yoga, guided visualization, and horse-human relational experiences to facilitate healing experiences in trauma survivors.

Shelley is an Epona Advanced Approved Instructor working out of Arizona ( at the Epona Center) and Maine in facilitating growth, healing, and wellness through the horse-human relationship.  I am always profoundly impacted by the universal elements of traumatic experience and healing catharsis.  Shelley references multiple times in the interview below the process of going from “surviving to thriving” which I also discuss in my website http://www.embodymentalhealth.com as my credo: “Life: Don’t just survive, thrive.”  I think it shows a like ambition in those who have healed from trauma and search for ways to help others find healing and wellness from their traumatic experience.  Shelley’s book is a story of strength, courage, and discovery through intimate experience and exploration of horses as healers.

I hope you take the time to look into her work with Nancy Coyne and her memoir which is beautifully written.  I am in admiration of her voice as a survivor of traumatic experience.  I believe strongly that the more survivors who have learned to thrive can speak out the more they can inspire others to work towards their own recovery and healing–and give courage to people who need it.  I thank Shelley, as a fellow survivor, for her courage in telling her story and taking the time to do so again on this blog.

Q:  Why did you decide to write out your traumatic experience and healing journey in your book “My Horses, My Healers”?  Did you have any trepidations or concerns about opening up so much of your inner journey in writing for others to see?  What did you hope would come out of telling your story?

I truly had only one reason to write my story, to help others use there voice. to give words to there story, and be deeply heard.

Q:  What do you think, at the root, is so healing about horses and the horse human relationship?  What for you was the cathartic element of your experience with horses?

Horses were my ears  to the little girl who heard “if you tell you will die”. They can listen, react, and go back to grazing. Something I was not able to do. How the horse knows by nature after a trauma peace move on, life is no longer in danger.

My cathartic experience as you ask was breaking my arm so I did not have to go to Grandpa’s house. My learning to use my voice was what set me free to move through the past and like the horses go back to a full life.

Q:  You describe your experience with horses as “self-healing”; what do you mean by that?  Do you feel “healed” from you traumatic experience?  What were the essential elements of your healing process?  What do you think got you to the place, emotionally, that you are today?

Horses mirror the authentic self, I was living a life from horses accident to horse accident. Each fall was a way to get out of the inner pain I was in. Each injury was worse then the next, until I got that I was the cause of these falls. I found one therapist after another until I found someone who deeply listened to the pain in my soul. I still am doing my own work I believe we are never done learning. It is my job as a healer to keep up on my own personal work.

Q:  What attracted you to horses as a child?  Why did you follow the equestrian path professionally?

My very best friend had horses, I have Joanne Clark to be thankful for leading me to them. As I started to learn more and more about horses, spending every minute I could with them.   I knew I wanted to be a horse professional at a very young age.

Q:  When did you begin to explore using your professional horsemanship capacities to help others heal from their emotional issues of trauma and the traumatic experience?

I think as a riding instructor we all listen to stories of the clients’ accidents. If we ask questions and offer our own truth we can help anyone. I am more careful now and work on deep issues with Dr. Nancy Coyne a trauma specialist. We work directly with the horses as co-facilitators.  Riding and ground work are incorporated in all of our workshops.

Q:  You have created a program called “Horses as Healers” at the Epona Center in Arizona.  What led to the creation of this program with your co-facilitator Nancy Coyne, MD?  What led you to create the program in the format you did–with the incorporation of creative arts, yoga, and other methods of complementary therapies?

We started this work first in a Horses As Healers workshop in Bath, Maine. I was working for the Epona Center so our next full workshop was at Apache Springs ranch. The creations propose was to give a safe space for the participants to be deeply heard. and given tools to help change the patterns they are in. To go from surviving to thriving, the arts and yoga and body work are all incorporated to move the process along in a new pathway for radical self care.

Q:  What kind of riding and horsemanship techniques have you implimented to facilitate a psychotherapeutic experience for participants in your group?

We do so many different mind body connections, like feeling the movement of the horse while mounted, reflective grooming, and connected round pen where four people go into the round pen with one horse. They must speak to each other before any movement takes place. Like asking the horse to walk they need to all agree to do this action before the person who they decide will ask the horse to move. So they ask if everything they do is okay before they move ahead. If someone’s arousal level goes up the group stops or time out, and they come together in the pen to speak the fear. Most of the time the horse will come in and listen to what is going on. Then they go back to what ever goal they set for themselves. The object is communication, and being heard.

Q:  How is it, as a dressage trained professional, to work in a mental health capacity with a psychiatrist?  How do you both balance your professional backgrounds and goals for clients (re: learning horsemanship skills and creating therapeutic experiences) to create a cohesive psychotherapeutic experience for your clients?

Dr. Nancy Coyne is the mental health professional, I am the trained horse professional, we must be open to what ever takes place with the clients. We have now been doing this work for four years and are very good at speaking our own truth in the moment. We respect each others decisions and always have the clients best interest and safety first.

Q: On your Epona website biographic information it discusses your work with “reflective riding”?  What is this technique and how is it therapeutically effective for clients?  What is “passive roundpenning” and how is that different from “active roundpenning”?  What are “Journey Rides”?

The reflective ride has evolved in many ways it can and usually is a profound experience. The rider reflects what is going while they are lead by a trained staff employee. If they are having an issue with a fall or a body sensation we can ask all kinds of questions to have them reflect on what happened frame by frame.

Passive round pen is a more private time the client has with the horse they choose alone in the pen. Active round pen is where we teach the client how to move the horse safely. The journey ride is a guided meditation on horseback. With a story I have created to fit the group.

Q:  What have you discovered in creating and implementing this program?  What did you expect?  What were the results?  What has surprised you?

I have discovered the voice is one of the tools to set us free from our well used pathways that have not been helping us move on. I have learned I have great joy in helping others. I wanted to help others speak and we have done this many, many times. The results  truly  take my breath away. People come now ready to do the work they came for. I am not surprised I am truly grateful for the gifts i have been given.

Q:  What do you envision in the future of Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy and other Equine Assisted Activities?  What do you hope to see moving forward in your own practice and programming in the field?

I see the future being more guided by rules from EFFMA or NARAH. I hope people take this work as serious as it is. I am writing another book accessing your intuition I will be telling the stories of what has evolved in my own work with others.

Q:  What would you like to say to other trauma survivors struggling on their own journey of healing?  What would you like to say to other professionals looking to explore alternative ways to trauma and mental health treatment outside of traditional talk therapy?

To trauma survivors I hope they find someone to listen to them in a way they have there process deeply heard. Do not stop looking until you find this human. If you can find a therapist who has access and has worked with horses as healers.

To traditional talk therapists please take a step out of the office with a horse professional and try this very powerful work for yourself.

Q:  Any words of inspiration, wisdom, or anything else you would like to leave the readers with.

This is the way to help the clients move from surviving to thriving, the way of the horse.

Thank you for letting me speak.

July 2020
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