706-565-6062

contact@connettpsychotherapy.com
This email is HIPAA secure

The Horses Made Me Do It: The Creation and Evolution of EquiHeart

Curious about how a Marriage and Family Therapist moved from a comfortable office setting to the outdoors? And why she accepted the challenge of partnering with 1200 lb. fleet-footed, powerful horses?

Come along on the journey as I share my story. But, hold onto your saddle. It’s a wild ride!  

Conception of the Dream

It started 17 years ago. Flashback to July, 2001. I took a much-need vacation to Miraval Resort and Spa in Tucson, AZ. This was the first time I had done anything like this. I enjoyed the relaxation of massages, yoga, meditation, energy work and hot tubs. But, every morning at 6:00 AM, I was awakened by the sound of horses calling across the desert. I’d step outside, listen and wonder about them; but, then, I got on with my day.

By the end of the week, right before I left, the horses finally won! I accepted their invitation. Their daily calls and everyone’s non-stop praises convinced me I should sign up for “The Equine Experience,” one of the most popular spa offerings. Well… I had NO idea that my life was about to be changed forever!

I was blown away during The Equine Experience by the quiet yet mesmerizing power of the horses and their clever way of communicating with humans. I choose a grey mare, Lonnie. Our equine activities were to walk, groom, pick up and clean their hooves, all of which I had never done before. Then, I was in an enclosure with a running horse that I was “asking,” through my “energy,” to change directions and speeds. I was terrified! But, deep in my soul, something was awakened and I felt more alive than I had in years. The freedom and power of the horse took my breath away.

These 2 horses were able to tell me, through their nonverbal behavior, that I was not owning my own personal power; and, that I had many fears that held me back. How could they possibly know this? I was hooked!

The next morning, as the sun was barely visible behind the Catalina Mountains, I was compelled to hike across the desert, guided again by the calls of the horses. Arriving at the equine center, I slipped under the fence into the stable area. Oh my God! I had no idea what I was doing or why, but I knew I had to go there before I flew home. I needed to see Lonnie again.

“Can I help you?” asked a petite but rugged woman, coming out of the barn office and peering at me from under the rim of her cowgirl hat. I explained as best I could that I intruded onto her property on some kind of quest into how horses could possibly help humans learn about themselves and help them grow stronger as a result. I further explained that I was a Marriage and Family Therapist and she interrupted me in mid-sentence, saying, “Oh, that’s great! The director of our equine program is a Clinical Psychologist, his name is Wyatt Webb and he also directs the addiction treatment center, Sierra Tucson, adjacent to our property.”

What?? I was completely stunned and nearly fell to the ground! Finally, it was starting to make sense. With an explosive burst of tears mixed with disbelief, I blurted out, “What are you talking about?? You mean you could do therapy sessions outside an office, in nature, with horses as helpers? Are you kidding me?”

This was an answer to my prayers! No wonder the horses called me here every morning. I resisted it until my last day. Thank God I finally listened to them.

Witnessing my reaction, the woman, who was the barn manager for both equine programs, paused, walked back into her office and asked me to follow. She took her original copy of “The Dude Horse Prayer” off her wall and handed it to me. “The Dude Horse Prayer” is a tribute to the misunderstood and often mistreated trail riding horses.

After a big, firm hug, she continued, “Here, I want you to have this and I hope it’ll inspire you to do equine therapy yourself. Keep this original and send me back a copy. It’s time for me to pass it on.”

Oh my God! More tears were cascading down my already red, swollen face. Reading the prayer on its original faded paper released such feelings of compassion for an animal I knew nothing about but to whom I felt inherently connected. Like soulmates.

She added, “Wyatt Webb is writing a book. You might talk to him. And let me give you some other references, names of books and people in the field you can look up and get training from.”

Before I left, I went in search of Lonnie and found her among her herd mates eating her breakfast grain. We locked eyes on each other and I thanked her and the rest of the herd for persisting in calling a resistant woman out of the fog and into the World of the Horse.

As I climbed back under the fence and headed East into the desert, I knew that my life, my world and my work would never be the same.

Development of the Program

As soon as I got home from Miraval, I was off on my journey to get trained as an Equine Assisted Psychotherapist. I had been in private practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist for 18 years at that point, and was climbing out of my skin, sitting in an office for sometimes 10 hours, seeing 6 – 8 clients a day. I had been thinking for years that there had to be another way to do what I do, hopefully a better way. Now I believed the horses could take me there.

I had virtually no experience with horses, but they became my new Muse. I decided to immerse myself in the horses’ world. I had to overcome my fears of being hurt, rejected and not taken seriously by these mysteriously intriguing and powerful animals. Before I could bring others along with me into their world, I had to become completely comfortable around them and walk side by side, in trust and respect. This was my goal.

What in the world had I gotten myself into? Whatever it was, there was no turning back.

In my 40s, I started trail riding, taking riding lessons and clinics and volunteering at a local horse stable. I learned that there was a therapist near me who had recently started an Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy practice and, after meeting with her, she agreed to begin training me.

As part of my training, I experienced Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy myself for 6 months. As I awkwardly fumbled around, horses taught me about their patient and forgiving nature. I received more training through EAGALA, NAHRA, EFMHA, Linda Kohonav and Epona. I devoured the books that were recommended to me, Linda Kohonav’s The Tao of Equs and the McCormick’s, Horse Sense and the Human Heart, among others.

In December, 2001, I bought my first horse, Sunny. He was the last of about 8 horses I saw and rode, after a day of traveling across North Georgia in search of “the one.” He wasn’t even originally for sale, but the farmer brought him out after I declined another of his horses. And, with his one blue eye, the mark of a Medicine Horse, his near perfect markings, and his solid stance, Sunny stole my heart!

I launched EquiHeart in February, 2002. Choosing the name EquiHeart for my program made sense given how the horses I came to know, love and call by name changed my life by healing directly from their hearts to mine. The dream was unfolding; yet I could never have imagined what lay ahead and the ways in which my life and my resilience would ultimately be tested.

My Challenges

With such a powerful and inspirational beginning, I had no doubt EquiHeart would help heal many lives and make a significant impact on the field of marriage and family therapy. I felt destined to follow the path, immersed in the artistry and creativity of being invited into the world of the horse to do my life’s work. However, for various reasons, my path took many dark, unexpected detours. Here’s a summary of my many challenges:

  • Very limited horse experience
  • No prior horse ownership
  • No prior relationships with horse professionals
  • No outside funding
  • Developed an outpatient program rather than joining an already existing residential program
  • No “secured” clientele
  • Operated my program IN ADDITION to directing a full-time psychotherapy practice

Evolution of the Dream

Some said I took on an impossible task running an equine therapy program with all my other full-time responsibilities. There were times in the early years that I shed plenty of tears over the stressors and difficulties I experienced. I took breaks here and there to re-coup.

I kept reminding myself that, having witnessed so many miraculous encounters between horses and people, I just knew my clients would want to enhance their therapy progress through sessions with the horses! But, even though these programs were booming all over the world, Columbus GA and the surrounding area proved to be a hard sell. Only the very adventurous and those that loved nature and animals seemed eager. I was truly grateful for those “pioneers;” and they were truly blessed through the horses and the program.

Here’s a summary of the many benefits participants of EquiHeart and I experienced.

Increases and improvements in:

  • self-confidence
  • assertiveness
  • direct, honest, intentional communication
  • accomplishment of goals
  • trust
  • leadership
  • cooperation
  • clarity of thought
  • groundedness and centeredness
  • self-awareness
  • spiritual awakening

It’s wonderful to know that, despite the challenges, in the first 14 years of EquiHeart, over 1,500 sessions were held with over 600 participants, some staying involved for years. The dream of EquiHeart continued to evolve, like a good friendship, into something settled, manageable, comfortable and real.

Eventually, I changed the program to Equine Experiential Learning and offered guided horsemanship through The Equine Encounter. As guided horsemanship, the program became open to the public, where the learning is fun and invigorating, not difficult and process-oriented like therapy. We are essentially doing the same activities. People are learning and growing in the exact same ways as before, but with less frustration and more feelings of accomplishment. And, the experience can be more personally rewarding. I know I enjoy this focus more and I think the horses do too!

And this is where the “Zen” of the horses, their meditative quality, finally took root in me. I gradually realized, by letting go of trying to make something happen, I relaxed more, and the people willing and excited to give EquiHeart a try enjoyed themselves more. Naturally, the horses relaxed more as well, since they are mirrors of authentic human emotion.

This new focus for EquiHeart made it a perfect pairing with the latest program I developed, Awakening Your Fierce Feminine Fire, retreats, workshops and sessions for women’s psycho-spiritual empowerment. The Equine Encounter part of the day-long retreats has become women’s favorite activity.

EquiHeart’s Success

EquiHeart’s success has been in the astounding healing and growth that those willing to venture outside the office into the natural world of the horse were blessed to experience. I established some awesome, long-term mentoring relationships with several horse professionals to whom I will forever be grateful. And, through the art of photography that I do, with permission, during each session, I have been able to share the moments of pure joy and transformation with others, and help folks retain their learning experiences through viewing and displaying the photos. Spending time with the horses in a helping and coaching role, sharing the experience with others and capturing the transformative moments of horse-human interaction satisfies my need for art, spirituality, creativity and beauty in ways that nothing else can. Conducting EquiHeart sessions has been the most creative and spiritually fulfilling part of my 35 year career as a therapist and coach.

Today

I own two horses on the 200 acre horse farm that is now my home. This was my personal dream and something I hoped to offer to Sunny one day. Most of the time, I work alone as, after 17 years of horse experience, I feel confident and capable of doing so. I have some terrific and passionate volunteers who help when I have groups. It continues to give me much satisfaction when even one adventurous person makes leaps and bounds in their personal growth, 0

I plan to keep EquiHeart alive for as long as Sunny and I are together – he’s 22 years old now – and as long as I continue my private practice. Sunny loves his job working with people to encourage them to stretch and grow. He’s an expert at it! We are blessed with the involvement of my newest horse, Sven. As a retired dressage competitor, Sven was donated to EquiHeart by his loving family. Sven remains active, curious and vibrant at 17 y.o., as he is learning the ropes from his elder pro, Sunny.

If you’ve never tried EquiHeart, NOW is YOUR opportunity!

Visit the EquiHeart page of my website, www.connettpsychotherapy.com to read more about The Equine Encounter, view the video slide show and see more awesome pictures of horses helping humans to be their best and truest selves! Schedule YOUR Equine Encounter today to see what all this horsin’ around is about! We can’t wait to see you on the farm!

Speak Your Mind

*

Subscribe Here For A Free Relationship Assessment!

contact@connettpsychotherapy.com
This email is HIPAA secure
706-565-6062

 

Send a Message