What inspired you to become an Equus Coach?
When I was a kid, I loved the idea of hopping on a horse bareback and riding off into the sunset with the wind in my hair. Sound like a Hollywood movie? It was. The Lone Ranger and Zorro were my heroes! But, I did not become a horsewoman and rarely was even around horses. My journey in becoming an Equus Coach began when one of my friends was being certified as an Equus Coach and I volunteered to be one of her clients in a practice session. I was anxious in the round pen with Patch, to be sure. And yet, not even 10 minutes into the experience and one of the most significant pieces of personal understanding dropped from my thinking into my feelings…and body. Being a psychotherapist myself, I had spent hours of cognitive behavioral therapy in my own personal growth. As effective as CBT or IFS was, it had not taken my thought process into my body as quickly and profoundly as being in the round pen with Patch for 10 minutes that day. I was blown away and I knew I wanted my clients to have access to this somatic opportunity. The rest is history.
Can you tell us a little about the business process of how you expanded to provide Equus sessions to your clients in addition to your other types of coaching sessions?
I am a family and individual therapist in private practice for over 35 years. I also worked at a private school for boys PK-8th grade for 23 years. I am known for working with women, parents, and adolescents. My decision to make equine work an actual business was when Leslie Vanderpool, also an Equus Coach, and I began working with small groups of parents from the school. Expanding this into my practice has been a slow process. It is a natural pairing of modalities, and you would think it would be an easy sell. Not true. Time and energy expended, the unfamiliar setting, and the added cost, are significant deterrents to overcome while encouraging clients to participate in the equine experience. Today, I work in my office 4 days a week and 2 Saturday’s a month with the horses and clients.
What do you think Equus sessions can offer that traditional coaching/counseling/therapy sessions do not?
Working with horses offers a client the opportunity to not only gain insight into their questions and struggles, but it also allows them to experience those physically and emotionally. The interaction between a horse and a client is felt in the body first and then in a thought process. When outdoors, touching, smelling, seeing, and hearing, are more awake to the nonverbal communication of a horse and of the nature surrounding the connection. This cannot be duplicated in a traditional office setting.
What has coaching through a pandemic taught you? What have you learned from the horses?
That we are all the same and that we are all different. We need each other. Being vulnerable is a must for truth to prevail. Change is tedious and time consuming and worth every inch of gain we make in the process.
The horses have shown me that life circumstances change quickly, but horses don’t. They keep right on doing what they do every single day. They still seek food, water, and safety. Check on each other, play and work together. Their desire to connect and hang out or play around in the round pen with me did not change. To them the pandemic was another part of life and death on this earth. In the moment.
What advice do you have for other coaches/executive coaches who might be thinking about expanding their services to include Equus Coaching?
Whether you are an established coach/therapist or have a new interest in Equus coaching, it takes time to develop an Equus Coaching business. It isn’t like being certified in art therapy or in trauma informed practices or being a horse trainer. You don’t just set up a play/art therapy room or use the same skills in training a horse. Dreaming, scheming, planning, going out and finding an established horse barn, developing your own barn, creating new working relationships with other people who own the horses and the facilities, are all parts of a completely new way of engaging with people. Don’t do this alone. Find people who will support you and join in what you are creating. Spend as much time as allowed to attend other workshops. Make the time to meet other equine coaches/therapists. Practice. Practice. Practice. Get other professionals to help with the legal part of the business setup. Get a CPA for startup guidelines. Pair up with someone who has done this work longer. Take your time. We all know you can’t rush the process.
Do what you tell others to do before they enter the round pen: “Breathe. Make your intention clear. Pay attention to the horse and trust yourself.” It will happen.
What can you share about how Equus Coaching works with kids/teens?
For the most part, I work with kids who are between the ages of 10 and 16. Developmentally, this age group is not terribly reflective. Their brains are still developing the neuropathways for critical thinking to be available. Therefore, the coaching questions are not usually how they learn about themselves. Instead, they learn behaviorally from the challenges they accomplish with the horse individually or with a small group. What they learn from the experience is not easily generalized nor can they remember how they use what they learned. It shows up in their behavior as if it has always been a part of them. Which of course it has. The adults in their lives are the ones that notice their changes the most accurately.
I wrote a program for teaching social/emotional skills using the horses. Just like adults, children have preconceived ideas of themselves and their relationship with others and the world around them. Their changes are the result of working with their frustration instead of giving up or becoming angry. As they explore alternative ways to resolve the challenge, a new body experience takes place. The interaction is between the child and the horse. Not another adult. They don’t expect judgment from a horse or to be taught a “better way” from a horse. This allows them to deal with their emotions and their thinking without input of any kind from others. Only the horse. Their frustration is totally their own. Their success, completely theirs! It is so much fun to watch them as the pieces of their puzzle settle into place. With an Equus Coach nearby, they learn to initiate and respond safely, to feel in their bodies what connection and disconnection are for and when to use either. They report not feeling anxious with the horses and less anxious at school. Children require repetitive information, modeling, and activities to form new experiences. And they don’t have as much old learning to unlearn.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I do not consider myself a horse person. I consider myself a people person who loves working with horses! I either trust the horse-human connection or I don’t. When I do, amazing things happen for the client, the coach and often even the horse. I believe every minute of self-doubt, frustration, disappointment, and perseverance are worth the fun, confidence, delight, and joy that are the results of Equus Coaching.
Keep moving forward … one turtle step at a time!