During my first mini-sabbatical from horses, I began to look for new direction and meaning in my life. Everything I had done – all of my plans, hopes, and dreams – had revolved around animals. Now I was working in an office and searching for a new direction.
I decided to train to become a certified holistic health coach. I thought that if helping animals was not to be my future, then maybe helping people would feel good. It didn’t take that long to circle back to the horses. I discovered EAGALA and became certified as an equine specialist in 2011.
That summer I also became certified as an equine specialist in mental health and learning through PATH. The PATH approach was interesting and enticed me to consider (not for the first time) whether or I should pursue a career as a therapeutic riding instructor. However, it was the EAGALA model that really spoke to me.
My EAGALA training was the first time that I had ever considered the possibility of working with horses loose as a herd. I had done that with Radar and his herd, but here was a model of therapy that was based on the power of horses being horses. There was no horsemanship; no dominance and submission; no right and wrong; no training; no pressure and release; no rules; no manipulation; no equipment; no getting the horses to do something.
Wow. Horses free to be horses. Horses that are allowed to say no. Horses that get to fully express themselves without retaliation. Horses that are functioning as a herd. Horses that are loose to move around and make decisions. Horses that get to teach humans instead of the other way around. Wow. What a novel idea.
I fell in love with the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning. I had become certified mere weeks before I moved across the country from Virginia to Oregon. When I got to Portland I looked into everyone who was practicing EAGALA and was fortunate enough to have many people offer to help me out, but no full-time job. I was an equine specialist without a herd.
Life became complicated at that time and – after contacting over 50 programs around the country – I decided to move to Bend, OR. No one was looking to hire an equine specialist. It was such a small field, and most people were starting their own programs. Residential treatment programs rarely have openings. I just couldn’t find a way to proceed.
In Bend, I found some potential opportunities, but everything fizzled out eventually for one reason or another. Meanwhile, I had started to ride again. It was fun to ride, but something was missing. I had gotten a taste of a new paradigm with Radar and then EAGALA. Riding broken horses out on trails was just not filling me up. If anything, it left me feeling sad.
During this time I wrote my first book, Soulful Horsemanship. I straddled the fence in that book. I had a vision of something different but was still putting it into a horsemanship perspective. I was trying to create this new idea that I had for working with horses and have it fit into my riding and training background and education.
I was in transition, but not yet entirely willing to let go of my, at that time, 20+ years of experience. EAGALA was the only model that I knew of at the time that was even considering working with horses in this new way, but it was based on psychotherapy. I new that this new vision could benefit everyone without a focus on therapy.
At this point, I didn’t know how to move forward. I knew that riding felt draining and icky to me. I didn’t know how to proceed with horses if I wasn’t riding. I didn’t have a herd. I didn’t have an Equine Facilitated Coaching and Learning program to work in. I didn’t have a way to try this new thing – so I quit. I stopped riding. I stopped writing about horses. I stopped trying to figure it all out.
I entered my second, slightly longer, sabbatical from horses. I took about two years to study spirituality and personal growth. I spent my time away from horses reading every book I could get my hands on to better understand our inner worlds and what all of the great masters have told us about a different way of being. I knew there was something more and I went looking for it – with no intention of circling back to the horses.