By Andrea Sauceda, Internet and Social Media Director at The Meadows
It was 116 degrees on the June day my new co-worker Erin and I went to meet The Meadows’ Equine Therapy program directors for a demonstration. It was also our third day of a week-long new employee orientation process, during which we did whirlwind tours of all The Meadows’ programs and talked with staff about the incredible work they were doing.
I would never have admitted it to my new boss, or to anyone, but I was feeling quite disoriented during this orientation. I had already managed to forget my wallet at home after leaving for the airport, had a little “scrape” with the rental car, gotten lost in Wickenburg twice—which must seem impossible to anyone who has been to the tiny, desert town. (In my defense, it seems that even Google Maps has trouble navigating it.)
I had a six-month-old baby at home--my second--throwing my household into joyful turmoil. My husband and I had just bought a house and the closing was getting very complicated, prompting multiple panicked and urgent text messages per day from him and my realtor--none of which I could answer right away. Plus, I now had this brand new job and wanted to try to at least appear like I had it all together in order to make a good impression. Plus, I was dealing with some “stuff.” Emotional stuff. Stuff I’ve always tried my best to pretend I wasn’t dealing with.
(And, did I mention that it was 116 degrees outside? I’m Midwestern. We don’t do “dry heat.” We like our summer air to be so thick with humidity you can drink it, thank you very much.)
I had both been looking forward to and dreading this equine therapy session. I was intrigued by the concept, and wanted to learn more about it, but was also worried about the degree to which the “experiential” part of the therapy would apply to me. I was kind of hoping I could just hang out in my comfort zone, from which I like to keep things more observational and less experiential, for better or worse.
As Erin and I walked across the dusty parking lot toward the dusty stables, my fear and dread began to grow. I silently said this little prayer:
“Dear God or Whatever: Please let this demonstration be a demonstration only, requiring no participation or interaction from me. The last thing I need right now is to be made a fool of by a damn horse. Thank you! Amen.”
We were soon met by Molly and Anne, who introduced us to the horses, explained to us the ins and outs, and the whys and how’s of the program.
Then it was demonstration time.
“So, we’re going to have you guys do an exercise with Ernie here,” Molly said.
“Shit,” I thought.
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but if you do want to step on up,” Molly said.
“But, can I really opt out?” I thought. “How is that going to look to my new boss and new co-workers? No. I have to do this. And, I’m going to have to pretend to be a good sport about it when this horse drags me across the stables and everyone laughs. YEAH, I SEE THAT EVIL LOOK IN YOUR EYES, ERNIE.”
The task was to stand behind the horse holding two rope reigns, steer him down a short path, get him to turn around some orange construction cones at the end of the path, and come back to the beginning.
Erin, who had grown up going to horse camps as a child, graciously agreed to go first. And, Ernie was... not exactly cooperative. He wasn’t impossible by any means, but it was clear that he didn’t want this whole thing to be too easy for her.
“Oh my God,” I thought. “If Horse Camp Girl is struggling, what does this mean for me?!?! This is going to be so humiliating. What are these ladies going to think when they see how much this horse hates me? I wonder if this will end up being the worst equine demonstration participant they have ever seen.”
Then, it was my turn. I stepped up and took the reins. Anne gave me some instruction which I didn’t hear at all because I was concentrating very, very hard on not freaking out.
I took the reins and shook them. “Okay, Ernie. Let’s do this,” I said.
Ernie began walking. I said, “Thank you.”
He walked some more and I said, “Thank you.” (Note: I think you are actually supposed to say “giddy up” or something? A cowgirl, I am not.) He kept walking, and I kept saying “thank you.”
Finally, we got to the scariest part—the end of the path, where I was supposed to make him turn. I started scrambling to recall any useful bit of information from the instructions I didn’t listen to earlier. “Which one makes him go right?!?”
But, to my surprise, by the time I made a decision as to which reign to pull, Ernie had already made it halfway around the curve all on his own.
“Thank you,” I said.
Once we’d made it back to the beginning, I handed the reins back to Anne. Molly said that she didn’t think she’d ever seen that exercise go so well for anybody.
“How were you feeling before you started the exercise?” Molly asked.
“Umm.. Scared, I guess? I was sure it was going to be a disaster. I was sure I didn’t have whatever special kind of presence and authority horse people have and that he was going to give me a really hard time…”
“So, what happened, then?”
The smart aleck part of my brain—the part that likes to make sarcastic jokes as a defense mechanism against pesky feelings and whatnot—wanted to say, “Well, obviously, what happened is that I am a natural! Like, the Michael Jordan of horsemanship!”
But, what I heard myself saying before I could stop myself was…
“Well...um...this is weird, I guess? But, I think he knew I needed help.”
And, then the worst possible thing I could imagine happening right then, happened. I started to cry. Just a few hot tears, streaming out of the corners of my eyes, but still. I tried to hold on to those tears so hard because I was trying to be a professional dammit, and I halfway succeeded. I was standing there, listening to Molly, gritting my teeth and hoping it looked like a smile, and crying and hoping it looked like I just had some desert dust in my eyes.
I spent the rest of my week at The Meadows—and the rest of the past year—returning to this incident and wondering why I had such a strong emotional reaction after only a few minutes of equine therapy. I still am not sure I fully understand, but I do know this—that one brief experience with that horse, drew into sharp focus many of the self-defeating beliefs I have and have always had about myself. It made me realize how often I face a challenge or difficult situation in my life by...
I wish I could tell you that these realizations have eliminated all the fear of being vulnerable I’ve carried with me throughout my life—a fear that I think is closely tied to my bouts with depression. But, as they often say at The Meadows, “It’s a process.”
I do think I walked away that day, at least a hair less fearful of showing up and being seen than I was before. And, each day since, I’ve gotten another hair or two less fearful. Today, I was finally fearless enough to write this essay—though not without a few days worth of self-doubt and agonizing, and a last minute pep talk from a couple of friends.
If you’re struggling right now, don’t be afraid of what people will think if tell them you need help. Sure, there’s a stigma out there for people who struggle with mental illness or addiction, but the people in your life who love you are going to understand. And, they are going to want to support you so you find the help you need, and instead of feeling ashamed of you, they are likely to be proud of you for having the courage to take charge of your life. Plus, there are many wonderful therapists out there and treatment programs like the ones at The Meadows available to help you. Keep holding on to the reins, but let them steer.
And, thanks again, Ernie.
Now that I’ve shared my story, I want to hear yours. What does being #fearless mean to you, and to your recovery? Tell me in a short essay (500 words) or short video (2 minutes), and I may feature you on our blog or Facebook page!
Email your submissions to email@example.com, or share them on Twitter and mention @AndreaSauceda in your tweet.
If you submit an essay between now and October 31, and we publish it, you’ll receive a special gift!
Also, the intake specialists at The Meadows are happy to answer any questions you might have about treatment options or workshops available to you. (Trust me. I’ve met them. They’re great.) The right program or intensive may help you overcome the issues and false beliefs that have been preventing you from living fully and authentically. Call 800-244-4949.
By Ann Taylor, Equine Specialist at The Meadows
Sundance is a 32 year old Quarter Horse Gelding. He has worked in our Equine Therapy program since he was 10 years old.
In his more than 20 years of faithful service, he has shown that he truly has an extraordinary gift for therapy. This unassuming little red colored horse spends most of his days in the barn at our Rio campus. He keeps all of the horses and Equine staff on schedule with loud, animated reminders at breakfast and dinner times. Schedule and routine is something that Sundance finds great comfort in, and has no problem reminding us if we are a few minutes late with his meals.
Every day at 10:30 a.m. on the dot, he can be found playing with the other horses over the fence. Then, he naps in the warm quiet Arizona afternoons. For Sundance, semi-retirement is a life of carefree routine.
You could practically set your watch by his schedule.
Due to his advanced age — 93 in horse years — Sundance only works with clients on ground activities.
However, there is a part of Sundance that shines just as bright as his name: his ability to read a person.
Horses, in general, are professionals at reading people; they are second to none when it comes to knowing what is going on with us. They can read our intentions with extraordinary precision.
When it comes to Sundance, though, his gifts take that talent a step further. He can see the ways in which a person is strong and the things they need to work on. He takes a deliberate approach with every individual or group by presenting himself in ways that will meet each person’s need that day. He will purposely challenge a person’s weak areas or present himself with what could only be identified as compassion and love when someone needs to connect with those weaker places.
The discussion as to whether or not a horse has “feelings” is as timeless as the horse itself. Of course, we can’t say for certain that they do, but there is no doubt when Sundance meets someone, something beautiful happens.
The Meadows is one of the few treatment centers in Arizona that uses Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) to lead patients to healing and recovery. As a part of our commitment to holistic and innovative therapeutic tools, Equine Therapy provides a therapeutic experience unlike any other offered at The Meadows. Through interactions between patients and horses, patients learn new ways of dealing with trauma, addictions and relationships. Trained equine specialists use the interactions to illustrate the relationship patterns patients exhibit with people in their lives. Equine Therapy is often noted as a highlight of the treatment program. To learn more about this effective and popular program, contact The Meadows at 800-244-4949.
By Judith Freilich, MD
Recently, I had an opportunity to attend a Spirit Workshop at The Meadows. It was wonderful and I want to tell you about it.
As a 74-year-old woman physician and psychiatrist, I probably am not the workshop’s typical attendee. My lack of experience with horses was equal to my fear of large beasts. But, I still fully recall a horseback ride I took at my eighth grade picnic when I was14. It was a wonderful moment; the memory prompted me to say “go for it!”
On the appointed morning, I showed up at Buddy’s ranch without cowgirl clothes —no fun hat, boots or jeans—for a 5 day, equine-assisted, somatic experience® (SE) workshop. What I did bring with me was a history of profound trauma that began at a very young age. I also arrived with positive, hopeful feelings about SE and its ability to help me release old trauma.
I was not a stranger to myself. I had worked diligently in all kinds of therapies for decades. I’d explored healing modalities far afield from my training and practice in western medicine and psychiatry. I’ve experienced and studied bodywork and energy work in many forms. I have a strong faith and spiritual sense that had kept me alive and caring for others well, in the face of my own immense loss and trauma.
These modalities were all helpful; I have no doubt they kept me functioning and fairly healthy. But, although layers of trauma had been peeled back through this work, there was still trauma frozen in my nervous system and body.
I viewed my remaining trauma as a huge iceberg, all of it intertwined in ways that made it difficult to tease out any one issue without flooding the whole system. I had not yet experienced trauma work through The Meadows.
Yet the horse knows the way, as the old song goes; especially if the horse has wise steerage by Colleen DeRango and Buddy Uldrikson. These two gifted human beings are trained in Somatic Experiencing® and in horsemanship─ deeply trained. I trusted them from the start. When Colleen and Buddy saw my trauma list, they were surprised but not daunted. They said the horse would know the way.
And they were right! There were five of us in the workshop and we formed a cohesive group of support. On the first day, it poured chilly rain. We were asked to walk past all the horses in their stalls and find one we connected with. We were to sense each horse’s response to us and ours to them. This seemed impossible to me!
I walked the line of 12-15 stalls three times, mostly scared and bewildered. I did not feel a sense of connection with any horse. At the far end of the third pass, I approached a huge horse, one that had already turned its butt to me the other two times I’d passed by. That I did feel!
As I approached him this time, he turned his face toward me as a huge tear came out of his right eye. He put his head through the fence gate, sniffed at me and nuzzled me. I felt his warm breath and I felt warmer. To my surprise, I instantly felt grounded. And a huge, healing breath went all the way through my body, naturally!
My energy had re-aligned itself in the presence of this beautiful, soft-eyed horse. He was very tall, the largest horse there. He was a rich brown with a black mane and tail, a white line on his face and white on his lower legs─ it looked like he had on knee-high socks. His breed is German Warmblood, with a fine pedigree. He had not been getting along well with the other horses, so he was in a pen by himself. He was expected to become a fine jumper. He was at Buddy’s ranch for some training.
And I fell in love! We called him Jumper. As Jumper and I worked together through the week, our bond only got stronger. Everyone could feel it. Jumper was calm and extraordinarily gentle with me. This was more than I could have imagined.
Each day, as I drove to Buddy’s ranch, I felt stronger and better. As soon as my car got onto the ranch, I relaxed and loved every moment there. To me, the land at the ranch has a sacred quality. The horses add their presence. I loved the sounds and the smells and the earth and sky and the old mesquite tree we sat under each morning to check in and do a meditation. And all around us was the snuffling of these wonderful beings.
I learned that research done by the Heart Math Institute in California shows that the heart energy field of a horse is nine times larger than our human heart energy fields. I believe it! Under the expert guidance of Colleen and Buddy and in the warmth of Jumper, a huge piece of frozenness left me─ simply left. I felt it go! And no flooding…
I was not the only one to notice. One evening that week, I went into Phoenix to see the cranial-sacral osteopath who has treated me off and on for almost 10 years, ever since I broke a leg. Back then, my whole system was locked in ‘freeze’ from shock. It was not simply shock from the fall that broke my leg; it was deeper shock that went all the way back to a tragedy more than 20 years earlier. She has treated me throughout all the other good work I have done on myself for years.
She put her hands gently on my head. Almost immediately she said that whatever I was doing was making a remarkable change in my nervous system, more so than anything I had done to date. No question. Change, even partway through the Spirit Workshop, was already palpable. That change has been maintained and has even deepened since.
Since the workshop ended, I have been able to continue working with Colleen and Buddy. (I live nearby.) Jumper had to go back to his owner and we parted lovingly. I am fond, very fond, of the other horses, but … a first love is always a first love!
Buddy’s ranch is still a special place for me. Now I have a cowboy hat and jeans; I’m working toward boots. I continue to see the docs taking care of me. They continue to see progress in healing my nervous system at a deep level.
I am grateful!
The Spirit workshop has a 5-day and a 3-day option. The next 5-day workshops will be offered on Sept. 7-11 and November 2-6. The next 3-day workshops are October 2-4 and Dec. 4-6. Register today as spaces are limited. Call 800-244-4949 for more information.
Three-day Spirit Somatic Equine Workshop…the exhale.
So much of our lives are spent doing for others; doing to understand; being there from a place of integrity and love, powered by this passion that we have for supporting others in their life process.
If we are a mother or a father, we are giving to our children, and to each other when we have the energy. If we are a businessperson, we are giving to the betterment of the organization in a way that is honoring of different personalities, different demands, different expectations.
If we are a therapist, we are guiding, listening, holding and supporting our clients; knowing that if they are willing to do the work, we are going to do what we can to support them in their healing process.
This giving, and giving from a place of authenticity is so beautiful, so kind, so loving, and so compassionate.
The three-day Spirit is about receiving; it is about the exhale, and then the full-bodied inhale. The workshop is the oasis in the desert. It is being held for three days; attended to; supported, and invited to ‘be’ and to be supported in ‘being’ in the presence of another ‘being’ that just happens to be a 1200 pound horse. A horse who sees more than anyone’s eyes can see, or ‘others’ can sense. Horses honor, nurture, and bring out the exhale, and the deeper inhale. They somehow simply naturally, by being who they are at the core of their being, help us to re-connect to our core, our knowing, our truth, our “I” within.
They attend to those of us who give. Nourishing our spirits, listening to what is not being said, but needs to be heard. They are the exhale that allows for the deeper inhale.
The Meadows honors you for all that you give, and invite you to receive for three days, on a beautiful ranch in AZ; Rancho Rio Bonita. A place where three days can make the difference in one’s life journey.
Combining The Meadows Model, Somatic Experiencing® (SE), mindfulness, and natural horsemanship this unique, cutting edge workshop allows for a distinct healing experience.
For more details, call 800-244-4949 or sign up on the Spirit workshop page. Our Intake Coordinators are happy to assist you between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. MST on weekdays, and from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. MST on weekends.
Now through the end of the year, The Meadows is offering Spirit: A Somatic Equine Workshop at a special price of $3,500. This is a great opportunity to experience this unique workshop at a price that is only slightly higher than a regular Meadows workshop. Arizona is beautiful this time of year and we expect this workshop to fill up quickly, so reserve your spot today!
Available Workshop Dates:
Combining The Meadows Model, Somatic Experiencing® (SE), mindfulness, and natural horsemanship, this cutting-edge workshop allows for a distinct healing experience. The program consists of experiential activities with horses addressing self-esteem, boundaries, honoring reality, wants and needs, emotional regulation, and spontaneity. Created exclusively for a small group of no more than five participants, this workshop is an outdoor five-day experience facilitated by two seasoned professionals. Individuals, couples, families, and professionals are welcome to enroll.
Attendees will not be riding but should bring the following items to the workshop:
The Meadows' workshops are a cost-effective alternative, when long-term treatment is not an option. Workshops are an opportunity for participants to work on sensitive issues in a concentrated format allowing them to jump-start their personal recovery by gaining insight into unhealthy patterns and practicing new relationship skills within a safe environment.
Limited time cost for the five-day workshop is $3,500 per person - regularly $4,200! Discounted cost includes a daily sack lunch delivered to the ranch, and is only available through December 2014.
Contact our Workshop Coordinator at 800-244-4949 to register.
This unique equine experience is held on a scenic rustic ranch a short distance from Wickenburg, AZ.
Ranch Rio Bonita, 27610 W. Gill Road, Morristown, AZ 85342
Workshop attendees are responsible for their own lodging and transportation. Please discuss arrangement options with our Workshop Coordinator.
Workshop runs Monday through Friday 7:15 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. with an hour lunch break.
This workshop is limited to five enrollments. We rely on an accurate attendance count to make important arrangements for your workshop. If a cancellation occurs 14 or more days prior to the start of the workshop, a full refund, less a $600 administrative fee will be refunded. Cancellations less than 14 days are non-refundable. Allowance is made for a one-time transfer to another workshop date provided you contact us 14 or more days prior to the start of the workshop.
If you have to cancel or transfer your workshop, please contact our Workshops Coordinator as soon as possible - we often have a waiting list of people who want to attend. We can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 800-244-4949.