I’ve always been a bit nervous around horses. Maybe that’s because one tried to buck me off on a trail ride with my family in Wyoming or maybe because every time my husband and I have gone horsebackriding, I seem to get the horse who does not want to stay on the trail and does not like people. I now ask specifically for horses that are named “Daisy Mae” or ” Barely Breathing'”
A positive experience with Equine Assisted Development of the Great Lakes (EAD) has taken away most of that fear. I’ve been priveledged to have had two different experiences with (EAD) . The first one was as a team building exercise on a retreat. They second one was with my kids. Both experiences were unique and special in different ways.
“(EAD) is a unique experience using horses in an unconventional way to promote leadership, team building, personal and professional development. (EAD) is a team consisting of the horse, the equine specialist and the mental health professional or group facilitator.” – (EAD Brochure)
The ladies from my retreat were all at different comfort levels with horses. We would not be riding any that day, but we didn’t really know what to expect. I was nervous because I know that horses can sense fear and I always feel like they are reading my thoughts and playing Jedi mind tricks with me.
There were several horses of different shapes and sizes, who roamed freely in the stable where we were.
The 1st exercise was to identify which horse was the leader or the group, the one most like ourselves and our least favorite.
The answers shared told so much about ourselves. Whether we identified with the confident horse, whether we saw ourselves as shy or weak or small. It was funny how we could recognize things about the horses that translated to our own lives and self awareness.
Next, our group spent time working on teambuiding skills. Our task was to build an obstacle course using materials that we saw around the arena. We had to work together to design a course that the horses could navigate through. To speak up or not to speak up? That was the question.
Sometimes leaders can feel like they are too much and don’t want to dominate the group. Less confident participates debate whether or not to share their idea at the risk of it being shot down. We all wrestled with how our interaction would shape the exercise. We worked together and through trial and error created the course.
Next, all of us had to guide the horses through the course.
That was a little more challenging than I expected.
We also had another exercise where we had to try to corral the horses with the challenge of not touching them. We had to be creative with ways to get them to go the direction we wanted them.
The most powerful part of the experience was witnessing how the horses seemed to gravitate to our group. The owner said that she had never seen the horses interact with a group quite this way. They seemed to want to be integrated with our group and stand close among us.
At the end, we found out that the white horse had been abused before coming to EAD. It had even been hit in the face with a 2 x4. What amazed me was that this horse, who had been through so much, had now grown into a comfort level where it would let strangers touch his face.
This horse is also a part of other’s journey to healing. These techniques with horses are also used with people who have suffered abuse. It spoke to me so powerfully of the story of redemption and how no matter what experiences we’ve been through – that we can overcome in time and are capable of giving and receiving love. Loving again is worth the risk.
I knew that I wanted my boys to experience this incredible encounter with horses too. EAD also works with families, youth groups, sports teams, and corporate executives. They tailor the experience to what the goal is of the group. The experience can also have a faith based element if desired. The exercises give opportunities for developing problem solving skills, assertiveness, communication, trust, responsibility, confidence, attitude, team building, and relationship building.
EAD also offers sessions that help individuals or families with grief recovery and behavioral issues such as anger.
While I was talking to the owner, my boys were being typical siblings and wrestling a bit before we entered the barn. What transpired inside blew my mind. The horses began mimicking the behavior I had seen my boys doing outside.
The two horses got right next to each other like brothers and then began picking at each other.
My oldest son recognized himself as the horse identified as the instigator.
The white horse walked in between the two horses to stop the two horses and my oldest identified that horse as the mom.
It was crazy to see a situation that happened with my kids, replayed inside with horses. Watching the scenario gave my son an awareness to how he can do things to get under his brother’s skin.
I noticed that my kid’s interaction with the horses didn’t display the fears or apprehensions that I had.
The boys were instructed to pick a horse and take the horses for a walk. They had to grab the rope and and pull it through the harness.
We observed Silas’s determination to not give up while trying to get the horse to move. He also showed how he is an encourager by constantly petting the horse and talking to him as he tried to figure out a new way to get the horse to move.
Jonas picked out a small horse to lead. He had a harder time attaching the rope and we watched his brother rush in to do it for him.
He can sometimes let his helpful big brother do things for him that he is capable of doing.
Jonas’s confidence grew when he attached the rope himself and he later even chose a big horse and led him with ease.
We did a few teambuilding exercises as a family. My husband could not make our family session due to business of out state. I would have loved to have seen how having him there would have added to the dynamics of the experience.
The teambuilding exercise helped the boys and I work on communicating and working together.
We then had the challenge of trying to get the horses to move through the cones in a designated area but we could not touch them during the exercise.
We tried without success. Jonas found another subject that was a little more willing to participate.
He became the “cat whisperer” after finding a barn cat that he persuaded to move from the window sill to the cones.
He was excited for the accomplishment. As we closed our session, each of us even had the opportunity to ride bare back on the horse. When we established trust with the horse his ears would turn almost like a switch to signal it was time to move.
Respect is a big part of the program because the horses won’t move unless they feel you can keep them safe.
Working with the horses was so amazing! We learned that horses have the same emotional base line as humans and can feel emotions like fear and happiness. They also have different personalities and roles within their herd. They have a 6 second memory and can’t be manipulated. They live moment by moment.
I would highly recommend checking out (EAD). Everyone can benefit and learn from this unique encounter. It did bring a self awareness to all of us along with more confidence and it was also really FUN!
Elements can be tailored to the groups specific needs. The prices are very affordable for students breaking down to around $10 a person. (Verify minimum group size)
These techniques have also been used across the country to help people who have deep wounds and lies that they have believed about themselves to overcome.
There are peaceful healing trail rides that are also available.
The owner Deb is a Certified Equine Specialist and has a heart to help use horses to bring healing. She is passionate about what she does and I can see why. I’ve seen first hand how the techniques of this empowerment program are valuable and beneficial to everyone.
You can learn more about how your family, group or corporation can have an experience at EAD by contacting Deb VanderBand at 616-318-4919. You can email her at debvbEAD@yahoo.com Also make sure you “like” EAD on facebook.
EAD is located in Alto, Michigan.
Disclosure: I was not financially compensated for this post. I did receive a complimentary family session for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.