Finally! Here at The HERD Institute, our transition from Ohio to Florida is almost complete. After almost six months of back and forth, inactivity, and failed promises from contractors, the barn conversion is finished. Originally, an RV port, the previous owners had created a makeshift barn by putting together some corral panels, thrown some sand on the asphalt, and called them “horse stalls”. In the paddocks, there were a few sparse trees that provided minimum shade, but no run-in shelter. An old tree-house in the back paddock gave some respite for the brutal Florida summers, but was slightly too small and low for all three horses to gather underneath. The paddock doubled as a riding arena, but was uneven and full of fire ant mounds. There was also no space for a classroom to conduct workshops.
Upon initial viewing, we could see that the property was beautiful, and had plenty of potential. I came away feeling positive that I could transform the RV port into a barn, create and arena, put up a lean-to for shade, and convert an old shed into a tack room and classroom. I obtained quotes from contractors, signed on the dotted line, and crossed my fingers that my vision would be realized. The road to completion was a little rockier than I’d hoped, but we now have a fully functioning training space that works for us, and I feel incredibly relieved and blessed.
Over the past few months, I have been reminded that necessity is the mother of creativity, and finding alternative ways to manage my herd, and facilitate workshops without the “ideal” surroundings has been an interesting process. In the midst of my impatience for the building work to be completed, I had to remind myself of my early days in doing this work, when I didn’t have my own horses or facility, and had to navigate my way through the maze of considerations needed to create a successful partnership with facility owners and barn managers. I started in the UK with a horse I had leased for 3 days a week, working with one client, with access to only the barn aisle.
Then, I partnered with a therapeutic riding facility with 3 horses, no indoor space, and one round pen. Over time, as I moved locations, and before I was able to have my own horses, I have worked at a wide variety of facilities, from a small private barn with 2 horses, with an indoor arena but no restrooms, to large PATH International Premier Accredited centers with herds of more than 20 plus horses. In each of these environments, I was clear about one thing – that in order for me to dream big, I had to start somewhere, however small that might be.
There was a time, not so long ago, when I would never have imagined that it would be possible for me to live on a farm, with my herd, to work with clients at my own facility. My wish of creating a training institute was a far-away fantasy. Getting a book published by an academic press was not even on my radar. And yet, life has presented me with my deepest desires. I am blessed and privileged in so many ways, and full of gratitude to all those who have supported me along the way, both two and four-legged.
Reaching for your dreams can be incredibly daunting. The uncertainty of each moment as the process unfolds can create a level of anxiety that feels paralyzing. Yet, when we feel called to follow our hearts and travel off the beaten path, it brings a sense of excitement and adventure. It is this adventurous spirit that many of us can relate to when we decide to embark on this journey of equine-facilitated work. What holds us together is something that is unique to our profession: none of us just fell into it. This isn’t a career path that comes by accidentally. Whatever path we took to get here, by the time we reach the point of actually introducing clients to the horses, we have intentionally, passionately, and tenaciously reached for that goal.*
So for those of you who are just starting out, keep believing in those dreams. The road to that vision may be long, but it’s worth every step. For those of you who are in the midst of running your own programs, and grappling with finding the balance between work and personal life, hang in there and remember why you chose to do this work. Above all, while big dreams start small – they just have to start!
*Excerpt from Veronica Lac’s book, Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy & Learning: The Human-Equine Relational Development (HERD) Approach