I’ve just returned from a quick trip to California to teach at my alma mater. It was an interesting experience to introduce so many students to the world of animal assisted services, while also recognizing how far I’ve come in my own journey. Being immersed in the industry, it’s easy to forget that this field is still unknown to many mainstream mental health practitioners. I’m familiar with grappling with the detailed, nuanced, and complex terminologies and methodologies within the industry, so I felt a degree with surprise to be in a psychology setting where everything I said was received as novel. My felt sense of being a part of the community but also separated from it is familiar to me, conditioned into the core of my being is the skill of simultaneously navigating separate worlds, so I received this awareness with curiosity.

I wondered about the experience of novelty and how we engage with it, or not. I wondered how often we seek new frontiers, or not. I’m aware of how the transition from one year to the next calls us to make resolutions, set intentions, do things differently, pulling us to offer the world newer, brighter, better versions of ourselves. I’m curious about how that cycle of transformation impacts us individually and collectively.

At The HERD Institute®, we teach students the importance of zooming in and out between levels of awareness in self, other, and environment. Learning, growth, and healing comes from finding balance within us and in our relationships. My experience teaching outside of the equine facilitated space reminded me of the importance of being able to see the forest and not only the trees. I chuckled at this reminder as it felt so timely in my own process. After the two consecutive hurricanes last year, there was so much debris around the farm. I’d been zooming in on the details more than the bigger picture, noticing the fallen trees and branches creating trip hazards in the pastures, broken fence posts around the perimeter, and overgrown vegetation creating drainage blocks. So, all I wanted for Christmas was a chainsaw. I wanted to clear the path, remove obstacles, and replace the old.

My chainsaw comes with a manual that outlines safety precautions, recommended protective wear, and cutting techniques. It comes with a danger warning of the inherent risks of operating a power tool. In my process of clearing debris, I created a giant burn pile and waited for the perfect day to set it alight. As I watched the bonfire come to life, I recognized the symbolism of the process in relation to this time in my life and what I feel called to offer our community.

How can I protect what we have co-created in this community, while continuing to forge a path for others? What systems and structures do we need to trim, replace, or simply burn down? What risks do we intentionally take to create that space? When we adjust for the detail, what impact does that have for the wider landscape? What benefits might the bonfire provide? In my mind, it’s in those fireside chats where we’ll find the warmth, connections, and nourishment that we need to feel a sense of belonging. I want to name the privilege (and power) I hold in wielding the chainsaw to help create an intentionally inclusive space and, as always, extend an invitation for you to join us around the fire. Systemic change can only happen if we all contribute to the fire in some way so that the individual becomes the collective, and for the whole to become greater than the sum of its parts.

Join us in conversation this year as we gather for our first in-person conference. Keep an eye out for more information coming your way as we prepare our summit line-up and conference schedule. For now, save the date: September 15-17, 2023, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Twinsburg, Ohio.

Here’s to a wonderful year of continued connections!

With gratitude,

Executive Director