Time. This human social construct that helps us to navigate our existence. So elusive, yet constant. An ever-present reminder that life goes on even when it feels like you’re standing still. I feel like I’ve traveled back in time, to memories I thought I’d lost, but my senses tell me they’re very much alive and present in me. The noise, the smells, the heat and humidity, and the distinctive rhythm of life in a crowded city, set against the background staccato language of my childhood. The moment I landed in Hong Kong, I knew with all of my being that I was “home”. Not my home, the place that I call home, but the place which birthed me and still lays claim to a part of my being. The “home” where I should belong and the home where I have often felt I least belong.

It’s been 10 years since I last visited my birthplace. In some ways, that time has flown by, and in other ways, it feels like an eternity. I recognize how much I’ve changed and how I’m much less entangled in the insecurities I carried with me on previous trips. I noticed that I was walking through the crowds with more certainty in myself and felt less self-conscious about my now, less-than-fluent Cantonese in conversations. While this trip was family-focused, I did manage to sneak in some horse time, which offered me profound confirmation of the healing available in the presence of horses.

Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997 when it was returned to China under a 100 year lease agreement. I was there on July 1st, 1997 on Handover Day as the British flag was lowered and the Chinese flag raised. Never had I more acutely felt my inner cultural dissonance when witnessing the Chinese in the room cheer and celebrate as the English ex-pats cried, recognizing then that I inhabited both worlds. Colonialism and independence from it have always been part of my lived experience, shaping both my ways of being with humans and animals.

On this trip, I had the opportunity to visit the equestrian center at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. This facility is for lessons, boarding, and training of non-racing horses, separate from the racetrack facilities. I was given a tour of the center, which boasted an enormous covered arena and multiple outdoor arenas catering to all English disciplines (not a Western saddle in sight in the tack room), clearly a legacy from British rule. The facility manager took pride in showing me the 250 stall barn, built on a hillside to accommodate a basement level row of stalls with windows, and the turnout pastures available to the horses. The resident farrier showed me the rows of custom shoes for the horses, the resident saddler explained how he was trying to find the perfect fit for a young horse, and the resident veterinarian gave me a quick peek at the state of the art minor surgery suite on site. I watched the resident equine bodyworker and chiropractor at work. The barn care team explained that feeding occurs 5 times a day, and every horse is groomed, and/or exercised, and turned out every day, and while the horses are in their stalls, poop is scooped immediately upon deposit into a designated bin for each horse so that in the event of any health concerns, they have easy access to fecal samples. The staff all clearly prided themselves on quality care and service of the horses. From stable hands to grooms, to instructors, and equine health practitioners, these horses seemingly have all their needs met, and more. Most of the horses are OTTBs with a few warmbloods and Welsh cross ponies in the mix that are part of the riding school program.

I was in awe as we walked through the facility. Yes, I was impressed by the facility itself, albeit that it only caters to the elite of Hong Kong society given the expense of horse ownership and participation in equestrian sports in Hong Kong. Yes, I was glad to see how well the horses were taken care of and the holistic practices that were part of their daily routine (as well as can be accommodated within the confines of a concrete jungle). And yes, it was great to see so many retired racehorses being loved and cared for. While the remnants of colonial influence were clearly present through the adoption of British Horse Society standards, I also saw evidence of the integration of indigenous practices: acupuncture, pressure point release, herbal remedies based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Chi Gung were all being utilized. But none of this impacted me as much as the realization that this was the first time I had ever been in the presence of so many Chinese horse people! Despite my less than fluent Cantonese, despite my “coming back from overseas” and no longer being a Hong Kong local, and despite my never having had a conversation in Chinese about horses, I felt seen and heard and a sense of belonging. I am not an anomaly here.

As we walked through the barn, a dark bay OTTB stuck his head over his stall door. I paused as he reached out his neck to sniff my head. I scratched him under his chin and he lifted his head and took another step towards me, then lowered his big head behind my shoulder and pulled me into him. I reached up with both arms to scratch him on either side of his neck and stuck my nose into his chest and took a big sniff. “你回来了”, said the facility manager, “Welcome home”.

“Win Win Charity” declared the stall plaque: Foaled 2018. Retired 2023. 12 races. $0 Prize Money.

I think he’s worth his weight in gold.

Veronica
Executive Director

I don’t know about you all, but 2024 has me exhausted already! I feel like I’m constantly running late, trying to catch up with my never ending to-do list, while spinning in circles to put out the fires I see every which way I turn.

This feeling isn’t new to me. I know that it’s my nervous system dysregulation staying on high alert because I’m so used to being in a state of crisis response that I forget that there’s an alternative way to be. And while it feels like this is happening 100% of the time I’m awake, I also know that it’s not true, that I do have moments where I feel at peace and settled. It’s just that those moments seem to be fewer and further apart. This was highly evident last week when our senior dog, Tyson, was sick with a GI issue and needed to be let out every 2 hours throughout the night. While my husband was able to take him out and fall asleep within minutes of coming back inside, it took me at least an hour each time to fall back asleep, my mind spinning with worry over Tyson.

So, when I woke up the other morning to find a comment on our Facebook page questioning our trauma-informed, social justice lens as to why we are discriminating against white folks in rural areas who want to access training with us by only offering scholarships and discounts to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), I felt my entire body respond on high alert. This is what Resmaa Menakem and other scholars refer to as a racial trauma response. I know it well and I have learned to navigate these instinctive reactions with mindful breathing, movement, and reaching out for support to ensure that I respond from a place of solidity rather than reactivity. I also knew that because this was in a public forum, many of our HERD Community members from marginalized spaces would likely be experiencing the same nervous system dysregulation in reading the comments. Not only did I now need to find support for myself, I also needed to hold space for others. As the comments thread grew throughout the day, I found myself expending emotional labor, time, and energy that was drawn from a rapidly draining well to attend to the conversation as it unfolded. It was a long day that was hijacked by one social media comment.

While the original comment was later edited to say that it was an innocent question to invite discussion, as the author felt “taken aback by the backlash” as others chimed in, I’m left wondering what impact they were hoping for? If the question was asked in innocence, it would suggest an expectation that it’s up to us to educate them about power differentials and the myth of reverse racism, or at the very least that we owe them an explanation of our admissions policies. Despite the fact that the comment was made in response to a post that outlined all the different discounts that we make available to increase accessibility – that they were actually eligible for – they focused on our BIPOC discounts. Did they want clarity on why that exists? If so, they came to the right place.

Because I’m not broadcasting this to elicit additional responses to the original thread. Nor am I sharing this as a “woe is me” narrative. I’m here to say that at The HERD Institute, we are firmly committed to increasing diversity, equity and inclusion, and we offer discounts and various scholarships to make training more accessible to meet this goal. For us, being trauma informed also means being social justice informed and that means working within a framework of cultural competency, which necessitates us all to look at our own perspectives and how we came to them. We are aware that this is a point of discomfort for some and we are open to sitting in that discomfort with people if they are willing to engage in that process. There are many training providers in this field and we encourage people to find a provider that fits with their values. We are not here to persuade you to see things our way. Our aim is to support our students who have chosen to train with us because of our values, to question how we know what we think we know, and how that impacts the world around us, specifically in the context of horse and human connections.

As the day unfolded, I noticed something magical. While holding space for our community, I received numerous messages from members checking in to ask how I was doing, effectively holding space for me. It was in this mutuality that my nervous system began to regulate, calm, and settle. I felt connected in the midst of the storm. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from Gestalt therapists, Erv and Miriam Polster*, that in these moments connection “can only happen between separate beings…I am no longer only me, but me and thee make we”. As I exhaled, I realized that the only way to attend to my self-care is to recognize that it cannot be done in isolation. Healing happens in community through shared experiences, a sense of belonging and solidarity. I am proud of our HERD Community for leaning in, embracing our Commitment of Belonging, and putting it into action. It’s only when we can acknowledge that we are all connected, and that what happens to one of us, happens to all of us, that we can begin to challenge, change, and create a more inclusive way of being in the world.

With this in mind, I am thrilled to announce that our 2024 HERD CAMP: Journey to Alignment is now open for registration for HERD students, graduates, and General Members. CAMP stands for Compassionate Attuned Mentored Practice. We’ll be digging deep on how to take our Commitment of Belonging into Action during our time together. Look out for information coming your way on how to sign up!

With a grateful heart,

Veronica
Executive Director

In honor of Leap Day, we’re taking a leap of faith to let the secret out about what we’ve been planning for you all! The HERD team has been working hard since our inaugural in-person Sharing Space with The HERD Conference to create our next offering to meet the requests from our HERD community. Over the years, you’ve all been telling us that you LOVE that our in-person trainings are conducted in small groups. You’ve told us that you want more time to connect, more time to practice, and more time to reflect on your skills and growth. Above all, you’ve told us repeatedly that you want more discussions to stimulate and challenge the status quo of what it means to do the work we do with horses. I’m hoping that this announcement will meet these goals.

SAVE THE DATE FOR HERD CAMP!

Our next in-person conference isn’t going to be a conference. Instead, we are creating an intimate space for discussions, practice, and reflections. We’ll be hosted by Green Chimneys, a residential, educational, and therapeutic animal assisted center in Brewster, NY.  I’m looking forward to introducing you to their phenomenal team including my dear friends, Michael Kaufmann (Vice President) and Miyako Kinoshita (Farm Education Program Manager), who have been huge supporters of The HERD Institute over the years. I’m even more excited that you’ll get to interact with an incredibly diverse menagerie including camels, alpacas, goats, birds of prey – and, of course, their beautiful herd of horses.

We’re calling this event HERD CAMP to focus on the Compassionate, Attuned, Mentored Practice (see what we did there?) sessions that we’ll be offering, as well as to create the sense of belonging and togetherness of overnight camps. We have so many fun sessions planned for you all – complete with fire pits and s’mores – I can’t wait!!

We’ll share more information as we finalize our plans, but HERDsters, please make sure to save the date for now: September 20-22, 2024. Our camp theme will be Journey to Alignment. This has been a theme for us behind the scenes at The HERD through some significant shifts in our team dynamics and we want to share this process with you. We want to support your journey to find that which aligns with your values, your horses, your human team, and your natural environment. We’re hoping that your experience with us will help you to realign your practice for the mutual benefit of both humans and animals, reignite your passion for the work, and recharge your batteries by being in the company of aligned practitioners.

In order to curate the intimate small group experiences that you’ve all asked for, aside from our invited guest speakers, this event will be for HERD students, graduates, and Members only. We have very limited spaces available so keep your eyes open for registration information coming your way soon.

I’m looking forward to sharing space with you again soon.

Veronica
Executive Director

I’ve just returned from Europe on a trip with friends to London and Paris. Aside from the joy of being able to spend time with people I love, it was also the first time that I’ve been a “tourist” in London since I was about 7 years old. I’d been looking forward to this trip for the better part of a year and felt so proud to be able to share my love of all things British with my friends. As a seasoned traveler, I knew that this trip would be unique as I would be guiding a group of people who were unaccustomed to navigating the unfamiliar sights, sounds, food, and bright lights of big cities; this group being mostly Ohio born and bred and had rarely (if ever) ventured beyond their country of residence.

It hadn’t occurred to me that being a seasoned traveler means that I have become less attuned to the wonder and awe of novel experiences. I consider myself an inquisitive person; curious about the world around me and am prone to marveling at details that others don’t seem to notice. But traversing London with novice travelers opened my eyes to all the things that I take for granted. What was so familiar to me was so alien to the rest of the group. And they questioned EVERYTHING! It was amazing. What a privilege it was to experience the city through their eyes – from all the different modes of public transport (I also never realized how much of a transport nerd I am), to the customs and traditions of my homeland, to the food adventures along the way, I felt like I had time traveled back to my 7 year old self, feeling the magic and awe of each new experience. From the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace, to the archway of Chinatown, and revisiting childhood neighborhoods, my body tingled with the aliveness of it all.

As an educator and therapist, my inclination is always to support and encourage others to stretch their wings; to experience the new – throw out that which no longer serves and adopt new and healthier ways of being in the world. What a joy it was to watch my friends gain confidence in navigating their new world, stretching way beyond their comfort zones and reveling in the adventure. By the time we got to Paris midway through our trip, I was able to step back and let others take the lead in navigating what was less familiar to me.

All this got me thinking about the work that we do within an equine-facilitated setting. How often do we enter into a session resting on what we think we already know? How might we support ourselves to look anew at a client, horse, colleague, or organization and see them through a new lens? What questions might we ask ourselves, or them, if we take away the apparent familiarity of the situation? Most importantly, how much don’t I know about them still? Because the questions that my friends asked weren’t complex, deep, philosophical questions. They were basic facts (e,g, how fast does the tube go? How do you make clotted cream? How did they build the tunnel under the sea? What is a Scotch egg?). The point wasn’t whether I knew the answers to these questions, but that they were asking them – their curiosity allowed mine to spark, which led to more questions,, and it was then in the joint discovery of the answers that brought connection. And as I think about those sessions with my students and clients that feel the most energizing and satisfying, I realize that that’s precisely what makes it so – unearthing the answers to questions that emerge spontaneously in connection.

I’m so grateful for this experience with my friends and I’m now ready for whatever 2024 has in store. I know that I’m in good company with my team at The HERD Institute® to stay curious, ask questions, and go looking for answers together. I hope you’ll all join me in this quest!

Veronica
Executive Director

It’s been all hands on deck at The HERD Institute® this month as we prepare to launch our BRAND NEW Equine Facilitated Learning Foundation Certification curriculum. This Foundation program replaces our existing EFL Level 1 Certification. HERD members please note: All EFL Level 1 Graduates and current EFL Level 1 students will be automatically transferred to this new designation.

Our new training delivery format will be sticking with our tried and tested hybrid teaching model, offering both group and individual mentoring through self-paced online content followed by mentoring and live webinars. We’ve been working on this transition for months and we can’t wait to share it with you all. All these changes have meant that the team has been working tirelessly to ensure that everything on the back end will run smoothly. From student enrollment through to graduation, we want to make sure that we’ve got you covered. To do all this, the Admin and Program Management team came together in person to finalize all the details over a 2-day retreat at HERD HQ in Orlando, FL. And, my goodness! We had a blast!! We worked hard, we played hard, we flexed and flowed in ways that we’ve never done, and we’ve come out with more confidence in our abilities and stronger in our relationships. It was MAGIC!  I am giddy with excitement at what the future holds for our phenomenal team.

At The HERD Institute®, we pride ourselves on the sense of community that we intentionally cultivate for all those who join us. This would not be possible without our incredible team of instructors guiding our students every step of the way on their certification journeys. I’m so grateful to Rachael Loucks, Diana Bezdedeanu, Katie Wheeler, Elizabeth McCorvey, Jennifer Baker, Brandie Millar, Marsha Krantz, Sara Rietsch, Katie Fallon, Sarah Douglas, Chris Goodall, and Danielle Mills. This end-of-year communication is an invitation to all our HERD Members who have experienced the support of our team to shower them with our gratitude! My heart is full of love and admiration for you all.

For now, I’m looking forward to taking some time off over the holidays to rest and digest. I hope you all have the opportunity to do that too.

Happy Holidays to you all. Wishing you all peace and joy in 2024.

Veronica
Executive Director

In this season of Thanksgiving, I’ve been reflecting on the dark side of gratitude.

Yeah, I wasn’t expecting that either. My usual musings tend to lead me down the path of embracing gratitude for all the ways that I am privileged in my existence. While that all still holds true, I’m also aware of how the emphasis on how we should embrace gratitude can also be detrimental to our physical and mental health. As always, I’m not suggesting that it needs to be either/or – I can hold both gratitude and…what’s the opposite of gratitude? A quick look at antonyms to gratitude will reveal words such as thankless, unappreciative, mean, rude, and even abusive.  Really? If I’m not grateful for something, it means I’m abusive?!

This expectation that we should be grateful for what we’ve been given is baked into social norms and throws a powerful blanket over systemic oppression, putting out the fires started by those who dare to show that they are disgruntled and dissatisfied with the status quo because they should be grateful for what they already have. If I’m conditioned to appreciate whatever I’m given, then there’s less risk for me to ask for more. So, if the needle ever so slightly flickers towards progress, should I be grateful for that? Should I be thankful and feel satisfied and tell myself, “At least something happened”? Should I be “grateful for small mercies”?

I don’t think so. I believe that it’s important to hold gratitude and still be able to ask for more without being reprimanded and shamed Oliver Twist style.

This past weekend would’ve been my Grandma’s 100th birthday. Having just celebrated my 50th birthday, I’m struck by the duality of experiencing time as simultaneously a blink of an eye and an eternity, while paralleled by how much the world has changed in the last 100 years and how little progress has been made. Grandma was born in an era when feet binding was only just being abolished in China, and yet her way of being in the world offered me a glimpse of the impact of small acts of rebellion and instilled an independent spirit in me. Grandma taught me the importance of gratitude in the simple things in life while simultaneously reaching for the stars and asking for more.

Thankfully (ha!), these lessons in a different kind of gratitude; lessons that emphasized resilience in the face of adversity while finding joy and gratitude in small moments, were reinforced throughout my childhood. My formative years were spent reading The Joy Luck Club, and Wild Swans, and learning about Qui Jin (dubbed as China’s first feminist) and Chinese railroad workers. I was also encouraged to learn about abolitionists, apartheid, and communism. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my reading material inspired me to critically assess, question, and challenge everything.

This year, at our Sharing Space with The HERD Conference, Elizabeth McCorvey delighted the community in regaling her experience of how she loves to say “YES!” to invitations to collaborate with me. What she didn’t share is that I have also witnessed and learned from her ability to use a simple and powerful phrase with clarity and grace. When confronted with a suggestion, comment, or situation that perpetuates any kind of oppression of marginalized people, her response is simply:

“No, thank you!”

These three words are powerful and potent in our quest to create a more inclusive space for all, and I am learning how and when to deploy them. In this season, when we are told that the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, and often expected to tow the party line within family dynamics that are complex and painful, and meet the expectations of others as a way to show our appreciation, generosity, and above all, gratitude, I want to give space for those moments where I can say, “No, thank you” to dynamics that I don’t want to perpetuate while holding eternal gratitude for the freedom to do so. Above all, in this season, I am grateful to be in the company of those who are willing and able to hear my cry of “No, thank you” and respond with compassion and curiosity, and perhaps join my chorus with their own cries of “No, thank you” to systems that no longer serve them too.

Veronica
Executive Director

I’ve really struggled to find words this month to articulate the depth of pain and horror that we are witnessing in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I feel a responsibility and desire to name the atrocities and to stand against the onslaught against humanity, but everything that I write seems pithy and insincere. Not only because I don’t know what to say, but because I’m hyper-aware that I don’t know enough about the history behind the decades-long conflicts to say anything meaningful. I also recognize what a privilege that is.

I was eleven when I first became aware of the conflicts through Lynn Reid Banks’ book, One More River. I loved that book and re-read it many times. Through those pages, I was introduced to social responsibility and collectivism; the atrocities of war and the peculiarity of maintaining a semblance of everyday life amid horror; and that it’s possible to fall in love with people who are different. I remember asking my dad if there really had been a 6-day war between Israel and Arab nations, what the differences were between the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, and the Tao Te Ching (道德經), and – most importantly for me at the time – why were they all written by old men? But that’s a story for another day.

Right now, I’m aware that when I feel uninformed and ignorant, I get curious about the topic. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks gathering resources to share with others who may feel the same. I know that we have both Jewish and Arab members within our community who hold vastly different views on what is happening in their spiritual and physical homelands, as well as those who don’t belong to either culture who also hold strong and polarized opinions. I’m not here to argue either way. I’m also not offering a “let’s focus on humanity on both sides” stance. I’m here to acknowledge that I am ignorant and am learning and I see the pain and devastation. I’m here to say that I have students, friends, and colleagues who are in Israel whom I am desperately worried about. In my social circle, we have already heard of friends’ relatives who have died or gone missing. This is no time for sticking our heads in the sand and hoping it will fade away with the next news cycle like so many times before.

When I struggle to find my own words, I find it helpful to read the words from others. This poem touched me deeply and I want to share it with you.

Your Village

by Elana Bell*

Once in a village that is burning

      because a village is always somewhere burning

 

And if you do not look because it is not your village

      it is still your village

 

In that village is a hollow child

      You drown when he looks at you with his black, black eyes

 

And if you do not cry because he is not your child

      he is still your child

 

All the animals that could run away have run away

      The trapped ones make an orchestra of their hunger

 

The houses are ruin  Nothing grows in the garden

      The grandfather’s grave is there   A small stone

 

under the shade of a charred oak   Who will brush off the dead

      leaves  Who will call his name for morning prayer

 

Where will they — the ones who slept in this house and ate from this dirt — ?

For me, it’s the final line that is the most haunting. The aching uncertainty hangs heavily in the unfinished, unanswered question.

Where do you turn when you have no words?  Want more education on this complex topic? Here is a link to a Google doc that I’ve been updating with links to various articles and resources that I have found useful in my own continued education on the subject. I’m sharing in case you might find them helpful too.

*Elana Bell is a Brooklyn-based poet, educator, and facilitator of sacred rituals. She is the author of two books of poetry: Mother Country (BOA Editions in 2020) and Eyes, Stones (LSU Press 2012). The following poem is from Eyes, Stones, a collection that was inspired by interviews conducted in Israel, the Palestinian territories, and America. Listen to Elana Bell perform the poem here.

Veronica
Executive Director

Wow! What an incredible ride these past few days have been. One week post-conference and I’m still basking in the joy of being in community. I am overflowing with gratitude and excitement about what will come from all the connections made. Thanks to each and every one of you who made this event such a memorable experience. Together, we forged connections, shared wisdom, and created a warm and inclusive space that aligned with our values at The HERD Institute® of ensuring that everyone feels seen and heard.

One of the coolest things about this conference was the awesome blend of perspectives. We celebrated not just our different backgrounds, but also the diverse ideas and experiences we brought to the table. I am so grateful to all our speakers for sharing their love and passion for their work, and for stimulating such interesting conversations. And it wasn’t only that our speakers were rock stars, but it was YOU, the attendees, who really brought the house down. Your questions, insights, and stories were the secret sauce that made this conference sizzle. Every chat, every panel discussion, it was all powered by YOUR willingness to lean in with curiosity and openness. In planning this conference, our aim was to foster an environment where we could challenge the status quo and bring more diverse perspectives to the forefront of our field. From our Oasis space to conference facilities, we were all about making this event a place where everyone felt not just welcomed but embraced. And the feedback and buzz on social media has certainly been a testament to that.

I know that many of our community were unable to attend the conference. I know that it’s not possible to recreate the feel of the conference for you, but I’m hoping that you’ll be able to share in the love, nonetheless. We are currently working on the conference recordings of the key presentations so that we can share those with you. I’ll keep you updated on the progress of that. In the meantime, we’ll be inviting all attendees and HERD members to our next virtual HERD Gathering to debrief and share their experiences of the conference, ask questions about anything that was left over, and most importantly, continue our connections.

As part of the closing ceremony at the conference, we created a collaborative poem. In sharing our insights, experiences, and hopes from the conference, we were able to weave together our journey:

Sharing The Love of The HERD

The journey builds community. Start together.
Sharing wisdom through relationship –

Horse-centered relationships with common purpose

Belonging in this group and being felt

lets us destroy the colonialism we were dealt.
Stronger together with infinite potential
our minds expand as we contemplate the possibilities…

while shoveling shit

Leadership is knowing when to pivot

and when to stay steady

for the sake of your herd
Inspire heart-felt transformation and being embodied badass,
9 people came together and agreed why is collaboration hard,

it’s the vulnerability of generosity and authenticity.

Drop the mic.

Holding space for one another is validating.
Our connections revitalize our spirit and purpose

A sense of belonging is the heartbeat of The HERD!

My hope is that the connections we made will continue: collaborate on projects, stay in touch, and support each other’s ventures. Let’s carry the spirit of inclusivity, diversity, and belonging forward. With hearts full of thanks, we’re excited to see what amazing things will come from this shared adventure.

With love and gratitude,

Veronica
Executive Director

We’re thrilled to announce that the big day is approaching fast – just ONE MONTH until the Sharing Space with The HERD Conference, and we couldn’t be more excited! It feels like we’ve been assembling an enormous jigsaw puzzle, and you, our amazing attendees, are the missing pieces that will complete the picture, each of you adding your unique perspectives to the vibrant landscape of our industry. We can’t wait to witness this collective brilliance come to life!

We’ve spent months gathering folks from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and modalities to present at the conference. Like individual puzzle pieces, each presenter will bring their expertise, passion, and wisdom to our gathering. From our keynote speakers to our industry panel experts, they will be the core of our conference; inspiring, challenging, educating, and igniting transformative dialogues.

Throughout the journey of planning this event, we’ve witnessed the edges of our jigsaw come together, forming the perfect container for our conference. Our venue, vendors, staff, and volunteers have passionately worked together to fit all the pieces together, ensuring that we hold space in a way that cherishes the beauty of diversity and celebrates our HERD Institute culture. As we approach the big day, we’re meticulously discovering the last pieces of our puzzle. The final touches and details are always the most exciting part of event planning! From our HERD Gatherings and Meet the Author table to our Denim or Diamonds HERD Banquet – we’ve got something for everyone.

So, if you haven’t registered yet, consider this your personal invitation to join us in piecing together this unique event of learning, connection, and growth. Whether you’re attending in person or online, we can’t wait to connect with you soon!

Get ready to be a part of our collaborative jigsaw, where you can contribute to a beautiful picture of inspiration and knowledge.

With gratitude,

Veronica
Executive Director

Have you seen the show Naked and Afraid? It’s a reality show where a pair of total strangers have to survive for 21 days together with no clothes and supplies, exposed to the dangers of extreme environments. There are 15 seasons of this show, so clearly that says something about us as viewers and our lust for witnessing others’ vulnerabilities. I’m curious about whether we’re driven to watch these shows to experience something vicariously (the danger, resilience, fear), or for the satisfaction in rooting for a team (or not). What does that say about our own capacity for vulnerability, danger, and fear of the unknown? I can’t quite imagine what it must be like to feel quite so utterly exposed.

Except that maybe I can.

I just completed my manuscript for book number 3. The title is “Obviously I’m not from here: Embodying a sense of belonging with the help of horses”.  The manuscript is with the copyeditor and I’m in the process of collecting reviews from some respected colleagues in the equine assisted services industry. I’m noticing how different I feel with this book compared to the first two. I remember feeling huge waves of imposter syndrome when my first book was published. I’d published plenty of academic journal articles up until that point, but a book felt more…permanent. Like, what if I change my mind about how I conceptualize something in the future? It’ll be written in stone, and I’ll be held responsible for it until my dying day. My imposter syndrome was telling me that I wasn’t ready for such responsibility. In contrast, for my second book, released during the pandemic in 2020, I felt excited and eager to offer a more accessible and relatable volume of work. I knew that the case studies and theoretical concepts would help students in creating programs and sessions that aligned with The HERD Model™. While it offered plenty of personal stories and insights, they were mostly focused on how I conceptualize the work that we do.

Book 3 is different. This book isn’t so much about what I do or how I conceptualize our work. It’s…who I am. I’m noticing a theme in the words reviewers are using to describe this book: personal, challenging, and vulnerable. I’m so grateful for the endorsements given and humbled by my reviewers’ excitement about the upcoming publication, but to be honest, I feel naked and afraid! This book is about increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the equine industry and is full of reflections of my personal struggles of feeling that I don’t belong and how horses have helped me find myself amid all that is unknown. My feelings of being exposed and vulnerable have manifested my own personal version of the show, Naked and Afraid, through nightmares of running naked down a platform after a departing train and trying to lasso horses that have escaped through accidentally opened gates while simultaneously being chased by dragons. Clearly, my subconscious is telling me in no uncertain terms that there’s no point in shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

And it’s bolted for sure. My publishers told me that we have record numbers of pre-orders after only 2 weeks. The release date of the book is set for September 15, 2023 – conveniently coinciding with our Sharing Space with The HERD Conference. We’ll have copies of the book available for purchase then. By then, I’m hoping I’ll have recovered from my nightmares enough to host an author meet and greet and sign some copies. For now, I’m taking comfort in the fact that I am surrounded by love and support while I’m feeling all the feels. I’m honored that the book has several chapter contributions from our HERD faculty, graduates, and students – all of whom have courageously shared their work and personal experiences of finding a sense of belonging with the help of horses. When I hold on to that, I feel less afraid. Comes back full circle, I guess, to the core message in the book that there’s safety in the herd, and with acceptance of differences, we can all find more inclusive ways of sharing space with others.

With gratitude to our HERD,

Veronica
Executive Director