It’s hurricane season again in Florida. This means that we are dealing with daily thunderstorms, tropical storm surges, and localized flooding. It also means that I spend the season on high alert for sudden shifts in weather, constantly worrying about the state of my horses’ feet as they stand in rain-soaked pastures, with a daily re-evaluation of whether it’s safe to let them graze or keep them on high ground in the open barn. This decision involves balancing the risk of them either abscessing from the wet ground or getting sand colic from being turned out in the sand arena where they spend the day nibbling at weeds around the edges. Sometimes, it feels like a never-ending cycle of soaking and wrapping feet and midnight colic poop watch. Occasionally, I wonder why I choose to live this farm life.
It’s in those moments, when I’m knee deep in flood water, or sleeping in the classroom next to the barn to be closer to the horses during a bout of colic, that I am most aware of how working with horses has shifted my perspective of what it means to be a caretaker of the land and animals in my life. The small shifts in priority over the years as I’ve learned what farm life really means becomes a stark contrast to what I thought I was signing up for! The physical labor required to maintain a farm; the anxiety provoking sight of a horse in distress; the early mornings and late nights scrambling to make sure that all the animals are fed, watered, and predator proofed – all of it on top of the demands of running a small business – is a LOT! No wonder I’m exhausted all the time. But I also know that I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Visiting us on site at The HERD Institute, particularly for students who are at the beginning stages of their equine facilitated journey, people see the idyllic life of small acreage living where my horses, dogs, cat, and chickens live in peaceful co-existence. There’s a sense of flow in sessions from classroom to pasture, and barn to arena, as we move from one session to the next. Magic happens in the connections made between horses and students and a sense of community and belonging is forged. We focus on the interconnectedness of being in this world and students leave feeling nourished, inspired, and passionate about their work and the journey ahead.
Then, real life strikes and the visions that they hold for what they want to birth into the world seem more distant. Connections made during training seem less tangible. For some, a sense of isolation might creep in that adds to the daunting task ahead. Added to all of this, the uncertainty of what is yet to come during these pandemic times has left many feeling unsure of their next steps.
So, I’m here to tell all of you who are feeling those struggles that you’re not alone. I hear you. I get it. This isn’t a “I’ve been there, and you’ll get through it too” thing, but more of an “I’m in it with you” feeling. For many of us, asking for help is part of the struggle, but what I’ve learned is that it’s a critical step. We all need support. That support doesn’t have to be in the form of practical “fix it” solutions but simply to know that we are not alone. Hearing that someone else is experiencing something similar allows us to sink into acknowledging that what we’re going through is hard, and that we don’t need to tough it out alone.
That’s why, we believe that continued mentoring, supervision, and peer support is so critical for our industry. It can be a lonely and overwhelming journey to manifest a vision, no matter how passionate you are. We need to know that we’re not alone in our struggles and it helps to have those who have walked the path before us to show their humanity too. It’s important to acknowledge that we have not chosen an easy path for ourselves and that what we are doing, creating, building, and nurturing is needed in this world full of uncertainty.
Contact us and let us know what you’re struggling with in your programs right now. Let’s see if we can support each other in community. In this herd, we all belong.
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I’ve often been called a dreamer, an idealist, and an optimist. The implications of these terms being that I’m being unrealistic and lacking in pragmatism. The privileges that I have been afforded in my life means that I possess the internal resources to hold an abundance of hope. Hope for a more equitable, sustainable, and inclusive world; hope for increased accessibility to services for those who need it most; and hope for those who are often dismissed or invisible, to become visible, loud, and proud.
Over the past couple of years, we have worked hard at The HERD Institute® to challenge the status quo of the equine facilitated industry by offering trainings, workshops, and conferences that center the needs of the marginalized populations that we serve, and by increasing awareness of the importance of cultural competency in the industry. Our virtual summits have focused on highlighting the incredible work that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), and/or LGBTQIA folks are doing within the industry, while also encouraging conversations about how to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion within our communities. These summits gathered leaders across our industry together to engage in some vulnerable, poignant, and brave dialogues to model what it means to courageously step into the unknown. I believe that these collaborations are critical to our industry and represent the beginnings of real, systemic change.
Within The HERD Institute®, I am incredibly proud of our team’s efforts in diversifying our HERD community. Our student demographics have shifted from being only 9% of BIPOC and/or openly LGBTQIA folks to almost 25% in 18 months. This significant increase represents the undeniable impact of centering diversity, equity, and inclusion in our enrollment strategy, and is a step towards honoring our vision of making our trainings accessible to those who are historically under-served. By offering a safer and more inclusive space for folks who have traditionally not felt welcomed into this space, we can support practitioners to serve their communities from within their cultural contexts.
I’ve talked a lot in various webinars, conferences, and podcasts recently about the importance of organizations making “more than a statement” on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I’m often asked about how to implement strategies that increase diversity and belonging. I am not an expert in these matters. All I know is that by following my heart rather than worrying about the bottom line, we are making progress a small step at a time. Part of our next steps is through releasing our own statement, what we’re calling our Commitment of Belonging, that declares proudly and loudly to all those with whom we come into contact, the values that we hold as an organization. This commitment is now part of our organizational DNA.
In the process of creating the summits, workshops, and drafting this Commitment of Belonging, I have found myself repeatedly returning to the lyrics of the song, A Million Dreams, from the movie The Greatest Showman.
They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy
They can say, they can say I’ve lost my mind
I don’t care, I don’t care, so call me crazy
We can live in a world that we design
‘Cause every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all its gonna take
Oh a million dreams for the world we’re gonna make
I am grateful for our team at The HERD and to all our community members who have stepped up to dream these dreams with me. This is just the beginning, and the next dream is already emerging, unfolding, and becoming more real, day by day. Watch this space!
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It’s been 15 months since the start of the global pandemic that stopped the whole world in its tracks. This week also marked the first anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. I feel the weight of what has been the toughest year ever of being a trainer, mentor, and supervisor to educators and mental health practitioners who have been on the front lines every day in support of others, many of whom are struggling with the same feelings of uncertainty, isolation, depression, and anxiety as their clients.
It’s been a long slog and It’s not over yet. While pandemic restrictions have eased in many parts of the USA, I am aware that around the world, restrictions and lockdowns are still very much a part of everyday life for many people. Travel restrictions are still in place and while the USA are doing well with getting people vaccinated, there are still many who do not trust the science behind the vaccine and/or are unable to take advantage of it due to pre-existing conditions. In Hong Kong, the vaccination rate is only 2% of the population despite an abundance of vaccines available. Meanwhile, in India, the virus is on a rampage across the country and they are desperate for vaccine supplies. These pandemic inequalities highlight the systemic inequalities that are so embedded in the fabric of our global society, and while it’s tempting (and easy) to turn a blind eye because many of us are not directly affected, it’s part of the ecosystem that supports the work that we do at The HERD Institute.
It was against this background that we held our first in-person equine facilitated psychotherapy certification practicum of 2021 last week. Students arrived from all over the USA to connect, explore, and practice our compassionate approach to working with humans and horses. Each student brought with them their individual life-space and cultural context. We dug deep and excavated intrapersonal and interpersonal processes that supported our way of being in the world. There were disagreements and ruptures that were held with dignity, respect, and compassion for the other’s worldview. Repairs were made possible through acknowledging and accepting differences of experiences and opinions. The horses showed up, as always, with their wisdom and authentic engagement that left us in awe and wonder. For me, I will never cease to be amazed at the energetic resonance and co-regulation that can happen when we allow ourselves to surrender to the here-and-now experience of connecting deeply with self and others, and the horses.
So, I’m coming out of this immersive experience with a sense of lightness that I haven’t felt in a long time. I’m beginning to feel the softening of my hard edges and I’m starting to see a glimmer of light. It’s always been there, I’m sure. I just haven’t been able to orient myself towards it until now. My experience as a global citizen tells me that there is always light in the dark; that things are never so black and white, right or wrong; and that healing often happens in the murky light of overcast grey skies. Now that I’ve turned towards the light, I long to feel the warmth spread through my body, and I’m more supported in my ability to reach for it.
I recognize this feeling. I call it hope. And for me, hope is the starting point for my creative endeavors. So, watch this space. The creative process is unleashing and who knows what will emerge!
Personally, 2021 is a special year. I’d been looking forward to celebrating many milestones with my nearest and dearest. Last month, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. My brother-in-law turned 50 a few weeks ago. Next week, it will officially be 10 years since we moved to the United States, and in June, my husband and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. So many milestones and so much to celebrate. What we hadn’t envisioned was how many of these celebrations would need to be curtailed or postponed. Mixed in with all of this, of course, is the anniversary of the global pandemic.
With all of this, I’m feeling a mixture of grief and gratitude – both in overwhelming proportions. I’m imagining that this is true for many of our HERD members too. These waves of grief and gratitude that exist simultaneously for all that we’ve lost collectively and all that we can still feel blessings from. And now, with the vaccination roll outs that are under way, the beginnings of a glimmer of hope for reconnecting where possible with those we’ve missed during this past year. My heart feels wide open and full and empty and forlorn. Both/And.
So, as we move forward one step at a time, I urge you to take care of yourselves and each other, now more than ever before. Because the burn out that I am witnessing in myself, our students, graduates, and community members tells me that so many of us have spent this past year attending to those who’ve needed us more. Compassion fatigue is setting in just as the world begins to open back up. I’m certainly learning to be clearer about my intentions with what I take on board, what boundaries I need to hold, and what support I need in order to stay upright. I am not ashamed to say that I am exhausted and weary and am intentionally taking more time to re-center, ground, and find support from those I have learned to lean on in these times.
From the deep, deep wells of my grief and gratitude, my heart is with you all as we continue to navigate what’s next. May you find grace, compassion, and joy until we meet again!
Our Diversifying The HERD Virtual Summit at the beginning of February was a groundbreaking event. This was the first ever summit that was led and hosted by people of color in the equine facilitated space and I’m so grateful to my co-host for the event, Elizabeth McCorvey and to all our speakers and panelists for helping to create such an open-hearted and inspiring space for dialogue. Proceeds from the summit raised a whopping $5500 for the Patricia Kelly Scholarship Fund through Share in The HERD™. This scholarship fund is named after our keynote speaker for the event, Patricia Kelly, of Ebony Horsewomen Inc. A pioneer in the field of equine facilitated work, Patricia has been a role model for many people of color in our industry.
On the day of the summit, I was giddy with a mixture of excitement and trepidation of what might unfold. We had an amazing turn out, and while the technological challenges of virtual gatherings didn’t escape us, we were able to maintain a steady stream of participants in all of our live sessions. It was incredible to see so many different approaches to equine facilitated and assisted work being represented by those in attendance. There were folks from EAGALA, Natural Lifemanship, EPI, and PATH International, as well as those who came from outside of our equine facilitated community from breed or discipline organizations, equine welfare and educational spaces, and the American Horse Council. It occurred to me as I looked at all the faces on the screen that morning, that coming together in community with all our different approaches is the essence of diversity, and I felt a sense of pride in how so many people showed up and stepped up to the challenge of addressing issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in our field.
Once the adrenalin rush of the event was over, and I’d surrendered myself to a brief moment of satisfaction with what we had collectively created, I was left with a sense of urgency. This feeling of urgency is not new to me when it comes to matters of social justice. It comes from a frustration of wanting to lift up the voices that need to be heard and knowing that so much more work needs to be done. This time though, I felt a slight shift with this urgency. I realized that just because the work was urgent, it didn’t mean that it could be done quickly. Instead, there was a sense of needing to allow for space to rest and digest what happened, and is continuing to happen, through the summit. For those who chose the extended access options, or those who couldn’t make it to the live event and are accessing the recordings in small bite size chunks, before jumping into the “next thing”, we need to give space for people to process and experience it all at their own pace. Because that’s how the issue is gaining momentum – not from those who are mired in the struggle, but from newly formed allies who are stepping up to do the work.
So, for those of you who have been asking “will there be more?” the answer is YES, absolutely. I’m working on the next offering as we speak. Meanwhile, I want to encourage everyone to take their time to immerse themselves into the experience of the first summit, continue to engage and connect with each other, support and strengthen the work that we are all doing to build a more inclusive world. And, if you didn’t get a chance to sign up for the summit, you can now purchase unlimited access of all the recordings. Simply click on the link below and enter into the experience.
Here’s what a few people have said about the summit:
And my favorite:
My heart is full of gratitude. Until next time, my friends!
Our Diversifying The HERD Virtual Summit is almost upon us! I can hardly believe how quickly that has come together. From talking to Elizabeth McCorvey one day about how often we were the only people of color presenting at industry conferences, to deciding that we would take the plunge to create this summit, and pulling together a line-up of presenters, I feel as if I’ve been swept along on a wave of enthusiasm and excitement for this event. What began as a one day live gathering soon extended to providing attendees the option to immerse further into the experience with pre-recorded presentations and conversations with industry leaders.
When Elizabeth and I first talked about creating this summit, our motivation came from a desire to highlight practitioners of color in the field who are doing some incredible work in their communities. Our hope is that by increasing representation, we can encourage a new generation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color to enter into the field. We also wanted to support people in the equine industry who want to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in their barns and programs to find creative strategies to move forward. Most importantly, we want to help challenge, change, and create organizations to be more welcoming of difference. Our hope is that by offering a space where people can come together to listen with curiosity about each other’s experiences, we can begin to dismantle systems of oppression and build a more diverse and equitable industry.
We are aware that for many people, talking about racism and systemic oppression is uncomfortable. We also know that we need to have these difficult conversations in order to find a way forward. Part of being an ally for diversity, equity, and inclusion is about taking a stand to say that we believe that this issue is important, and that we’ll fight alongside those who feel oppressed. That’s risky and vulnerable to put yourself in a position where you might stand out from others. For organizational leaders who are willing to take that risk, it may result in criticism from their members, staff, and/or potential customers. It’s about choosing courage and integrity over comfort and status quo. It’s about leading from the heart and not the bottom line and standing strong in the face of resistance.
For these reasons, we want to recognize the risks that our sponsors have taken to be visible allies in our quest for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). We are so grateful for the support and hope that your leadership will encourage those within your organizations to embrace the call to action to challenge, change, and create organizations with DEI in mind.
Thank you, to Kathy Alm and PATH International for embracing change. In addition to taking part in the Industry Leaders Panel Discussion and continuing a conversation with me about the challenges of navigating change as part of the summit, Kathy has spearheaded an organization wide effort to address DEI issues. From the Board of Trustees and Staff development, to creating a Diversity working group, she is modeling what it means to be an ally through her commitment to dismantling systemic racism in the industry.
We are excited that State Line Tack took the initiative through their Diversity Equestrian Project to highlight people of color in the equine industry, and for promoting our summit through their network. When corporations stand up to become visible allies through actions like these, it gives hope for those of us on the front lines of activism that things can change. With State Line Tack standing up and taking the lead, we are beginning to see other organizations within the equine industry embracing the message too. This, in turn, makes it safer for us to speak out and engage in these difficult conversations.
When I first launched The HERD Institute®, I was clear in my mission that our community would be one that fostered a spirit of abundance, acknowledging that there are many ways of working with horses in psychotherapy and learning settings, and that not “one-size-fits-all”. I have intentionally collaborated with other training providers over the years, and nurtured relationships around the world, knowing that our mutual support is essential for the industry. As a result, I am thrilled that Bettina Shultz and Natural Lifemanship have made a donation towards sponsoring the summit and have also generously provided some bonus materials for our attendees. These bonus recordings are from Natural Lifemanship’s Interconnected 2020 virtual summit and offer an embodied perspective of racism, implicit bias, and racialized trauma.
I’m also grateful to my friends, new and old, who have supported this project through their visible allyship. Elisabeth Crabtree of A Stable Connection, Dr. Anastasia Curwood and Sally Spickard from Strides for Equality Equestrians (SEE), and Dr. Louis Hoffman at University Professors Press, who have all put their weight behind this project in different ways. Your continued support means more than you know.
So, it is with giddy excitement and gratitude that I invite you to join us for the Diversifying The HERD Virtual Summit next Saturday, February 6, 2021. You can find out more and register here. In addition to the LIVE sessions, there are over 20 hours of pre-recorded presentations and conversations, as well as bonus materials for those who want to dig deeper. Join us to stand up, stand out, and stand strong for a more inclusive world.
Looking forward to seeing you there!