Deep Diving in Rabbit Holes

Deep Diving in Rabbit Holes

The HERD Institute It is with a heavy heart that we share the news that one of our beloved HERD members lost her battle with cancer last month. Kris Miner was a HERD EFL graduate and was working towards completing her EFP Certification when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of blood cancer. In life, Kris embodied love, grace, compassion, and courage. Building community and fostering connections was her passion. She was a leading voice in the Restorative Justice circles and was an active member of our HERD community. The world has lost a beautiful soul whose healing presence was felt by many and I am holding her family and our community with love as we grieve together.

When I think of the humans and animals I have known and loved who have passed, I am acutely aware of how deeply I want to hold onto those connections. I’d give anything to be able to sniff the head our beloved dog, Alfie, just one more time. To breathe in his scent and feel the softness of his fur in my face. I think of my grandma, the paper-thin skin of her hand in mine, and yearn to know how she feels about where my life has taken me. And I think of Kris, whose connections to the Wase Wapka community inspired me from the moment we met to work in collaboration with indigenous peoples to decolonize the work that we do in those communities. I want to feel her presence and continue to share our journeys as we did when she was alive. The idea of communicating with the dead deeply appeals to me. To know with certainty that there is life beyond this Earthly existence, find proof of it, and stay connected to those in the beyond brings solace and joy in tandem with an ever-present saudade. And I know that this certainty may not be possible.

I was watching the new Netflix show, Life After Death with Tyler Henry recently. It’s based on Tyler’s ability to communicate with those who have passed on. It’s beautiful and poignant. Tyler leans into the work that he does with grace and compassion, and I found the show fascinating and comforting. But it also got me thinking about what I believe in, what evidence I seek for those beliefs, and how I know if I can trust that evidence. It’s a deep dive into some rabbit holes!

Faith is to believe in something without objective evidence. Whether we are talking about religious or spiritual faith, holistic practices that science is yet to fathom, or the healing potential of horses, we all subscribe to a philosophical framework that is influenced by the culture and context of our experiences. My ancestors prayed to their ancestors for centuries until a couple of generations ago when the missionaries came, and then they were taught to pray to a different God. I wonder what that means and what may have been lost. I wonder what led them to subscribe to a wholly different set of beliefs. I see how my family have simultaneously upheld some traditional Chinese superstitions and beliefs in tandem with Christian doctrines. Do we simply pick and choose what fits in the moment? Hedge our bets with both? What prompts us to dive in the deep end and embrace a new creed and culture? Does that happen overnight or is it a process of incremental loss of our original foundations? Did those changes come about willingly or were they coerced? How does this connect to our sense of integrity? And in the context of the work that we do in the equine facilitated industry, what are the parallels of this process? See what I mean by rabbit holes?

My penchant for questioning everything is both a blessing and a curse. I was that child that asked questions incessantly. I was never content with any authoritarian “It just is” response. Things are never “just the way they are” and questioning why things are the way they are is essential to progress. In our industry, how we work with horses is based on what we were taught, situated within our belief systems and cultures. It’s important for us to question what we believe about the way our equine partners communicate and what we think they need to thrive. It’s essential to honor our horses’ experiences in a way that isn’t based on an acceptance of “it’s just the way it is”, because what if that “way” is based on assumptions and generalizations that are now out of date, or on belief systems that are not aligned with our own?

Inevitably, once we start questioning, it will lead to more questions. This endless curiosity requires a degree of stamina for not knowing, sitting with the discomfort of that, and a willingness to dig deep. The results may be unimagined revelations or frustrating dead-ends, or more often, segues into more avenues of inquiry. If you’re so inclined, come join us at The HERD. I’d love to know what rabbit holes you end up following.

Warmly,

Veronica
Executive Director

No Spring Without Winter

No Spring Without Winter

It was nearly 14 years ago that Alfie came into our lives. This small, ginger, fluff ball with big soulful eyes and the most delicious puppy smell captured our hearts from the moment we met him. It was because of Alfie’s curiosity that I stepped onto the path towards animal assisted therapy and services. The way he engaged with my therapy clients when they walked through the door of my home office got me questioning if it was possible to invite him into sessions. We ended up going through multiple therapy dog certifications so that he could join me in sessions, and thus altering my career. We visited nursing homes and schools to offer canine assisted services. When we moved to the States, Alfie came with me to the eating disorder clinic and helped me facilitate individual, family, and group sessions. He thrived on physical contact and was ever hopeful for treats. He would lean against clients to help them feel more grounded and paw at them when they drifted away. Throughout his life, Alfie challenged me to stay present and grounded, and opened my heart towards a more compassionate view of what it means to be in relationship with animals.

Alfie passed away peacefully in our arms a few weeks ago and the grief that I feel is profound. An abundance of joy and gratitude for the memories we hold and a depth of pain and longing simultaneously. I was lucky to be surrounded by friends, colleagues, and students who truly understand this particular type of grief, as they embraced me with their empathy and love. With his passing, I have become more aware of everything else that is shifting around me to adjust for his absence. I’m gaining clarity on the transitions in my life that were already in motion that I have been resisting. Change is hard and necessary. Looking back at the impact that Alfie has had in our lives, I can honestly say that when we first brought home this little bundle of fluff, I had no idea how he would change the trajectory of our lives, that we would end up living on a farm, or that I would be doing the work that I do now. Change creates possibilities.

The HERD Institute will be 6 years old this year. I am so thankful for the incredible team of horses and humans who have supported our growth over the years and feel so proud of what we have created. We have endured many transitions, with each season offering its own challenges, but like my grief, I have felt joy, gratitude, pain, and anxiety in equal measure throughout it all. I know that I will continue to experience all the highs and lows of leading an organization. Like my grief, I am thankful to be surrounded by folks who share my passion in creating the type of diverse and inclusive community that I yearn for, whose own desires for sharing skills and knowledge allow them to step in with courage and compassion in how they lift up those they teach and mentor as they help to spread the work of The HERD.

As Spring emerges, I’m excited to announce that we are going to be shaking things up at The HERD Institute. As an educator and mentor, there is nothing more heart-warming for me than to witness the personal and professional growth of our students and graduates. Many of you will have experienced the magic of learning that Sarah Morehouse brings to our certification programs. Sarah not only leads our trainings, mentoring and supervising students, and helping to create the welcoming culture of The HERD programs, she has also been instrumental in the growth of The HERD behind the scenes with her attention to detail in creating policies and procedures. I am so proud to announce her upcoming promotion within our organization to her new role as Senior Instructor & Operations Executive.

We are also thrilled to be welcoming two new team members, Katie Wheeler and Bonita VanTull. Katie is stepping in as our new Finance & Membership Manager, and Bonita is our new Administrative Manager. Watch out for our social media introductions to these two amazing women!

Finally, Crista Broesler, who has been my Executive Assistant since last summer, is moving on to new pastures to focus on her graphic design work. Crista made a huge impact behind the scenes at The HERD in setting up our CRM platform, designing social media graphics, and coordinating our student intake process. While we will miss her daily contributions, Crista will still be on hand to help us with our design needs. She has also generously offered all HERD students and graduates a 15% discount for design work through her business Sweat & Tears Studio. Simply mention The HERD when you contact her.

New places, new faces, and new opportunities for growth. As we move from one season to another, and step into a new way of working, I’m also holding onto the biggest lesson that Alfie taught me – when faced with uncertainty, always stay hopeful and lean in for support.

Warmly,

Veronica
Executive Director

Love as a Five Letter Word(le)

Love as a Five Letter Word(le)

The world owes Josh Wardle, creator of the daily word game Wordle, an enormous debt of gratitude. First, let’s just pause and acknowledge that he created this game for his partner who loves word puzzles. Through this act, he provided her with a daily gift of mystery and fun, and a small reminder of his love. As someone’s whose love language is through acts of service, I’m swooning!

For those of you who haven’t surrendered to the Wordle experience, it’s a simple game of guessing a 5-letter word. A new word is given each day. You start with any 5-letter word and you have 6 attempts at reaching the word of the day. With each attempt, letters that are correct and in the right space are coded in green; letters that are in the word, but not in the correct space, are coded in yellow, and letters that aren’t in the word are coded in grey. Through a process of elimination and deduction, the aim of the game is to guess the word with as few attempts as possible.

Those of you who have been seduced by this addictive game might resonate with how this has become a daily ritual for me. I’m fascinated by the process of how this game has spread, why it’s become the global phenomenon that it has, and what this says about those of us who have embraced it as part of our daily existence.

This ongoing global pandemic that is entering its third year of disruption has created huge voids for so many of us. Families are still unable to gather in many parts of the world and travel restrictions are still in place for many countries. In Hong Kong, my elderly parents have been under isolation protocols since November 2019 when the virus first made its appearance. Right now, travel restrictions require all passengers from incoming flights to quarantine for 21 days in a hotel. No exceptions. This means that I would need to take a minimum of a month away from the farm in order to visit them – which just isn’t possible. I know that I’m not alone. Friends in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Africa are all experiencing similar challenges.

For me, Wordle has captivated the world during this time of disconnect and isolation. Seemingly overnight, my daily routine includes hearing from friends and family about their Wordle experience of the day. The adoption of a social contract that values another’s experience (so as not to spoil the game for someone who hasn’t played yet that day) that is built into the game itself via how results are shared without revealing the answer speaks to our ability to prioritize others in a communal way that has felt so lacking during the pandemic. And in the connections with other players, it has sparked a sense of shared joy, triumph, and celebration. The daily words themselves have prompted conversations about cultural differences (usage, spelling, context). Conversations about the strategies employed as part of the game have illuminated the neurodiversity of thought processes and an understanding that there are so many ways to arrive at one destination. It is through this process that I think Wordle is providing us hope: That we can agree that our intention is the same and that we can achieve our goal in different ways and honor the other’s experience. There is no right or wrong. There is no one way. Instead, we can embrace and marvel at our collective creativity, ingenuity, determination, and enthusiasm, while supporting and commiserating each other in moments of misguided attempts, bad luck, and missed opportunities.

There’s also something about beginning the day with a new word, reminding me to be clear about my intentions for the day. New day, new word. Plus, it’s a blank slate every day, allowing for equal opportunities. Perhaps my attachment to Wordle reveals my optimistic nature and desire for diversity, equity, inclusion, and a sense of belonging more than anything else? As always, I’m curious about how we can translate this learning into our everyday lives. All I know is that I am grateful to Josh Wardle for his gift of love and connection to the world.

Warmly,

Veronica
Executive Director

You Are Not Alone

You Are Not Alone

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.

Warmly,

Veronica
Executive Director

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A Million Dreams

A Million Dreams

A Word From The HERD, August 2021I’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 Dreamsfrom 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!

Warmly,

Veronica
Executive Director

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There is Light

There is Light

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!

Warmly,

Veronica Lac
Executive Director