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

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.


Executive Director

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.


Executive Director