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Finding Friendship in the Smokey Mountains

“Emotionally, a horse shifts from fear to curiosity once the animal is convinced of the absence of predators, its curiosity is followed by feelings of safety, comfort, and finally acceptance, all ingredients contained in some of the most healing aspects of love.”  — Tim Hayes, Riding Home, 2015

Do you ever wonder what it is that sparks a friendship? It’s that connection and sense of belonging that occurs between people sometimes almost immediately. It feels safe, comfortable and familiar and it is supported by a foundation of shared understanding and mutual trust.

I had the pleasure of finding friendship recently as part of my venture to North Carolina. I participated in a three-day workshop called Fundamentals of Lifemanship – Trauma Focused Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (TF-EAP™). The workshop was hosted by Horse Sense of the Carolinas, an international leader in the field of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Learning, supporting positive, emotional, social and spiritual skills.

Horse Sense has a beautiful facility nestled in the heart of the Smokey Mountains just outside of Asheville near Marshall, North Carolina. The view from the farm is breathtaking, the mountains were lush with growth and the insects and birds performed together in a non-stop choir of song.

The workshop was presented by Shannon Knapp of Horse Sense and Kaye Barefield of Natural Lifemanship. Natural Lifemanship is a principle-based approach to EAP, including the principles that “there must be coherence between the beliefs that guide our relationships with horses and those that guide our relationships with humans” and “a connected, attuned relationship is ALWAYS the goal.”

The science that grounds the Natural Lifemanship model is based on the current research in the field of neurobiology and specifically the physiological ways the brain adapts and changes to accommodate situations that threaten our sense of safety and well-being.

I found the workshop very interesting and of value, complementing the work that we do and studies that I completed last summer at the University of Toronto when I earned a certificate in Trauma-Informed Counselling for Front-line Workers taught by Natalie Zlodre. Because many of our clients come to us with a history of trauma, our programming at The Mane Intent is also guided by trauma- and violence-informed principles. As determined by need, we also work with a team of qualified therapists to support our clients in their work with our herd.

I also appreciated the opportunity to work with the herd at Horse Sense. Each morning of psycho-education was followed by an afternoon of experience to put the principles to work. It was a treat to connect with and experience the energy of a different herd of horses whose stories were unknown to me.

But the unexpected connections that I valued most were created with three other women also participating in the workshop. I stayed in the ‘white house’ – an old farm house located at the base of the property nestled amongst a grove of black walnut trees. The house was equipped with two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and a sitting room. On that first night – three of us – all strangers — arrived at the same time – and the fourth arrived later that evening.

This was a shared accommodation arrangement so naturally, our first decision together focused on sleeping arrangements. We were very polite about it. “Do you mind white noise?” one of the women asked, adding: “I need white noise to sleep.” “My husband tells me I snore,” I responded. I self-selected to share a room with a woman who noted that sleep was not an issue for her. We cleared our first major hurdle and the potential for sleep deprivation.

I felt like the outlier in the group – an extroverted Canadian with a corporate background – hanging out with three American social workers who claimed to be introverts. I was also the oldest roommate by more than a decade – which apparently made it okay for me to take what was called the “Goldilocks bed” or the most comfortable mattress in the house.

An old porch equipped with four white rocking chairs became our nightly meeting place. It was here that the spark of friendship ignited. It was here that we created a space of safety, comfort and acceptance to debrief each evening, tell our stories, and find laughter (and maybe tears) in the moment. We shared our “Waterloo horse” moment. These were the horses that helped us discover who we really were and gave us an unexpected healing moment, ultimately bringing us all together for professional development in the Smokey Mountains. This was conversation and connection that I valued most in my four days away.

We arrived Thursday night as complete strangers with little more than a shared interest in the power of horses to heal. We left as a circle of friends feeling supported and loved. So this is a shout-out to each of those women, wishing them all the best on their journey forward and sending love from my herd to yours. May the ‘porch’ be with y’all.

Jennifer Garland and Raven, a natural coach at The Mane Intent

About the Author: Jennifer Garland is the Owner/Program Director of The Mane Intent, offering Health and Wellness Workshops and Individual and Team Effectiveness Coaching. Jennifer’s intent is to bring horses and humans together to explore new possibilities, getting you out of your comfort zone and giving clarity of voice to your leader within. She has over 25 years of leadership experience in communications, cause-related marketing and change management. As a strategist, facilitator and effectiveness coach, Jennifer has provided counsel and support to senior leaders from all walks of life to build productive relationships, facilitate learning and to embrace change. She is a ‘socialpreneur’ who values the art of living life fully with intent. Support Trauma-Informed Equine Experiential Learning here.

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