Elyssa Doner, co-facilitator of Tegavah women’s retreat in Skull Valley, AZ, shares some insights.
I’m continuously fascinated by the connection that women share with horses, so when I heard about the upcoming Tegavah retreat I was intrigued. The event, which takes place Nov. 14-17 at Juniper Well Ranch, is all about equine-guided awareness. Horses are incredibly wise and intuitive creatures and sometimes, I think, we get so caught up in telling our horses what to do that we forget to listen to what they’re saying to us. Tegavah is geared toward helping equine enthusiasts of all experience levels to get back in touch with that aspect of the experience.
One of the retreat’s facilitators, Elyssa Doner of IdyleWild Farm, kindly took a few moments to answer some of my questions about this special connection.
HN: What is it about the connection between horses and women that is so special? We’ve all felt it, but it’s hard to put a finger on what it is.
Elyssa: As adults, we tend to connect with horses from a different space than we did when we were younger.
Many of us spent our early years as competitive equestrians, where although we had a love of all things horses, we were driven by other agendas. Many of us approached horses with something to prove — that we were good enough, or strong enough, or capable of being “the best. Of course, this isn’t wrong; it’s simply the nature of competition.
For others, we never had the opportunity to be with horses. Instead, we spent our early years admiring them from afar, watching them with a sense of wonder, and knowing that there was simply something more — something mysterious and mystical — that lived in the Realm of Horse.
Whether they are competitors or just taking their first steps into the Realm of Horse, most women I encounter at IdyleWild are searching for a sense of inner peace, a connectedness with something more, something outside of their daily, often hectic lives. They are searching for something that provides them with a sense of calm, comfort, and clarity.
We find these things in horses. Horses are dynamic and powerful. They exist in a realm far larger than our own. Something about being in the presence of horses helps us to realize that there is a power far greater than us, and with this realization comes the ability to accept our humanity with strength and grace, and embrace the beauty of the vastness of life.
What can we learn about ourselves from being in the presence of horses?
Horses have an inherently unique ability to show us who and how we are being in the world. Just by being in their presence, horses can open our eyes to what I like to call “blind spots” — behaviors that we display without even realizing it — and consequently help us to see ourselves in ways we may not have been able to see otherwise.
In other words, horses are living, breathing portals that enable us to see ourselves in a new light and to transform our ways of being in the world.
You talk about a horse’s ability to “empower a tired soul, breath life back into a weary spirit, or inspire a hurting heart.” How do they accomplish this?
Horses don’t think like us. This is one of the hardest things for human beings to understand, and it is this simple fact that enables the horse to facilitate healing, growth and transformation.
Horses are prey animals. In order to survive, they have to be present in every moment and universally aware of their surroundings. In addition, horses are nonverbal beings. They communicate primarily through body language and must be intensely aware of and instantly react to the overt actions and micro-behaviors of others. These characteristics — a universal awareness, presence in every moment, a dependence on non-verbal communication — are vastly different from how we live as human beings. They are also the characteristics that give horses the unique ability to help us truly see ourselves — emotionally, psychologically, and to the depths of our being.
As humans, all of our behaviors including micro-behaviors are manifestations of an array of emotional states. When we interact with a horse, the horse will likely be aware of these micro-behaviors when we are not, and react to them even if we don’t openly prompt the horse into action. If we are hiding emotions, a horse will sense it. When we are communicating through even the subtlest body language, a horse will pick up on it. If we are acting one way but feeling something completely different, a horse will know it.
Who we are with horses is who we are in the world, and horses will always show us exactly who we are being by reacting to the real messages we are sending. In other words, the instant feedback that horses offer can provide us with new perspectives on how and who we are being.
So, if we are willing to listen, horses have the capacity to help us transform our perceptions of ourselves and of the world around us. They can teach us how to recognize and remove the filters that govern our lives and discover a new awareness, a new reality in which we can be authentically self-expressed. In other words, if we can see ourselves through horses’ eyes and from the perspective of their worldview, we can transform our relationships — to horses, to ourselves, and to each other.
So many women spend their days rushing about, dashing from one responsibility to the next. That sort of approach doesn’t sit so well with horses. Why is that? Is it possible to shift gears when we get to the barn, or do we have to embrace more of a “full-life” shift?
Horses are present in every moment; when we interact with them, their responses are immediate, clear, and honest. That said, if we get to the barn and engage our horses in our usual “rushed” state of being, that is exactly what the horse is going to react to — an environment of high energy, urgency, pressure, and distractions.
So, not only is it possible to shift gears when we get to the barn, I would argue that it’s absolutely necessary if we want to be with our horses in a space of calm, clarity, and partnership. We have the power and the capacity to set the tone of our interactions with our horses. The horses merely do what they do best: react authentically to who and how we are being.
As for the bigger question of embracing a “full-life” shift, the beauty of being in the Realm of Horse is that it teaches us to embrace being present to and authentic in every moment. It teaches us how to live a life where thoughts and actions are congruent, where the present moment is the most important moment, where a state of peace, calm, and balance is the way to be. That being said, who wouldn’t want to embrace a “full-life shift” into that incredible space?
The most effective riders are truly present, in their body and their minds, when they are on the back of a horse, while others get distracted by fear and other not-helpful mind chatter. Do you have any tips for helping us stay in-the-moment?
As human beings, we all have that incessant chatter in our heads. We can’t stop it — it’s how we are hardwired and it’s a part of our most basic survival instinct. We listen to the chatter, which often tells us the time just isn’t right to take that risk, or we don’t have what it takes to be good enough, or we should wait until a time when we know we won’t be wrong.
The same goes for fear. Fear prevents us from attempting anything that might cause us pain, disappointment or failure. Like it or not, the chatter and the fear will always be there. Both are simply part of being a human being, nothing more.
Knowing this leads us to realize one of life’s most important distinctions — the chatter isn’t truth, and the fear isn’t reality. If we can recognize the fear and the chatter for what they are — a mere physiological function — the mind-chatter becomes background noise and the fear becomes something to acknowledge and then push aside. Then, we can truly BE in the moment and ACT with the knowledge that the time is right, that we are good enough, and that even if we find that we’re wrong, we have a brand new moment right now to try again. This is the beauty of living in the present, which is where our horses need for us to be if we want to make that connection and BE in the Realm of Horse.
Tell us about your upcoming Tegavah retreat.
Tegavah is the Yavapai (the native tribe of Prescott, Arizona) word for “gathering.” It is a celebration of nature, Self and life. The purpose of this gathering is to help women of all ages and from all walks of life to empower themselves, revitalize their lives, and fill their hearts and souls with joy, love and inspiration.
The event is a 4-day, 3-night all-inclusive retreat. We will be staying at the idyllic Juniper Well Ranch in Skull Valley, Arizona, a space of peace, healing, and beauty. We will be sleeping in cozy, fully equipped cabins, and all meals will be home-cooked by Chelsea, our Chef Extraordinaire. I along with my co-facilitators Starr, Kimberly and Ida have created an amazing itinerary of Equine-Guided Awareness™ activities — ground-based experiences with horses that are meant to guide us to our inner strength and power, provide us with access to freedom and self-expression, and connect us with nature and life. We will also spend two afternoons trail riding through the vast beauty of the Granite Basin wilderness. We are looking to make this a twice-yearly event, with one gathering occurring in the fall and the other in the spring.
Participants do not have to have any horse experience to join our Tegavah. They simply have to show up with the desire to explore all of the ways that we as women can BE in life and face its complexities with power, inspiration, and grace.
For information, visit http://idylewildfarm.com/TEGAVAH.html or call me directly at 610-247-8339. Join us, and let the gift of horses bring you back home!
Thanks for sharing, Elyssa. Go Riding!