Our connection with horses and the way people and horses can enrich each other’s lives will be the focus of next February’s Spirit Horse Festival in New Zealand. The festival will draw presenters from New Zealand, the United States, England, Australia, and Russia.
It’s no secret that horses have lost much of their utilitarian role in society over the past century, when tractors took their place on pastoral fields, cars replaced them on city streets, and tanks and jets supplanted them on the battlefield.
But, for many, horses have remained a big part of their lives − in their hearts, their hands, and under saddle.
Some horse lovers prefer the dressage ring, others the endurance track, and still others just a pleasant hack down the lane.
While some horses still work in their old roles as cow ponies or drafts, all horses can offer inspiration, a sense of achievement, and boosted confidence.
Yet, today, a growing number of people are turning to the horse for something even greater − something that we as a species have nearly lost in the industrial age: connection. Connection with nature, connection with other species, and, perhaps, most significantly – connection with ourselves.
Connection is the buzzword of the times. But what does it really mean? For many of the horse-inspired presenters gathering for the second annual Spirit Horse Festival in February, connection means listening to their inner voice. Connection is that subtle dial nature gave us to tune into ourselves and the world around us.
“When we are connected, we use all our senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste – to gauge what is going on around us and scan our bodies to find out what is happening inside,” explains Rosemary Wyndham-Jones, founder of the Equine Pathfinders Foundation (EPF) in New Zealand, which hosts the festival to raise money toward the foundation’s mission of making equine-assisted learning accessible to all.
“Our senses inform our inner voice and help us to survive each day and to thrive in our lives at large. It is our inner voice that tells us if we are on purpose, following our heart’s desire, and leading fulfilling, happy lives.”
According to Rosemary, a dead-end job, detrimental relationship, or dangerous situation can cause incongruency in our lives, and conflict with our inner voice. When people don’t listen – turning back the dial to reduce the noise and ignore our basic needs – they suffer the physical and emotional consequences of disconnect.
“That’s where the horses come in,” explains Laura Williams, who will travel to New Zealand for the festival from Russia.
Among only a handful of equine-assisted learning professionals in that country, Laura – originally from Colorado – collaborates with her eight equine partners to help Russians live more grounded, purposeful lives.
“Horses model connection. Their bodies – from the very tips of their ears to the bottom of their hooves, all their senses, their gut, and their instincts are always on.”
Laura is one of more than 15 presenters from around the world – including New Zealand, the United States, England, and Australia – who will hold sessions and invite audiences to connect with horses at next year’s festival, from February 9-11.
Outside of running the now annual event, organizers Rosemary and Alistar Wait live alongside a herd of 19 equine facilitators at the Dune Lakes Retreat and Horse Inspired Learning Centre west of Auckland.
The Dune Lakes horses and their human partners guide a variety of clients to find their inner voice through horses, leading them to discovery, recovery, and growth of all kinds.
“Horses have the innate ability to teach us what connection feels like, if only we watch and listen,” explains Rosemary.
“When we lack connection in our lives, having attained the feeling with a horse, we cannot go back to being disconnected. We begin to seek it, nurture it, within ourselves at first – through awareness and listening to our intuition – and as we become more comfortable in our skins, with people significant in our lives.”
New Zealand clinical psychologist Geraldine Keith, who has been practicing for over 35 years and began enlisting horses for her work in 2014, says horses are superb catalysts for healing and empowerment.
Geraldine and her colleague Rob Pliskin, from the United States, will be presenting at the festival on the power of horses to catalyze post-traumatic growth, which refers to the positive personal changes resulting from a person’s struggle to deal with trauma and its psychological consequences.
Rob is an EAGALA Advanced Professional who worked as program director at the Equine Pathfinders Foundation. Rob has partnered with horses to help children, youth, and adults find personal strength and healing in places as far apart as northern Israel and the Appalachian counties of Ohio.
“I am humbled to hold space for the horses as they do their healing work with whole, strong, combat veterans nevertheless missing arms and legs; abused men, women, and youth discovering and recovering their hidden beauty; and lifelong foster children longing for a connected life.
“I marvel as the horses lead them from despair, anxiety, and grief to the self-worth, trust, and empathy they get stepping into the world to build new and fruitful relationships.”
Connecting humans and horses is at the heart of the mission of the Equine Pathfinders Foundation.
“People are doing so many amazing things together with horses around the world,” adds Rosemary.
“The festival is an opportunity for them to come together and support each other. We wanted to create a place where people inspired by horses could share ideas and celebrate the human-horse relationship.”
The festival’s three days will consist of hands-on workshops and seminars on how to get certified in equine-assisted learning, what people can learn from horses about running a business, liberty horse training, holistic horse care, animal communication, yoga and horses, and more.
Numbers for the festival, held an hour west of Auckland, are limited to 200.