Driving up the long winding road outside Tomales, California, I could see a barn off in the distance. Pulling up on a clear, bright fogless day, I was greeted by Alyssa Aubrey, the Founder and Director of Medicine Horse Ranch. Alyssa, a Certified Equine Educator who is also the Co-Founder of the Equine Guided Education Association, had invited me to become acquainted with the ranch itself, as well as the horses and the various programs offered. I must add, it was the beginning of magical early afternoon visit.
I had wanted to meet Alyssa and learn about her programs for some time. Friends, including Kendall Roper, had mentioned Alyssa and her wonderful work. Based on previous experiences with those involved in equine programs such as Kendall and Ariana Strozzi, I immediately knew that she would be applying all the core principles we use in the martial arts to her work with horses and her clients. Although Alyssa clearly states that she had never formally trained, there is no question that everything we learn on the mat is in use with her work in the world.
Holding Lila Blue, her frisky two-year old Staffordshire bull terrier on a leash, we greeted each other as Sage, her lead mare immediately came over to join in the conversation. Alyssa brought Medicine Horse Ranch into reality from thirty-five years of work that centered on “teaching and or designing self development programs and resources for youth and youth at risk.” She writes that she had “a confusing and often chaotic childhood…living with an alcoholic father and coupled with frequent uprooting…moving state to state during my middle and high school years.”
Horses, she writes, “saved me in my youth.” She was able to ride a friend’s horse and take riding lessons. “I was a shy and awkward kid and found it challenging to interact with people. I felt powerful and brave on the occasions where I was lucky enough to ride…feeling shy and overwhelmed by my daily, often daunting circumstances melted away when a horse was near me—and restored my dignity and faith.”
When I asked her what core principles she works with or focuses on in her work with others, she replied:
“Core- Identifying the overarching center of relevance for our program or session when working together with the horses.”
“Practice- Practicing- practice, practice, practice…we don’t do this nearly enough when we are learning something new (and as we go about replacing habits no longer effective).”
“Curiosity- Working to notice when the judge or inner critic is present and opening to being curious as a way of finding space and possibility again.”
“Authenticity- A must when working around horses ([where] inner thoughts matching outer behavior [can happen]).”
Intuition- “Building or rebuilding the muscle of intuition for learning/leading/taking action.”
Sounds like a martial arts class to me!
She provided this illustration from a story in her email which is based on a true story:
“Standing up to a Bully:
It’s All About Congruence
A teen that came for a recent individual session had dropped out of school two months before. The young woman refused to return to school because she was being harassed and bullied. As the session began, the young woman talked to the equine educator about being intimidated by a fellow student, when suddenly the horse butted in.
Program horse “Toyota” walked over and began to knock his head into the girl’s shoulder, gently, yet insistently as the girl described her problems with the bully. The horse continued to “harass” the teen by pulling on her collar, pushing her around, and at one point even untying her shoelaces with his teeth. The young woman was clearly irritated with the horse’s antics; her jaw tightened, her breath quickened, and her speech got tense.
The young woman appeased, then pleaded with Toyota, saying, “Please don’t do that,” while simultaneously petting him on the neck. As she continued her efforts to ‘make nice’ with the horse, the horse continued the harassment even more until finally, in complete exasperation, the teen held both hands out in front of her and yelled, “STOP IT!” Instantly Toyota complied, dropped his head and stood quietly by her side. Until that moment, the girl’s actions were not in congruence with her intentions.
In just one session, under the educator’s firm guidance, the willing horse had guided the young woman to access her own personal authority in a powerful form of experiential learning. Through the horse’s antics, the teen saw that she was giving off mixed messages, which had worsened the situation. She learned how to stand her ground and mean it. Having practiced new skills, the young woman returned to school and successfully stood up to the bully who then stopped harassing her.”
Future columns will feature more about Medicine Horse Ranch and Alyssa’s making a difference in the world. I would like to note that there is an upcoming class from October 9-10th, “Redefining our Limiting Beliefs: Women, Horses and Leadership” (co-taught with Cynthia Riggs). More about this class can be found by clicking “Calendar of Events” on her website.
We will cover important topics in following columns including what horses are telling us about ourselves and our world, horses and dreams, and the partnering that happens when you put youth left behind with horses left behind. Alyssa is someone making a big difference in many lives.