As equestrians, we know that horses are good for us, and often head to the barn on the most stressful of days. In recent years, that intuition has been supported by a bevy of scientific evidence. By creating a therapeutic environment, horses help people process emotions, build self-awareness, and bolster their confidence. Psychologists have used equine assisted therapy to treat numerous conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders. And less formal learning and coaching programs teach coping skills, communication tools, and more to everyone from troubled youth to corporate executives. In fact, author and scholar Temple Grandin has written that just being around equines boosts our physical and mental health. In response, equine wellness retreats all over the world are harnessing these benefits to help guests heal, excel, and find harmony with themselves. Some offer life and health coaching, some pull in yoga and mindfulness practices, and others have built an environment that fosters serious self-care.
Although most programs can accommodate newbies, some provide an experience that’s fulfilling and fun for more seasoned riders. Here’s a list of our favorite equine-centric wellness retreats and getaways for experienced equestrians.
“A-ha” Meets “Yee-Haw” at This Equine Wellness Retreat
Equine Gestalt Coach Devon Combs of Beyond the Arena runs empowering retreats all over the western U.S. Her annual Unbridled Arizona event at Tucson’s White Stallion Ranch is tops for riders looking to pair powerful internal work with excitement in the saddle.
All of Combs’ retreats incorporate group and one-on-one coaching sessions in the round pen and tailored activities such as journaling or creating vision boards. She draws on her love for horses, life coach training, and excellent intuition to guide her clients through processing emotional difficulties and setting new personal and professional goals.
She finds that the work also helps people improve relationships with their own horses back home. By highlighting behaviors, such as licking and chewing, during the coaching sessions, Combs helps riders notice their own emotions and recognize how they affect horses.
“They’re reminded to be mindful, more present, to just be with their own horse, as opposed to always having to do something when they’re with their horse at home,” says Combs.
Afternoons at the ranch are filled with rides, one-on-one coaching, and self-care—massage, anyone? And White Stallion Ranch is truly equipped to accommodate riders of all levels: Experienced equestrians get to take canter-heavy trail rides or can try fast-paced arena events, such as team penning and barrel racing.
Finding Peace with Kindred Spirits
Kindred Spirits’ multi-day and week-long retreats are held on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, where jungle meets sea and black-sand beaches. Run by Terry Newton, a certified yoga instructor and energy healer with extensive experience in natural horsemanship methods, the retreats blend asanas, breath work, riding, and more.
For the wellness work, guests have a number of options that integrate horses. Yoga is practiced both on the ground and on horseback, allowing people to build trust bonds and develop physical and mental strength, flexibility, and intuition. Guests also work directly with the horses during energy healing, and the herd hangs out at liberty during meditation sessions.
For folks itching to get some riding time, beach rides (swimming included) and jungle treks are part of the package. More advanced riders can select retreat options that involve longer days in the saddle, as well as additional liberty work with the horses.
Since Kindred Spirits is based in one of the world’s leading ecotourism destinations, sustainability is central to the experience. Newton teaches and encourages responsible trekking and riding that’s respectful of the local ecosystems as well as the horses. That’s a perspective with some major take-home value.
A Wellness Retreat with a Backcountry Challenge
Jim and Mary Allen’s Diamond 4 Ranch in the Wind River Mountain Range continues the family’s almost century-long tradition of hosting visitors in the Wyoming wilderness. Daughter Jessie has guided hunting and pack trips for years, and recently launched a wellness retreat that incorporates equine partners. Twice each summer, she and several guides lead groups of up to 10 women into the backcountry for an experience that gives them a fresh perspective on what they—and their horses—can do.
The retreats last about a week, with two nights sleeping in ranch cabins and four nights camping in the Winds. Participants spend three to six hours per day in the saddle, often riding actively through rough, rugged country.
In addition, Jessie, a certified yoga instructor, guides sunrise and mid-day asana classes, as well as mounted breath work or moving meditations while meandering on easier trails. In between the more structured activities, there are opportunities to hike, fly fish, and, for experienced riders, to hop on bareback for a sunset ride.
Though the retreats can accommodate beginners, Jessie notes that even very experienced equestrians will probably discover a side of horses they wouldn’t encounter in the arena.
“It’s a whole other level to be riding a horse at 12,000 feet in rocky terrain,” she says. “The retreat isn’t just focused on being in an arena feeling the partnership with your horse. You’re out there living it and doing it in challenging terrain, so the adventure part of it has really surprised a lot of women with what the horses are able to do.”
This article about equine wellness retreats appeared in the 2021 special edition of Western Life. Click here to subscribe!