The story was of a young girl and self-harm. That tale, told by WindWalkers executive director Gabrielle Greeves, centered on the power of a horse and its ability to reach into the depths of human emotion.
“The sleeves come up and then all of a sudden the young girl is showing her scars to the horse, knowing too that I’m not very far away,” Greeves recalled. “In turn she is showing me her scars without being focused on that. That’s a sense of engagement one can’t ask for in talk therapy. It happens naturally. It’s just playful. It’s the horse being playful with the young gal and all of a sudden there’s a sense of trust that starts, because it’s not being asked for.”
The girl in the story was taking part in the organization’s horse therapy programming, and the healers and one artist mentioned in this article are all Aspen Business Connect members. WindWalkers, founded in 2005 and run by Greeves since late 2014, offers equine assisted learning and therapy up and down the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond. Located on Missouri Heights, it’s become the hub for horse-related therapy in the area. Learn more about the organization at www.windwalkerstrc.org.
Much like other service and therapy animals, such as dogs, horses have this innate ability to understand and connect with humans on a psychological and social level that makes them perfect for healing, whatever the ailment may be.
“Growing up having a complicated family dynamic, my horse was my secure attachment figure. He was my sibling, my parent — my responsible, loving parent,” said Aimee Dale-Lucius, another Aspen Business Connect member who occasionally contracts work through WindWalkers. “When I was a kid, I felt the most understood by horses. I felt like they got me.”
Dale-Lucius operates The Relationship Stable, which offers counseling and equine-assisted psychotherapy, and is often run out of the WindWalkers barn on Missouri Heights. While Greeves mostly focuses on using horses to help with physical ailments and various social-emotional issues, such as at-risk teens and PTSD, Dale-Lucius uses horses to help with human-to-human relationships. This can mean a person’s relationship with oneself, his or her partner, family, or even larger groups, like coworkers. Discover more at therelationshipstable.com.
It’s a wide variety of ailments, but all issues a horse can help overcome.
“The beauty about our horses is, first and foremost, and I think this is one of the things a lot of people need, is they are non-judgmental creatures,” Greeves said. “They are a mirror into emotion, and that’s really a coined phrase in what we do and how we do it. That’s why they are being used for psychotherapy. They are being used for growth and learning techniques. They are being used in social and emotional disorders.”
A lot of what WindWalkers can offer clients doesn’t even involve physically riding a horse. It can come from that simple, yet deep, connection between meeting and petting a horse for the first time. But for those who do suffer from physical ailments, such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease, a horse can provide a form of freedom few other activities can. Also, a horse’s gait is surprisingly close to that of a human’s, which can be a tremendous tool in physical therapy.
“That feeling of freedom is super, super important for people who no longer have the ability to move their legs,” Greeves said. “Sometimes it feels like their world tends to get smaller. But with us, the exploration and going out into the world is easier when you are being carried. That’s a beautiful thing.”
Dale-Lucius met Greeves through WindWalkers, when Dale-Lucius was going through the organization to earn her EAGALA, or Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, certification. Around that time, Dale-Lucius was working on her master’s degree in counseling and was looking for a way to combine her professional passions with that of her life’s passion, which had always been horses.
Relationships are a constant and essential component of the human experience. We exist in relationship with ourselves, our families, spouses, peers, colleagues, substances, food, exercise, spirituality, nature, animals and much more. Like our equine counterparts, we are also wired for connection and suffer greatly when any of our relationships are maladaptive. We are injured in relationship and it is through relationship that we heal. ~ TheRelationshipStable.com
“How I was training my horse was very similar to a lot of the therapeutic techniques and things I was learning. I kept seeing how this was so connected and knew at that point I definitely wanted to use horses in my work,” Dale-Lucius said. “Horses provide a phenomenal mirror for what is happening in all relationships.”
Dale-Lucius is married to Lex Lucius, an artist who has long specialized in sculptures and high-end metal fabrication. For the past 15 years he’s worked for the son of noted artist Herbert Bayer, who commissioned Lucius to create larger pieces of art out of a series of smaller sculptures Bayer’s son found after his father’s death. Bayer’s influence is strongly etched into Aspen’s own history.
While Lucius has spent a lot of the past decade-plus working in that realm, he’s recently moved over to having more of a focus on painting, especially horses. He even donated a piece of work to WindWalkers as part of a fundraiser.
“My earliest memory is sitting on the floor drawing horses,” said Lucius, who grew up in a Western family although was never much of a rider himself. “They are big, wonderful animals, so what’s not to love? And there is the spirit and what horses represent in our culture and our literature.”
Michelle Bryan, a local hypnotherapist, doesn’t use horses directly in her own work, but understands their power as much as anyone. A lifetime rider, she owns a beautiful horse named Sheldon, which she keeps at a barn just down the road from WindWalkers.
“Horses are an amazing teacher for really learning the nuances of being an effective communicator. If you can communicate effectively with a horse, you will likely be a very good communicator as a human,” Bryan said. “I’m passionate about mental health, and I’m passionate about horses, and WindWalkers marries the two so beautifully that for me it’s a natural fit to support that organization.”
Find more about Bryan’s therapy practice via her Facebook page (@MichelleBryanHypnosis) and on the blog. She often deals with clients who seek to overcome various forms of addictions, from drugs and smoking to food-related problems, and does so by reprogramming the mind through hypnosis.
The New York Times recently published an article about The Social Life of Forests where it was discovered that, “fungal threads link nearly every tree in a forest — even trees of different species. Carbon, water, nutrients, alarm signals and hormones can pass from tree to tree through these subterranean circuits.” Everything alive needs love and support, and just as trees need to connect with interspecies, and the energy of horses can provide therapy for humans, Jillian Livingston, founder of aspenreallife.com and Aspen Business Connect, understands that right now, more than ever, we humans need desperately to connect with each other and with nature to heal and move forward, and that love and support from one another is what will help us along the way, and THAT is what Aspen Business Connect is all about; the social interaction and support between professionals combined with belief in one another and of course, love and compassion.
This is just one story exemplifying the type of professionals that Jillian is attracting to her professional social network, a group of people devoting their lives to heal others. Become an Aspen Business Connect member and join this incredible network, and together we will lift each other up and support each other.
Austin Colbert is an Aspen-based journalist and photographer. Reach Austin at email@example.com, as well as through Instagram (@austincolbertmedia) or Twitter (@austin_colbert).