When I first met Deborah McCormick, PhD, co-author of Horse Sense and the Human Heart (HCI, 1997) and Horses and the Mystical Path (New World Library, 2004), I had no idea what to expect of the “Celtic Warrior Woman” weekend retreat I had signed up for on a whim. I guess you might say I was feeling a little less than warriorlike in my life, I had just bought a horse and he, along with most of the people in my life, seemed to “have my number.”
Deborah, an accomplished psychotherapist in her own right, had partnered with her father, the late Tom McCormick, MD, a psychiatrist, and her mother, Adele von Rüst McCormick, PhD, also a highly studied psychologist, to do some extremely edgy and pioneering — and highly successful — work that incorporated horses and horsemanship into treatment for all kinds of mental health issues, including adolescents and adult patients with moderate to severe conditions and diagnoses.
I had read both of their books about their work, their travels in Ireland and Scotland and some very interesting discoveries they had made along the way about Celtic horsemanship. The retreat was a little off my beaten path, both geographically and mentally, but something compelled me to go. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was I wanted to learn from these “Tres Aguilas” at their 100-year-old Spanish hacienda and ranch outside San Antonio, Texas, but they — and their work — fascinated me.
While my mental health wasn’t in question (to me, at least!) and my horsemanship, while somewhat spotty, was not yet a concern (I didn’t know what I didn’t know!), this retreat called to me. I had just survived a second divorce, was finding my feet as a single mother raising two daughters, and to instill in them the kind of strength it takes to thrive as they grew into women, I first needed to feel solid in my own.
Their drug of choice was the Pervian horse, a horse with a history that spans centuries and offers up a deep well of knowledge in the areas of spirit, agility, “brio” (willing, hot and tractable temperament), and natural ability to collect. These small, fiery horses were bred for skirmish — carrying riders and armor well beyond “weight limits” into battle, to work bulls and navigate steep rocky terrain, yet remain balanced and collected regardless of what life and topography sent their way.
I wanted some of that. And they did not disappoint. Over the span of three days these horses had a lot to say about my state of consciousness. Some of what they had to say were compliments. Most, however, pointed out my areas of challenge: Maximo’s frequent stops to graze while I led him in a simple exercise told me what he thought of my commitment to authority. Valentino’s hissy fit in the far corner of the pasture, which I thought was a spook at a strange noise from across the fence, but Deborah translated as “playing me” — sensing my overactive nurturing instinct, he expressed his desire to be back with his buddies by acting up in much the same way a con artist plays an “easy mark.” And when I tried to use my energy to move Magdalena’s shoulder out of my path, that mare showed me and everyone else watching this exercise that I was not someone to be taken seriously. Ouch.
“When you’ve lost touch with your core being, you’ve lost touch with what I call your ‘inner lead mare mentality and attitude,’” McCormick explained. “This is not about aggression, but about inner authority―knowing for certain who you are and what you want and accepting nothing less.
So what these three horses said to me in just as many days set my course of discovery that continues today. Balance, collection, clarity, and staying connected with your authenticity, it turns out, are not single fixes. These are day-to-day challenges that create the journey of each lifetime — across sometimes rocky terrain, facing down bulls and bullies, and at times carrying burdens much heavier than what we might choose. With the pure and unflinching advice of these horses in my head, my inner Celtic Woman Warrior now knows what to do. I just have to remember to slow down enough to listen.
I would definitely recommend this type of retreat if you happen to be on this or some similar path. There really is, as Sir Winston Churchill said, “something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” In my humble estimation, this goes double for women! (Maybe because we’re usually the ones searching for and receptive to it — no offense intended to our similarly enlightened man friends!)
Regardless of who you are or where you are in your life’s journey, spending time and tuning in your awareness to the beauty and majesty of horses — especially in such a beautiful setting and in the capable hands of the Drs. McCormick, you can’t help but come away with new insight, renewed authenticity, and a heart filled with the kind of magic you can only find at the hooves of horses engaged in helping humans find their way.
5 Day Equine Experience Clinic: Cost per person, please contact the Institute. email@example.com
(Lodging, Meals and Transportation are separate)
If You Go: Hacienda Tres Aguilas http://www.therapyhorsesandhealing.com/equine-experience.html
Institute for Conscious Awareness
20540 Highway 46 West Suite 115
Spring Branch, Texas 78070
(San Antonio area)
This is a guest post by Melinda Folse, author of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses: Finding Meaning Magic and Mastery in the Second Half of Life.