Trust your intuition to follow your dreams

Trusting my intution-from real estate agent to ranch woman

From Real Estate Agent (l) to Ranch Woman (r)

I learned just how powerful my intuition is when I packed up my life, left a six year real estate career, cashed my last commission check, and moved from a Denver townhouse to the Larkspur ranch.

Well-intentioned friends, family and colleagues advised me to keep my real estate license “just in case” and “as a backup”.

But my intuition spoke to me saying something entirely different. It told me to cut off the golden handcuffs and go for it. After three and a half years of working in real estate and building Unbridled Retreats simultaneously, it was time to make the leap into living my dream full-time.

So I jumped! I was bound and determined to never have the phrases “Outstanding curb appeal” and “Light and bright kitchen” come out of my mouth again. Instead I wanted to follow my intuition which said my purpose was to work with women and horses, my true calling.

Trust your intuition and take the leap-Moving day-Unbridled Retreats

After years of trying to be who I thought I should be, I began living my life in alignment with who I really am…a woman who is much happier helping people find their personal worth vs. the worth of their home.

Being true to yourself is about going for what you want, not what you think you “should” want based on the expectations of your friends, your spouse, your kids, your relatives, or your colleagues.

Following your dreams requires taking risks, accepting uncertainty, relying on your courage, and learning to trust your intuition. Taking the path of your dreams is the road less traveled. If you’ve read this far I know you’ve got a calling that will lead to your dream, even if you’re not living it yet.

Empowered women following their dreams at Unbridled Retreats

BELIEVE IN YOURSELF AND TRUST YOUR INTUITION. It will guide you, one step (or leap), at a time.

Your dream may not happen overnight but it will happen over time. Never give up, trust your intuition, believe in yourself, get support, take risks, find mentors, and give it everything you’ve got.

Do you listen to your intuition? I’d love to hear from you. Share in the comments below.

The Realtor turned ranchwoman,


My Life with Horses

A life of riding became my life’s mission to help others experience the transformative power of horses.

My mission- to help others experience the support and acceptance found in connecting with horses_Unbrildled Retreats
I was blessed to grow up with horses, although at the time I didn’t realize just how lucky I was. Both of my parents are horse people. Every Sunday we would go to the pasture across from my grandparents’ home and ride horses around the lake. My pony was named Chindy.

At the time I didn’t appreciate the gift of horses because I wasn’t given a choice to ride, it was my parents decision. My eight-year-old self wanted to do other things like play soccer and hang out with my friends. However, that all changed in fourth grade when Brynie and Dina, the cool girls, started to take riding lessons at a fancy barn called High Prairie Farms in Parker, Colorado. I was invited to take riding lessons with them, and I became hooked. I loved going to the barn for lessons every Friday after school. I loved the ritual of riding and the riding uniform—paddock boots, leather chaps and helmet.

I began taking riding lessons once a week and my obsession with horses started to develop. By the time I was 11 years old I identified completely with the riding culture. 

When I wasn’t taking riding lessons at High Prairie Farms, I was riding Chindy at my grandparent’s house and spending a lot of time on the necessary chores of mucking, grooming, and feeding. I didn’t mind the work at all; I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my four-legged friends. Brynie and Dina quit riding, but I kept going. The horse force inside me was strong and there was no turning back. “Horse Girl” became my identity, and the barn was a safe haven where I could truly be myself.

My Life With Horses_Unbridled Retreas

At age 14, I started working with a new trainer, Jim, who helped me get accepted into Pony Club. I began competing in three-day eventing which was a blast. Some of my favorite memories were at Pony Club rallies and cross country jumping with one of my closest friends, Brooke. My big, beautiful, chestnut gelding Rooney was my constant companion from the age of 12 to 17. We won one horse trial. Rooney didn’t always like to jump (resulting in a broken nose for me during one attempt). My love for horses  and my horse-life identity was growing every year.

My Life With Horses_Unbridled Retreats-The Early Years

I continued riding up until the end of high school, when I made the choice to go to the University of California in Santa Barbara. I envisioned living by the beach and marrying a surfer guy. I had decided it was time to move forward and explore a life beyond horses. I sold my horse and went to college. At the time I was a perfectionist with control issues and the consequences of these characteristics were starting to show. Being so far away from home without my horse, my friends, or my family led to a deep depression.

The dorm rooms were not a safe haven as the barn had been. I began numbing my feelings through bulimia which quickly became a daily routine. This helped me feel more in control, numbing my discomfort but it also kept me from a social life and affected my studies. After six months in California, I dropped out of college and returned to Colorado. I attended Colorado State University briefly, but at that point, my obsession with food and numbing my emotions ran my life. I thought joining the polo team at CSU would be helpful because I’d be around horses, but it wasn’t the same.

Riding horses wasn’t the answer—I was out-of-control and facing addiction. I tried to escape. I dropped out of college and went to New Zealand thinking if I went halfway around the world, I could run-away from my eating disorder. 

Waitressing in Queenstown in the South Island, the bulimia continued. I moved again, to the North Island, thinking if I worked on a horse farm in small town Raglan maybe being around horses could fix me. I got a job as the head groom of a hare hunting stable and I was riding four or five horses every day. It was beautiful country, the riding was great, but again, my soul craved more than riding horses. I felt lost and confused and I knew I needed to heal from the inside out.

I ended my work visa early and came back to Colorado feeling like a failure, ashamed at my attempts to escape my problems. I was self-sabotaging, which landed me in a hospital, then a mental institution, then Mirasol, a holistic eating disorder treatment center in Arizona.

Mirasol offered equine therapy to help patients. I’d never heard of equine therapy, but I knew that “equine” meant I’d be around horses again. When I showed up at the treatment center in Arizona, it was unlike the sanitary mental institution feel of the hospital. There were no fluorescent lights, only natural sunshine and a beautiful hacienda that had been converted into an inviting treatment center. I immediately felt my soul take a deep breath, and I knew this was where my healing was meant to happen.

I looked forward to the equine therapy sessions and I was excited to be around horses again. I volunteered to be the first to go in a session and I stepped into the round pen with a horse named Jack. There were no bridles, no saddles—this was not about riding, this was something different. Marla, the equine therapist, told me to go to Jack and connect with him. I confidently walked right up to him and he walked away. He turned his butt to me and walked as far away as he could! I stood there feeling ashamed and embarrassed. Even the horse didn’t want to be with me at this point of my addiction and self-destruction. I didn’t blame him.

Marla saw my pain and told me to ground myself in the dirt and take long, deep breaths. As I began to connect and root to the earth, I felt a wave of emotion come from deep within me. For the first time in my 21 years of life, I could not control my emotions. The tears began leaking out of my eyes and I started sobbing. The moment my authentic emotions were released, Jack turned and looked at me and then immediately walked over and placed his gentle muzzle in my heart.

My Life-Changing Encounter with Horses_Unbridled Retreats

I was wailing and sobbing and Jack stood with me through my pain, not moving. He stood with me and offered unwavering strength, support, and unconditional love. I was shocked, experiencing a deep love and connection I had never known. Jack accepted me exactly as I was, and that’s what my soul needed. In that moment, everything changed. My relationship with horses stopped being ego-based, and instead began to emanate from my heart. Jack’s presence and love had shifted my vibration and I felt open, hopeful, and eager to share more of my authentic self with the world, a feeling I’d never had before.

That moment in the round pen opened up my heart and my past and started me on the path to helping others through the healing power of horses. I finished my 60-day treatment at Mirasol and returned home full of hope and purpose. I soon met Melisa Pierce, owner and creator of the Touched by a Horse Equine Gestalt Coaching Certification, and I immediately signed up to attend. It seemed that the universe had placed in my hands the perfect education. I was excited and passionate about learning to help others through horses in a healing way. I became an avid student, always studying (something I had never done in college). I now had a purpose— to connect people with horses for healing, self-discovery, and empowerment. 

My bulimia had subsided and my energy was redirected with intense focus into my newfound passion. I began volunteering at therapeutic riding centers, immersing myself in the equine therapy world. I had found my calling. Horses had been by my side throughout my life, patiently waiting, but it wasn’t until my darkest days that I saw their light and was pulled me out of my dark tunnel of despair.

It became my mission and life’s purpose to help others experience the love, support, and acceptance found in connecting with horses—it’s an authentic connection unlike any other relationship. Several years later I founded Beyond the Arena and then Unbridled Retreats. With horses as my partners, we help women access their inner wisdom during coaching sessions and horse retreats to take back into their everyday lives. This happens without judgment, through love and pure honesty. After a lifetime spent with horses, I am still in awe of their gentle patience, and their ability to teach all of us about ourselves.  

My mission- to help others experience the support and acceptance found in connecting with horses_Unbrildled Retreats

Have you been transformed by horses? Share your experience in the comments below.



How to get unstuck and make your dream happen

As a coach, one of the most common things I hear from people is “I have a dream but I’m stuck on HOW to make it happen.”

I’ve been there too, and here’s what I’ve learned…

Check out the 5 steps for HOW to make your dream happen:

1. Ignore your Inner Critic

The more excited you feel about making your dream happen, the louder your inner critic will become. It wants you to stay in your comfort zone, aka stay stuck, and not take risks. It pipes up and says “You’re not good enough, you’re going to fail, you’re a fraud, you don’t know what you’re doing…” Sound familiar?

That voice is a NORMAL part of going for your dream and the key is to not buy into what it’s saying. The inner critic is a fearful, small-minded voice designed to hold you back and it’s not who you truly are. My inner critic still pipes up, like right now, “This blog post is too long, you’re not a great writer…blah,blah,blah) but I continue to take action in spite of it and that’s made all the difference.

“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” – Louise L. Hay

2. Listen to your Intuition and not Naysayers

Whoever says you can’t do what you love and be successful, has never done it. To put it bluntly, don’t listen to them. When I exited my real estate career to pursue Unbridled Retreats full-time, well-intentioned friends, family and colleagues advised me to keep my real estate license “just in case” and “as a backup.”

But my intuition said something different. It told me to cut off the golden handcuffs and go for it. After a three and a half years of of building Unbridled Retreats and selling houses simultaneously, it was time to leave real estate behind. Your intuition will guide you step by step if you listen, trust, and follow it.

“Consider the track record of your naysayers. How many dreams have they successfully brought into this world?” – Sarah Ban Breathnach

3. Find a Mentor

My dream of Unbridled Retreats would not have happened without mentors.

A mentor is someone who has blazed the trail before you and has experience, advice, and wisdom on how to get from where you are, to where you want to be.

Most importantly, a mentor believes in you and inspires you to keep going. No matter what your dream is, there are people who have experience doing what you want to do. Here are my mentors:

Melisa Pearce is the creator of the Equine Gestalt Coaching Method, a savvy entrepreneur, and she lives the horsewoman dream. When I first arrived at her barn for my certification training, my jaw dropped as I looked around at the gorgeous horses, inspirational posters on the walls, and indoor arena with epic views of the Flatiron mountains. I thought, WOW, this woman is living her dream doing what she loves…it IS possible!

Melisa showed me the lifestyle that is possible by following your dreams and I soaked up as much knowledge as I could from her.

(Pic is at the International Equine Gestalt Coaching Summit where Melisa Pearce encouraged me to begin public speaking.)

Sally Hope is a former rockstar turned life coach and creator of the Wildheart Revolution. I met Sally at a life coach training and learned that she traveled the country in an RV, rocking her renegade life coaching business while writing inspiring blog posts.

Sally is like a kickass, empowered older sister. I immediately signed up for her coaching program and she showed me how to be authentic in my business, and successfully do things my own way.

(Pic is at Sally’s Wildheart Retreat in Montana which inspired me to lead my own retreats.)

“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living—if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.” — Denzel Washington

4. Volunteer

One of the best ways to get unstuck, is to get out of your head and help others. Google places and people who do what you want to do, and offer to be of service.

I volunteered at numerous therapeutic riding centers to gain experience, knowledge, and to get clear on the type of clients I wanted to serve. Volunteering gave me a purpose by helping others, and it was an effective way to gain experience in my dream career path.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi

5. Take one small step every day

There’s a lot of talk about the glorified “leap” of cutting ties and going for your dream. I’ll never forget the day I cashed my last real estate commission check and skipped out the sliding glass doors, but it was hundreds of small consistent action steps that led me to that moment. Take one small step everyday toward your dream…the steps add up.

“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.” – Chinese Proverb

Your dream doesn’t happen overnight, but it will happen over time if you never give up, believe in yourself, get support, take risks, find a mentor, and take small actions each day.

I’d love to hear from you…which one of the five steps resonates with you the most? Post in the comments below!

Dreams do come true,


Devon in a field

How to become Unbridled

Are you overworked, overscheduled, feeling contained, and wanting to break free?

It’s time to become Unbridled.

You’ve been holding onto the reins of life so tightly that your “sense of security” is robbing you of joy.

Time to gently let go, trust more and worry less, ease up on yourself and everyone around you. Life is not meant to be nonstop busy with scheduled activities…it’s meant to be enJOYed in the moment, with space for spontaneity, creativity, and self-expression.

Instead of listening to what your ego wants, ask what your soul needs.

Nature? Belly laughs? Live music? Swimming? Horses? Flowers? Silence? Sensuality? Dancing? Writing? Healing? Traveling? Creativity? Adventure?

Time to say YES to your intuitive nudges, and NO to other people’s expectations. Start listening WITHIN for answers, and stop looking OUTSIDE for other people’s approval.

You can work on a dude ranch, with free room and board, and be around horses all day. Or travel the world, stay in hostels, and work online. Downsize your stuff, upgrade your experiences, and break free of who you thought you had to be.

Becoming Unbridled, Devon in a field

There are many ways to live the life your soul is calling you toward. Time to think outside the box, trade conformity for authenticity, and leave the monotonous routine behind in exchange for the adventure of being alive.

Step out of the confining comfort zone, release the golden handcuffs, and become the unbridled woman you were born to be.

She is calling your name…are you listening?

Your Unbridled guide,


The #1 Thing to Do to Follow Your Dreams

Do you know the biggest difference between people who are living their dreams and those who aren’t?

It’s TAKING ACTION AND GOING FOR IT IN SPITE OF FEAR, plus the ability to tolerate risk, uncertainty and feeling uncomfortable for a while.

There are no guarantees in life and none of us know what the trail ahead looks like…that’s part of the adventure.

If you keep doing the same things over and over, you’re going to get exactly what you’ve always gotten.

And I have a feeling you want more…

The #1 Thing to Do to Follow Your Dreams

To reach new ground and experience change, you must take risks, step into the unknown and have FAITH. Trust yourself; trust the universe; trust whatever you believe in.

People, situations, and opportunities will swoop in when you let go of the familiar and take small steps toward what you want in life.

You can overthink, overplan, overanalyze (aka talk yourself out of it) but GOING FOR IT makes your dreams happen.

Enough planning and thinking about it…if your heart is beating fast and your palms are sweaty, that’s a good thing, you’re ready…take a deep breath and GO FOR IT.

I’d love to hear from you, what’s one small step you’re taking today to move toward your dreams and go for it? Share in the comments below.



P.S. Don’t miss out on the upcoming Unbridled Retreats. Check them out HERE

7 Solutions to Give Your Fears the Boot

Giving your fears the boot is a skill and a practice. Your fears have most likely have been with you for a long time, but they DO NOT have to control your life.

Here are 7 solutions to help you confront and overcome your fears…


Acknowledge your fear. Give it a voice. By consciously allowing your fear to be heard, you’ll understand it’s “job”. Your fear may have served you in the past—protected you from failing, kept you from embarrassment, saved you from pain, etc. Now, your fear may be holding you back. When you acknowledge your fear and understand where it’s coming from, you can decide if your fear is serving you, or if it’s time to let it go.

Dear Devon,
As your fear, I’m holding you back to protect you from potential rejection. I’m keeping you safe from feeling rejected like you felt 14 years ago, when you told Will you loved him and he broke up with you.

“If you try to get rid of fear without knowing its meaning, it will grow stronger and return.” – Deepak Chopra


Instead of letting fear paralyze you from taking action, take advantage of the enormous energy it holds within it. Channel your fear into action by taking small courageous steps each day; make the call, write the email, sign up for the class, speak up in the group, or the boardroom. Each time you take a small action in spite of fear, you build self-confidence which is the #1 key to overcoming fear.

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt


Being perfect is an illusion sold to us by magazines, commercials, and social media—we’re influenced by the opinions of others of who we think we should be. Give yourself permission to BE YOU! Allow yourself to make mistakes, understanding that every mistake is a lesson learned. Fear of making mistakes is ultimately fear of making progress. You will make mistakes…we all do. EMBRACE IT! Set yourself free from the illusion of being “perfect”. Making mistakes is the fastest way to learn, grow, and achieve your dreams.

“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” – Elbert Hubbard


Fear creates stale energy in your body, which generates tension and stress. Physical activity keeps your energy flowing and dissipates negative thoughts. When your energy flows, your fears decrease. Physical activity makes you feel more confident by achieving tangible goals. Choose an activity that gets you out of your head and gets your heart rate going, such as jogging, power walking, dancing, biking, or yoga.

“Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional, and mental states.” – Carol Welch


When you meditate, you quiet the monkey chatter of your mind which can be filled with habitual fear-based thoughts. Meditation connects you to your intuition, which is your internal GPS. Meditation teaches you to live in the present moment, and release fear and worry about the past or the future. For a simple guide on How to Meditate, CLICK HERE.

“A quiet mind is able to hear intuition over fear.” – Yvan Byeajee


When you share your fears aloud, it diffuses the debilitating grip they have on you. Talk to a trusted friend, partner, life coach or counselor about your deepest fears. Notice how it feels to share your fears aloud, bringing them out of the dark and into the light. By exposing your fears, they lose their power.

“We should never let our fears hold us back from pursuing our hopes.” – John F. Kennedy


Your fear tends to imagine the worst possible outcome, which then becomes your new belief of what will happen. Instead, flip the script! Visualize the best possible outcome of what you fear. If you fear public speaking, imagine yourself receiving a standing ovation. If you fear starting a business, visualize yourself earning a living doing what you love. Your body doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined. By consistently visualizing your ideal outcome, you embody it.

“Visualizing a positive outcome will allow you to grow in confidence of the situation because you can believe that things will go well.” – Ryan McLean

Life is NOT about being fearless. It’s about being courageous—acknowledging the presence of your fears, and persevering in spite of them.

By reading this, you’re already on the trail to overcoming your fears. Be patient. Have faith. Trust yourself. And know that you are courageous.

I’d love to hear from you…which solution will you apply to give your fears the boot? Share in the comments below!

Giddy up,


BONUS! Click here to download and print out 7 Solutions to Overcoming Your Fears, to keep on your desk as a daily reminder.

To Change Your Life You Must Do This….


Last week, I did 2 things that were uncomfortable.

First, I went to a fitness center I’d never been, Orange Theory, and worked out with 20 strangers for one hour. I felt uncomfortable not knowing the workout routine, or how to use the machines. The instructor walked me though the gym and described the exercises. I nervously looked around trying to figure out if I belonged there, and failed to hear her instruction for how to get on the rowing machine.

As I sat down on the rowing machine, the seat slipped out from under me and I fell on my rear end. Blushing with embarrassment, I got up off the floor, smiled sheepishly, and finished the workout.  It wasn’t perfect but I was proud of myself for sticking it out.

Second on the uncomfortable list, I filmed a Facebook Live Video sharing my story about how horses saved my life from bulimia and depression. I’ve shared my story in retreats and small groups, but never on live video. 

I was uncomfortable not knowing what people might write in the comments, or how the video would turn out.

Halfway through filming, an incoming call came though the iPhone I was recording on, and the live screen became shaky. For the next 5 minutes, it looked like I was talking 2 times faster than I was. I felt uncomfortable watching my face shake on the screen, and not knowing how to fix it. I was disappointed that video didn’t turn out great but proud of myself for taking the risk to put my story out there.

I did these two things to push myself out of my comfort zone because:

A.) I want to be fit and have a healthy, strong body plus meet some new people.

B.) I want to share my story about Beyond the Arena to a larger audience to spread the message of the healing power of horses.

Later in the week, I did another Orange Theory Class and Facebook Live Video. I still felt uncomfortable but not as much as the first time. 

This time at Orange Theory, I was more confident and knew NOT to sit on the rowing machine seat too fast. I also recognized a few of the people who were there during my first class. No longer strangers, they smiled and said “Welcome back!” which made me feel good.

During the second Facebook Live video, I clicked “Do Not Disturb,” on my iPhone so incoming calls wouldn’t disrupt the filming. I was still uncomfortable sharing my story on live video, but it wasn’t as scary as the first time. I felt more confident and gave myself permission to share more – I spoke 10 minutes longer than the first time.

Point is, if you want to change anything in your life, you have do do things differently — and that feels uncomfortable.

Most of us don’t want to fail, not get it right, feel awkward, feel vulnerable, feel like a beginner, and not know the outcome. 

That’s understandable AND not being uncomfortable holds you back from the life you want. 

This week, I challenge you to do one thing that is uncomfortable and out of your comfort zone. 

Here are some ideas: get up on the other side of the bed, drive a different route to work, say hi to someone at work you normally don’t, try a new recipe, go to a workout class, call someone instead of text.

The first time you do it, you will feel uncomfortable. GOOD! That means you’re stretching and growing into the person you’re meant to be.

The second time you do it, you might still feel uncomfortable AND you’ll feel a bit more confident, I guarantee it.

“The hardest thing to do is leaving your comfort zone. But you have to let go of the life you’re familiar with and take the risk to live the life you dream about.” T. Arigo

Get comfortable being uncomfortable….it’s inevitable for growth, change, and becoming the person you’re meant to be.

The rowing machine beginner,


Cowgirl Magazine Article

COWGIRL LIFE: Cowgirl Rising

When a woman’s attempt to live the cowgirl dream is derailed by a series of personal tragedies, she explores beyond the arena in hopes of getting back in the saddle.

By Deborah Donohue

Photography by Lori Faith

The sun was setting in a pool of pink, crimson and gold behind the desert foothills of the Silver Bell Mountains. Green Saguaro and lilac-washed Prickly Pear cactus dotted the landscape as my driver crested the last hill, heading down into the land of the White Stallion Ranch.

I was supposed to have arrived hours earlier, but a mishap of cancelled and delayed flights had made getting to Arizona a pilgrimage in itself.

Author Deborah Donohue has the floor during a coaching session.

I was in Tucson to attend Devon Combs’ Unbridled Retreat, a long weekend of personal coaching work with horses, along with a generous dose of pure dude ranch fun. Combs’ workshops utilize the Equine Gestalt Coaching Method as well as more traditional Life Coaching. She describes it as “healing and awakening through horses. I work with people on a spiritual path who are searching for healing, to help them get unstuck.” Clients and retreat participants are “assisted in completing unfinished business from the past,” and are “encouraged to take definitive steps…towards creating a positive future.”

Initially, another member of the COWGIRL team was slated to attend. When it turned out she would be unable to make the trip, it was offered to me. I looked at Devon’s Beyond The Arena website and was intrigued by her description of the Unbridled workshops. I ignored the twinge of uncertainty in my gut and agreed to go. I didn’t know at the time that the universe had just arranged an invitation that would challenge me to the marrow of my 63-year-old cowgirl bones.

Upon arriving, Devon herself met me at the entryway of the historic Southwestern enclave. After a warm hug, she assisted me with my registration and escorted me to where the rest of the weekend’s participants were gathered, a group of women who had come from all over the country. Women like me, who had perhaps come to shed a skin or grow a new one. They were, each and every one, approachable, open and welcoming.

After introductions, cocktails, and a classic ranch dinner (complete with sexy singing cowboy) we headed to our casitas. The night was deeply dark, still, and free of distractions, allowing the subtle sounds of the desert to prevail: the whinnies of the ranch horses, a great horned owl calling to its mate, the beautiful melody of a night bird I could not place but would not forget. For the first time in many nights, I slept like a baby. A good thing, too. The horses would be waiting for us, bright and early.

Compassion and support from the group are an important part of the retreat. 

There’s something I should mention about that twinge in my gut. A few years ago I somersaulted off the front of a big, gentle horse during a riding lesson in the Santa Ynez Valley, not far from my home in Santa Barbara. I was transitioning from a canter to a trot and lost my seat. I regained it briefly, then, doing the antithesis of what I’d been taught, lost it again, for good this time. I sailed through the air in what felt like an interminable moment, before raising a cloud of arena dust as I landed on my right side, smacking my head hard against the ground. The horse, a well-trained fella unused to folks flying off his back was more surprised than anyone. Covered in dirt, I stood up, took a few shaky breaths and got right back on. I went through the very same maneuver I had attempted before the fall, executing the change in gaits without a hitch. All good, right? Wrong.

During the next few days I had some strange flashes of light when turning my head. I wasn’t experiencing headaches or other signs of injury, but to be on the safe side I went to my doctor. He reassured me all was well and that the light flashes would subside. So I returned for my lesson the following week. The horse I had been riding periodically went back to its owners, so I was given another horse to groom, saddle and ride. The new horse, though smaller, seemed to have a defiant personality, or perhaps simply sensed my nervousness and reflected my uneasiness back to me. She and I were clearly uncertain of the other.

As I sat on her back holding the reins I felt fearful and insecure. My body began to tremble, tears burning behind my eyes. My confidence had crashed with the fall, despite its innocuous nature. I hadn’t been physically hurt, yet something had seismically shifted inside of me. The horse incident had been the culmination of a cascade of traumatic events that included my mother’s death, a friend’s massive stroke, my mentor’s slow decline in the throes of Alzheimer’s, and my beloved dog dying. Somehow, falling off that horse had shattered my fragile sense of well being into a sharp point of particular and personal vulnerability.

From that day on, I no longer felt safe in the world. Fear became an insidious and too frequent visitor, and the parameters of my life began to quietly narrow. I still dreamed of riding, but there were good reasons not to…a sprained ankle here, bursitis in a hip there. My heart began to feel as though it was enveloped in a dark cloud of existential fear, encasing its joy and freedom, its ability–or perhaps willingness–to live out its dreams and adventuresome nature. I didn’t ride again.

Trail riding through the Sonoran Desert at the White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. 

It was COWGIRL’s Editor-In-Chief that encouraged me to go on the Unbridled retreat. She had given me the option of participating as much or as little as I chose. I could simply observe and write about others’ experiences if that was my preference.

I took the assignment, but as the trip grew closer so did my trepidation. I knew my bluff would be called. I imagined jumping cactus flinging their pods of needles my way, rattlesnakes under every bush, scorpions in my boots, and mountain lions who could effortlessly take out a petite woman for an evening hor d’oeuvre. Not to mention the horse issue.

An Unbridled Retreat participant works a horse in the round pen.

I tried to bow out, suggesting someone else take my place. No such luck. Perhaps, she suggested, it was a synchronistic opportunity. And so I looked at my options. I could say yes to fear or yes to getting my life back. I felt frustration—and the possibility of real regret if I could not muster some courage. I knew staying home would not help me. And I wanted my former, fearless self back, the one who knew she could handle whatever the moment presented. I surrendered. I gave in. My desire to heal overrode my ego, who continued to warn of the embarrassment and shame of having her insecurities paraded around a round pen. In the end, I committed to go as a participant, as myself, the most inexperienced, wannabe horsewoman on the Cowgirl magazine team.

I awoke to the early morning desert, the air crisp and clear. Outside my casita, cottontail bunnies darted among the cactus. After breakfast, we gathered with Devon and began our work. The first exercise had us seated on chairs arranged in a circle adjacent to the round pen. We took turns pulling cards from a gorgeously illustrated horse-themed deck designed by Melissa Pearce. Pearce developed the Equine Gestalt Coaching Method. (Devon Combs is a Certified Equine Gestalt Coach, which entails graduating from a two-year program similar to a Master’s program.)

I selected a card without looking—a beautiful sorrel horse. On the back was the word Energy, with a paragraph describing the power and intensity of thoughts and emotions, and how we can redirect and guide our energy “in the most positive direction possible, focusing on the task at hand and trusting what unfolds.” We all checked in with one another, one at a time, expressing what our cards might represent to us and our goals for the workshop.

Next, we would work with the horses. The irony is that I have written previous articles for COWGIRL about equine-assisted healing (for veterans with PTSD, for example). Intellectually, I knew of horses’ healing abilities. However, personally experiencing their energy fields and intense attentiveness in a somatic, body centered way was entirely different, and life changing.

I was reminded of what most cowgirls already know: try as one might, we cannot disguise our innermost feelings in the presence of a 1200-pound prey animal.

The retreat included team penning at White Stallion Guest Ranch.

All horses are able to read body language and energy. Over millennia, they have had to hone their ability to tune into exactly what was going on in their environment in order to survive. After my experiences at the Unbridled weekend, I believe they can also intuitively sense where a person is holding pain—physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. And they will meet you right there. I believe that is why tears may come when one approaches a horse with a vulnerable heart. They accept us as we are in that moment.

Working, or simply being with a horse can be an opportunity, in Comb’s words, “to let down your mane.” There is no point in maintaining pretense when the horse has your number. While this process may be “therapeutic,” Combs is quick to point out that it is not therapy. Rather, it is a lively engagement of “discovering one’s own answers” and “connecting to our inner wisdom.” Worn out excuses and stories are neither indulged nor accepted, and Combs does not shy away from calling “bullshit” on occasion.

An experienced horsewoman with a charismatic and down to earth attitude, Combs is a woman who has walked the talk. In fact, her intelligent, empathic work with others grew directly out of her own harrowing journey through bulimia and depression. She credits her life being saved to a last ditch stint at a treatment center in Arizona where the program included healing modalities with horses. “I was able to pour my heart out in the presence of a horse,” she explains. “A horse who did not run away but instead came closer.” That experience re-awakened a sense of self-awareness, self-compassion and forgiveness—and it opened the door to her life’s work.

Unbridled facilitator and Founder of Beyond the Arena, Devon Combs.

I too, was able to let my heart be seen and recalibrated by the spirit and presence of the horses I encountered. The animals insisted I stay in the moment. I breathed close to the delicate velvet of their noses and felt their warm breath on my cheek. I brushed their manes and their dusty backs. I buried my face against them, releasing the last vestiges of the fears I had been carrying. With lowered heads, they accepted my grief, my uncertainties.

I wrapped my arms around their necks, leaning into their well-muscled shoulders, taking in their scent, imprinting it on my heart which broke open in a flood of tears, washing away the terror that had homesteaded within me. I felt safe.

That afternoon, I got back on a horse. After an hour lesson with the resident wrangler, I set out on a long trail ride among the cactus, winding through the serene Sonoran terrain. I didn’t see any rattlers. I didn’t find any scorpions in my boots (though I continued to give them the recommended morning shake-out) Instead of mountain lions, I spotted two majestic six-point bucks and two fawns. I was relaxed and at ease in the saddle.

Another of the gals riding behind me on the trail actually used the word “graceful.” On the last afternoon, I even took part in the team penning! At one point my hatband flew off as I loped along after collecting a wayward steer. Russell True, ultimate cowboy and owner of the White Stallion Ranch retrieved it and approached me. “You signed on as a beginner at the start of the weekend. Right? That’s what your card said.” “Yes,” I replied. The man of few words beamed, “You’re doing great!”

Deborah and Pueblo Team penning during the Unbridled Retreat at White Stallion Ranch.

I returned home from the White Stallion Ranch and the Unbridled Retreat with a buoyant heart and a sense of self-respect and self-reliance I had not felt in quite some time. I’d left my fear in the dust and had a barrel of fun in the process!

ABOUT UNBRIDLED: Devon Combs’ Beyond the Arena equine-assisted coaching process is ninety-percent ground work, but holding the retreat at the White Stallion Ranch in Tucson afforded the opportunity to take lessons and trail rides, and to participate in team penning—all activities provided by the ranch and available to all guests. At White Stallion Ranch, every person is assigned a horse specifically suited to their level of riding experience, and guests usually ride that horse for the duration of their stay.

The beautiful White Stallion Ranch, originally built in the 1900s, has been owned by the True family for fifty years. The Trues take great pride in both “mindful stewardship of the land,” and “exceptional guest service.” With one of the “largest privately owned herds of horses in Arizona and a large herd of cattle,” it is definitely “beyond the arena.”

What I’m Focusing on in 2019

Happy New Years!

On New Year’s Eve I stayed in and burned a Duraflame log in the fireplace, sipped some bubbly, watched “Big Little Lies,” got in bed, thanked the Universe aloud for lessons learned in 2018, and turned out the light at 12:04am.

The older I get, the less I’m concerned with FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) when it comes to social situations. My personality was somewhat tempted to go on out New Year’s Eve, but my soul wanted to stay in and celebrate with a quiet night at my new home.

On New Year’s morning, I opened the curtains to fresh snow, and one of my favorite sights in the whole world; Detail and Bella outside my bedroom window.

I made my bed (new pattern!), fed Charley (my cat), bundled up and went outside to feed the horses, then I came inside, burned sage and listened to a guided meditation.

Feeling in the zen zone, I made coffee, watched Oprah on YouTube, and got pumped when she was talking about purpose and authentic power. The most poignant thing that struck me was when Oprah quoted the Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav, “When the personality comes fully to serve the energy of the soul, that’s authentic power.”

That really hit me….my personality serving my soul. It does in many aspects of my work but not always in my love life, or in the business side of my work. Interesting new awareness.

I bundled up again and went outside for a brisk walk. My body needed movement, and my new awareness needed processing.

The air was crisp and I headed to the creek.

I love the creek, it’s peaceful and nature soothes my soul. I’m glad my personality was on board to serve my soul and go outside….it would’ve been easier to watch inspirational YouTube videos all morning and resist any physical action.

In 2019 I’m focusing on overcoming resistance, and my word is
E X P A N S I O N.

Expanding my beliefs, my thinking, my actions, and my world by breaking out of thoughts and habits which keep me stuck.

Going for a walk and writing a blog today are two steps I’m taking to overcome my resistance.

Want to find out your word for the new year?

Think about how you want to feel in 2019 and notice how your body responds.

For me, it’s opening my arms out and stretching them as far as they can go while looking up, opening my heart, and taking a deep breath.

That’s how I want to feel….E X P A N S I V E.

I’d love to hear from you, what are you focusing on in 2019? Share in the comments below.

Sending you love and positive energy for the new year!