Sisterhood Spotlight with Unbridled Alum, Shurla

Shurla has attended two Unbridled Retreats. She is a recent graduate of a health coaching program, proud mom of a 13-year old son, and CEO of her household.


How did you discover Unbridled, and when was your first retreat?
My first retreat was the beginning of my journey. It was Spring of 2018. I was taking a nutrition course, and one of my classmates told me about this horse program. I was going through a divorce and really felt like I needed to get away, so I did some research to see if I could find out more about it. The first retreat I found online was Unbridled in Arizona, and the dates and everything just came together.

The divorce was hard, and I was feeling pulled in so many ways. Everything felt like it was on me, so many emotions and changes to manage. I just really needed a break from all of it. But it took a lot of courage to take the step to go.

I had no idea what to expect once I got to the retreat. I remember the opening circle. I’ll never forget it. I thought to myself, “What’s the worst that could happen? I’m meeting people who live in the US. I live in Canada. I will probably never see them again!” But it was such an open and freeing space, and with Devon’s energy and presence, I remember sitting in the circle, and we introduced ourselves, and we shared a little bit of our story. I felt so comfortable in that moment that I felt free. The tears just came, and I felt like I could release and be open. And it was such a beautiful experience. I never really experienced that before.

Prior to Unbridled, I always traveled with my former husband, or friends or family. For me to go on my own was a huge leap.

I had always been afraid of horses but being in the desert and with all the other women and being in the presence of the horses and learning about their nature…they are so powerful yet so peaceful and so gentle. Devon shared a lot about the horses being prey animals and how they always must be present in the now. That really struck me because I am always busy doing so many things at once. Watching the horses, listening to Devon, things just started to click for me.

Now when I’m unsure of something, I always go back to my time with the horses, and the gentleness and grace they had, just being present.

You mention the courage it took to go to your first retreat. What was your process for moving through that fear?
I needed a break from everything so badly, I thought I would burst if I didn’t take some steps. When all the logistics worked out for the retreat, I just thought why not? I was crawling out of my skin. When something big breaks, it’s like the uprising of everything. You’re getting a divorce. He’s moved out. Your son is crying every night. This is happening. This is real. I had so many questions, and I needed a change of environment to clear my head and make sense of it all.

In some ways my first retreat was more for my son, finding courage to be a better person and figure out how to get through this divorce as my son and I move forward together. I knew I would come back a stronger person.

Looking back this was the beginning of my journey. When I decided to say yes to the Unbridled retreat, it was the beginning of saying yes to myself, to my growth, to a more authentic version of myself, and to stepping into who I really am.

Once you took that leap and went to your first retreat, did you start to find that it got easier to care for yourself?
There were so many things that happened in Arizona that I have taken with me. I felt like I was safe to be myself. The Unbridled Retreat was so powerful. I wore cowboy boots and went all out. I believed I could move forward with everything I learned when I left, but it takes time. When you come back home, you’re back into your life with everything else and if you don’t have boundaries in place, it becomes easy to get back into the old ways.

One thing that really changed is how I parent my son. The horses taught me the power of being present, and I realized that when I talked to my son, I needed to be fully present. I consciously started putting my phone down or turning it over. I would sit and engage with my son and listen to him and be present.

Being surrounded with the other women and sharing each other’s progress and how we changed and grew was powerful. I was able to release a lot. I came to understand way deep down I would be okay, even though there was still a lot of work I needed to do.

Was going to a second retreat a way to keep your Unbridled spirit alive?
Yes. I went to my second retreat in Montana and felt much more comfortable being on a horse. I felt comfortable and powerful. It was so freeing. Someone said to me, “You look so happy!” And I was genuinely happy because I felt free.

The retreat and the horses helped with that sense of presence. I am better at boundary setting. I’m a better person, a better parent, a better sister, better friend. Being present, authentic, and true to myself are the biggest lessons I learned.

Whenever I second guess myself, I always go back to the horses.

The horses don’t second guess themselves.

Has your son noticed the difference in you and your relationship?
Yes. We’ll sit on the porch and just chat now. Our relationship has become better because he shares more. He’s open. We both practice being present together. To have that bond is very important to me because it’s a very different bond than I had with my parents.

What does being Unbridled mean to you?
It means being free, stepping into the truth of yourself and your being, and who you are wherever you are, in that moment in your life. Trusting the process. But deeper than that, trusting yourself to become the best version of yourself. Being Unbridled is like a flash of light and an opening of all the best parts of yourself. Stepping into that light and not apologizing for anything. Being the best version you can be as you go out into the world and project yourself, spread your goodness, your light, and your beauty. Freeing and breaking free. To live in that space is powerful. And Devon taught me how to do that with her program.

What would you share with someone who is thinking about going on an Unbridled Retreat but needs a courage boost?
Feel the fear, don’t push it away. Be brave and step into it anyway because what’s the worst that could happen? We often look at the outcome before we’ve had the experience. So go to the experience and be fully present and available. Be there for yourself and don’t compare yourself, it’s your individual journey. Others are on their own path. So, stay in your lane and receive the lessons you need to receive to continue your journey. Be open. Great things can happen.

What’s the biggest gift the horses have given you?
Not being afraid of new things. Just saying yes, saying yes to myself.

Anything else you’d like to share?
My first retreat was 5 years ago, but it still feels like yesterday. I felt free of the entanglement of my life and could just be me in that moment with my cowboy hat and boots on, and Yeehaw! That’s how I felt. I was just being me at my most relaxed and happy. I found out I was a pretty cool person. I like to have fun and do interesting things.

The divorce was not fun but I’m grateful for it, and it happened for me because I was somehow hiding. And now I have reawakened.

I am learning to trust myself and trying to teach my son to do the same. When he goes into a new venture or new place or new people, I tell him to just trust himself. That’s the greatest lesson.

Sisterhood Spotlight with Unbridled Alum, Martina Will, PhD

Living the Transitions, Cowgirl-Style

by Martina Will, PhD 

“Life is in the transitions.” – William James

In their cowboy boots and hats, they look like cowgirls, but the horseback women at the Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch in Colorado include the CEO of a high-end skincare line, a massage therapist, a former college professor, and an attorney. Until a few days ago, they were strangers, meeting for the first time in a dusty circle amid a herd of horses. Seated in that circle in an outdoor arena, the air was full of anticipation. The horses’ snorts and occasional whinnies punctuated their conversations. Some were nervous to be near horses and others a little uncertain about what they’d committed to do for the next four days. Still, all were poised for whatever was next.

These grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and daughters came together from around the country to experience equine coaching under the leadership of Devon Combs, a horse “listener” and founder of Unbridled Retreats. Devon has been leading retreats across the U.S. since 2011, and with the horses, helps women connect to their visions for the future. In doing so, they must often confront their internal and external barriers. “Your future is not your past,” she says, knowing that for many, the past is the most onerous obstacle. She instructs the women to “Put a stake in the ground and say: ‘This is what I am choosing to consciously believe.’ Take courageous action to make that positive change.”

Unbridled Retreats take place all over, with 2023 dates including locations in Lanai’i, Hawai’i, as well as California, Arizona, and Colorado. This particular retreat takes place in the sun-dappled foothills outside of Loveland, Colorado on a late summer day. The family-owned dude ranch is entirely occupied by the Unbridled guests, who enjoy leisurely meals and private cabins. For some, it is the first trip away from children or spouses. All have gone to great lengths to afford this escape and carve out time away from professional and family responsibilities.

Devon sets the tone on the first day by sharing her own story in the sandy outdoor arena. She experienced first-hand the transformative power of equine therapy as a young woman struggling with depression and bulimia. Though Devon had grown up with horses, she had never interacted with them in the same way as she did during that first experience with equine therapy, when a residential treatment center in Arizona found her in a different arena.

She recalls standing isolated on one side, immersed in her own thoughts and issues. It was only when she released her self-doubt and anguish and let her guard down that the horse approached her from the far side of the arena. She collapsed into an embrace of the horse, allowing herself to just be present. “Horses are intuitive,” she says. “You can’t fake it with them. Horses allowed me to see myself in a new way.”

There is tremendous power in Devon’s vulnerability. It lays the groundwork for the women’s openness, and the incipient sisterhood that forms over the next four days. Several women take turns in the group setting to dive deeply into raw emotions. Many are in transition and seek to clarify their next steps. Devon encourages them to “reclaim your desires, centered in an awareness of your power.”

Her words are not theoretical. Devon left her real estate career after determining that her calling wasn’t showing people their future homes but showing them their futures’ possibilities. She disregarded those who suggested she keep her real estate license “in case this horse thing doesn’t work out,” and established Unbridled Retreats after becoming certified in equine coaching. When she tells the women in her quietly authoritative, unwavering voice “Trust your vision. It’s coming to life for a reason,” she knows of what she speaks.

“This is not therapy,” Devon emphasizes. “Connecting with horses can be less intimidating than traditional therapy,” and her work centers on coaching and creating a vision and path for the future midwifed by the horses’ quieting presence. In the following days the women share five decades of life experience. They reveal their personal and professional challenges and their most troubling concerns: a family member’s addiction, an emotionally abusive marriage, and the deaths of siblings and parents. Their stories are at once unique and universal, the products of lives lived fully in relationship to others, with all the attendant messiness.

By the end of the retreat, the multigenerational group of women has laughed, cried, and “Yee-ha’d!” many times. The horses’ serene presence has been constant whether in the arena’s equine coaching sessions or on the trail and in the cow pen.

Some of the women have shared their deepest challenges before the group and others have engaged in soul-baring exchanges one-on-one, in quiet conversations over shared walks, meals, or the campfire. They have encouraged and embraced each other during moments of secret grief over past trauma and profound uncertainty about their futures. They have held each other up and borne witness to each other’s experiences.

As they leave the ranch and the horses, the women exchange photos and phone numbers. All of them have articulated to themselves and to each other clear goals and next steps. All of them are prepared to embrace their transitions, and a follow-up virtual reunion ensures that they can continue to support each other after the trail dust on their cowgirl boots has disappeared.

Sisterhood Spotlight with Unbridled Alum, Sarah

This month’s Sisterhood Spotlight is Sarah from New Hampshire. Sarah, who has been to four Unbridled Retreats, is 70 years old but says she doesn’t feel that way.  A retired nurse turned baker (her dream job), Sarah is living proof that when you are Unbridled, life just keeps getting better.

When did you go on your first retreat? And what made you decide to go?

I had gone on a women’s cowgirl trip at the White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, as well as a retreat in Montana a couple of years before. So, in 2020 I was looking to do something again, preferably in the desert because I love it so much. I got on the White Stallion Ranch Facebook page and found Devon’s Unbridled Retreats. I was enchanted by the description, so I signed up!
In truth, I was pretty nervous about my first time, but I think everybody at my first retreat was a first timer. Maybe one or two people were there for a second time. So, we were all a little nervous but totally accepting of each other. It felt very safe. Devon lays the foundation that respect and confidentiality are important within the group. It’s a common bond we all feel once we meet. It just becomes a sisterhood almost immediately. It’s amazing.

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Are you still friends with any of the women you met at the retreats?

I met my soul sister at an Unbridled Retreat in 2021. We just sat down to breakfast together one morning, and the connection was immediate. We were immediate friends. It was just amazing to meet somebody that’s on your same vibe. I do stay in contact with women from other retreats. There’s this bond because we’ve all been through some turmoil that’s common to all of us, even though it may seem different. Some past or present trauma is shared and understood by everyone, because we’ve all been through or are going through something.

When you did your first retreat, it was partly because of your love of the desert and being drawn to the horses. Was there any element of self-care at that time?

No, not at that point. I had retired from nursing in 2018 and was going through quite a bit of family turmoil. I didn’t even consider it as self-care because I didn’t know what that was. I thought all those years dealing with my family that I was really taking adequate care of myself. But once I went to my first retreat I realized, oh, this is what self-care is.

That’s an amazing realization. How did you come to that?

We were in our morning coaching session, and Devon asked who wanted to get on Clyde bareback, and I volunteered. I didn’t realize that I’d have to sit in front of the group and talk. It was hard for me because I’m not good at sharing in groups. But somehow, I found myself sobbing and crying and getting everything out. And then she said, “Let’s get up on Clyde.” She led me through the exercise, and then she said, “After all you have been through, you’re still standing.” And I said, “Yes.” And then Clyde took a step forward, and she said, “That’s amazing that he’s stepping forward with you and telling you it’s okay to keep going.” At that moment, I felt like I exploded inside. I knew it was all going to be okay, and it was okay to take care of myself.

That’s why I keep going back to Devon’s retreats. Every time I go, I release more and more. This last retreat I even got a massage. It’s just little steps that I take. At White Stallion Ranch, they have a heated swimming pool, so I would go first thing in the morning. When I told Devon about my swimming she said to the group, “This is how Sarah does self-care.” I had never thought of it that way. I just thought I was going for a swim. I understood then that it’s okay to take care of myself and to admit that I can. Admit to myself that I deserve it. And it can look different for different people. Returning again and again to retreats is a way I practice self-care.

How else do you incorporate self-care into your life now that you’ve realized the value of it?

I’ve always kept a journal off and on, especially between 2016 and 2020. During that time, because of what was happening in my family, I put a lot of anger, frustration, and sadness into my journals. And then I just kind of petered off for a while until I realized what a huge release it was for me. So, I started again. I usually sit down, and I just write what’s going on in my head, and at the very end of every day I write what I’m grateful for, and that has helped me stay focused on taking care of me. The more I’m thankful for, the better the person I am.
As a retired nurse, I took care of lots of people over the years, and I felt that I was serving a purpose. When I retired, I felt like I had no purpose other than to worry down the rabbit hole into this deep, dark vortex trying to take care of my family. The retreat just totally blew that out of the atmosphere for me. I realized it wasn’t necessary to go down that rabbit hole anymore. In fact, it’s hardly even a little ditch now. It’s not very deep at all anymore.

Every time I come home from a retreat, I wonder how long the amazing feeling will last. Because it is quite euphoric when you’re there. You have all that support, and you’re with the horses, and you’re outside in the desert. Now, instead of letting the good feeling end when I come home, I remind myself it doesn’t have to go away. Good feelings about myself last longer and longer. I go deeper and deeper into my kindness and my self-love.

That’s beautiful. And it’s especially significant because you were a lifelong caregiver as a profession, and then it sounds like you had to do some caregiving in your family as well. You have this identity as a caregiver. That’s a big shift for you.

Yes. And now the family turmoil has resolved quite a bit, so suddenly, I’m an empty nester which feels like another hurdle. Because if I don’t have to worry about my family anymore, what am I? What do I do?

I just got a dream job at a bakery, and when I interviewed, she asked me what my goals were. I said, “Well, I’ve served all my life. I know it’s kind of corny, but I feel like that’s what my purpose is: to serve people, whether it’s with a blood pressure cuff and medicine or a croissant.” The minute I said it out loud I knew that’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to keep serving people, but to reinvent myself to serve in a different way now.

What is it that you feel when you are around the horses? What do they bring to your life?

It’s almost an indescribable lightness. I feel like I’m all right when I’m with the horse, whether I’m on the back of the horse or talking to one. They see you. They’re very intuitive, and there’s not a lot of that in human communication. It’s just so pure with the horse. I think that’s what it gives, that pure recognition of my feelings and without me having to say anything. It’s just a lightness inside of me.

What would you tell a woman who might be considering going to a retreat?

A lot of people are afraid of change. They are not comfortable where they’re at in life, but they don’t want to delve into anything that might change their outlook. Life is changing. You change. That’s what life is. You just change as life goes on. The horses can help. They open that gate for you. They let you know it’s okay to feel what you feel. And it’s okay to move on from that. Before we start the coaching sessions, you go brush the horses and talk to them and just move around them, and that’s when I feel the gate just open. They’re listening. Something just opens in me from that horse, no matter which horse I am working with. Horses are totally intuitive about how you’re feeling, and they’ll react to what your emotions are at that moment. You can change their reaction by changing what’s coming from your heart.

You have so much experience in your life, so much depth and wisdom. You are very resilient. What have you learned through it all?

Let go or be dragged. That’s pretty much my mantra. You can’t hold onto things that are already done. You have to move on. You have to be present and look forward.

So, is that what being Unbridled means to you?

Yes. Being Unbridled is like being untethered from the feelings I used to have of being so inadequate because I was always looking in the past. Becoming Unbridled encouraged me to look forward, step forward, and open the gate and run free. Just be whoever I want to be.


Interview With Unbridled Alum Jen O’Hare

Interview with Unbridled Alum Jen O’Hare

What was your vision going into your first retreat? Afterwards, how did that change? And how do you stay anchored to it?

My first retreat was at White Stallion Ranch in Arizona in November 2021. It was right after I’d turned 50, and I wanted to do something special for myself to mark the occasion because it was a milestone. That first retreat was an opportunity for me to really reflect and learn and enjoy a new place and experience for myself. And giving myself the space to create meaningful connections with other people, and a more meaningful connection with myself. At that time, my vision truly was a celebration. I found myself in a new chapter, in a very different place than I had been in 5 years ago. And I was asking myself, “What is this new life?” That was the spirit behind my first retreat: be open enough to take it all in, because I had no idea. I just wanted to embrace all that was coming my way in this new chapter.

How has your vision shifted since your first retreat?

Going back to a second retreat in Colorado at Sylvan Dale Ranch in May 2022 was also very intentional. I once again fully committed to embracing the experience. And then coming back home and continuing to learn to ride, just be around the barn and the horses. It was a great way for me to create a greater sense of well-being for myself that I didn’t have previously. Horses became part of my self-care.

Did fear and discomfort come up along the way as you started to explore these new possibilities for your life?

Yes, and they still come up. Experiencing my partner’s death four years ago and feeling like this is not at all what I thought my life was going to be like. I had spent so much time in that caregiving space that I had to really reflect about where I wanted to spend my time going forward. How do I go about identifying my wants and my needs? And then how do I take some steps to execute and engage? I think the fear was a little bit around there being so many options that it all felt so new.

What does that look like when the fear comes up? How do you nudge yourself along?

One of my strengths has always been taking action. When I find myself in this place, good or bad, I feel like the clarity tends to unveil itself through my engaging in something I like to do. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I like going to the barn where I take lessons two days a week. Yesterday I went, and I was feeling anxious about work, and I could feel it inside my chest. But I knew the horses would help me process just being in their presence.

Before I walk into the barn I stop, and I do what Devon tells us to do. I feel my boots, and I dig my heels into the dirt, and I ground in. I just stand there, almost like a yoga pose. I close my eyes, breathe in a deep breath, and then I walk into the barn. I keep breathing, grooming, and touching the horses, and as always, by the time I leave, I have forgotten what I was worried about.
The fear never goes away completely, but I try my best to engage in things that allow me to put it to the side. And then relax my mind and my nervous system enough that I’m better at gaining a broader perspective.

It’s like I’m driving the bus. And all these things may be in the backseat. The grief is still there, frustrations about XYZ, the fear still there, the anxiety might still be there. But I’m doing my best to not have them move up into the driver’s seat. I am trying to stay the primary driver. So I’m doing all these things with intention so that I keep them in the backseat and attend to them, but not have them control me.

Action gets us out of our heads and into the next moment.

I’ve just learned that there are a few things that really help me. One is being around the horses. The second is I’ve taken a big step this year, and I’ve cut my schedule back to four days. It has been such a gift to my well-being. And the third thing is that I live in a space where I love to be outdoors, and so every day, I will try my very best to go for a long walk in the forest. And if I don’t do that, then I will try to start or end my day with a little bit of yoga to at least ground and reconnect with my body. Even when I’m feeling a little bit of that fear, the combination of those things will really help me.

What does being an Unbridled Woman mean to you?

When I think of Unbridled Women, I think of freedom. I think of openness of spirit. Being an Unbridled Woman is two things to me: being unapologetic, which, by the way, I’m not yet. And being comfortable or practiced at expressing her wants and needs in a way that allows her to increase the success that she is going to get what she actually wants and needs. This is the journey I am on right now.

What would you tell a woman who was trying to decide whether she wanted to do a retreat?

There’s got to be a certain level of motivation and commitment to self to sign up for a retreat. I think this idea of being open and willing is just so paramount. If they are open to being in a situation, a safe situation with other women who are likely experiencing very similar thoughts and feelings, despite the fact that their experiences, life, and situations are completely different…if they’re open to connecting with them at a level that they feel comfortable with, and knowing that they can learn from people and take it in, and perhaps even share a little bit about themselves that would provide some learning and insight for someone else…that in itself is a gift. I do feel like if someone’s wondering about a retreat, I think I’d ask them, “How open and willing are you to look at your life differently?”

You’re totally right, you must be ready for a shift. It doesn’t have to be a monumental shift, but you must be ready for some level of change.

At my first retreat I was like, okay, I’m going to take the chance. I’m going to take a risk, and I’m going to go into the ring, and I don’t know what to expect. But let’s just see what happens. And yet I felt safe, and I felt like in some ways, I was learning more from the lessons and the experiences of the other women in the group. Wow, this person is experiencing some hard things at home that they’re tackling. And while I’m not in her shoes, I can 100% empathize and relate to little bits and pieces of what she’s saying and how she’s responding. I can see parts of myself in her. And I see how the horse is responding, and the care and nurturing that Devon and the rest of the women are giving. That tells me that even if I’m not in a space where I might be ready to work on that piece in my own life, I’m still receiving the lessons. And that actually opens up. It broadens the story that I’m telling myself about it.

What’s the biggest gift the horses give you?

Groundedness. I can walk into the barn in a complete swirl of emotions, and feeling reactive, and the moment I get in there, give me five minutes of brushing, and then just connecting with them, and there’s not a worry in the world.