Grieving the loss of my relationship

I currently have my laptop on my right and The Right to Write by Julia Cameron, on my left. I also have my phone playing Tim Wheater’s flute music which the book suggests. I know two things for sure in this moment: number one, I feel called to write and number two, I’m stuck on what to write about. There are a few significant topics in my life right now and I’m scared to write about them. The biggest topic that keeps coming up and brings tears to my eyes in this moment, is my recent breakup.

It jolts me when I think too long and hard about it. The loss of a wonderful man in my life. The loss of our dreams together. The pain and ache in my heart that hits when I think about the memories we shared. The gut-wrenching feeling before I open my eyes in the morning, knowing he’s not there.

The grief is raw and the tears come in waves.

For the first time in my life, when someone says. “How are you doing?”, I don’t answer “Fine” or “Good.”  Instead, tears start to leak before words come out. My body won’t let me hide the truth.

I can’t deny how I feel and my vulnerability defenses are down.

My mantra fluctuates multiple times a day between “You’re going be ok” to “God, please help me.” I have wailed into Blue’s mane. I have screamed in my car. I have beaten and sobbed into pillows.

It feels messy and cleansing at the same time…allowing my heart to ache and express itself. I’m not shoving down the feelings I don’t want to face like I have in the past.

What I am learning is to let grief move through me. To not resist it or put an expiration date on sadness.

I’m not in the place of “getting over it”, nor is it time to move on. It is time to honor and mourn the heart-opening love I experienced. Grief is teaching me to listen to my heart and what it needs. I know “Strong Devon” and in recent years I’ve gotten to know “Soft Devon” but “Openly Sad and Hurting Devon” is a new one for me. Allowing my sadness to be heard, seen, and acknowledged is what my heart needs to heal.

By writing about it, I no longer feel stuck. I feel open and connected.

light through

“Grief is a matter of the heart and soul. Grieve your loss, allow it in, and spend time with it. Suffering is the optional part. Love never dies and spirit knows no loss. Keep in mind that a broken heart is an open heart.” – Lousie Hay

Allowing it in,

Devon

A Reminder to Breathe


None of us are raised to think about our breathing. We assume breathing just comes naturally. Some cultures, and religions, and scientific studies, however, show us the significant benefits of bringing awareness to your breath.

When we take short breaths, we tend to be disconnected from our physical sensations and stuck in our head—overthinking, uptight, and stressed. This physical and mental tightness wreaks havoc on our bodies and our lives, making us sick, unhappy, and anxious.

Getting out of your head and into your body allows you to become more present. Unbridled Equine Coaching shows us how to be present in our breath through horses. Horses live completely in the present. They’re not depressed about what happened in the past or anxious about what could happen in the next five minutes. They are fully present in all of the sensations and solidity of now. When we emulate them and become present through focus on our breathing, we bring our awareness to the moment. We let go of worries and anxiety. We become present.

Being present is particularly important when you’re working with a 1,200-pound animal. When my clients are connecting one-on-one with horses, I remind them to breathe into their emotions.

When we deny our emotions, we create physical symptoms in our body. Emotions are energy and that energy has to go somewhere. If we suppress our emotions, that withheld emotional energy will manifest and can disrupt our well-being throughout our lives.

I learned this through firsthand experience. In the past when I would have a feeling of anger, upset or unhappiness, grief, or sadness, (any emotion that wasn’t happy or upbeat), I would suppress and deny these “negative” emotions. I did not breathe into them. I didn’t acknowledge them. I didn’t give them air. I didn’t release them. I didn’t know how. All of those emotions were trapped and manifested in my body as an eating disorder which allowed me to maintain the illusion of control. I was able to hide my emotions in a very unhealthy way for a period of years. My suppressed emotions did explode later on, and my mental health was deeply affected.

When I learned to breathe allowing new energy in with each inhale, and pushing old energy out with each exhale, my body started to release and soften, and I was finally able to process my emotions and let them go. This is the action and the outcome I share with my clients to anchor them in the moment. When you breathe into and out of your sadness, your sorrow, your fear, your disappointment, your joy, or your happiness, new energy cycles through your body and old energy is released.

Breathing is especially important when you’re with a horse. As a prey animal, a horse can immediately sense if you’re not breathing normally. If you’re feeling fear, you get tense, and your body tightens; the horse feels your energy. When you get tense and tighten up, the horse mirrors your energy and gets tight and tense—the horse is directly responding to your energy field.

One of my favorite sayings to clients is “breathe and smile!” The moment I speak those words, their bodies start to relax, a smile crosses their face, and they lighten up. When that change occurs, the horses visibly relax. It’s a chain reaction, a cause and effect. When you’re breathing and you’re in the moment, you are calm, inviting, and open to people and the horses you interact with. 

Where in your life can you practice taking deeper breaths?

I’d love to hear….share in the comments below!

Breathe with me. Inhale 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, exhale, 1, 2 ,3 ,4, 5, and relish this present moment of your life.

Devon 

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.
Exactly.

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.

Unbridled Retreats Reviews

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.

 

Self Care 101—Make Your Bed and Lift Your Mood

The Best Way to Start Your Day

The #1 habit I began to change my disorganized mess into tidy success was making my bed every day. Now, it’s a non-negotiable for me that starts every morning off right. It’s amazing how a daily 60-second act has changed my self-perception. Achieving this simple task each day gives me an instant feeling of accomplishment and organization which impacts my mental health and state of well-being.

Making my bed is an act of self-care that has positively affected my other habits. Succeeding in this daily task has improved my attitude along with my general outlook on life.

Better Productivity 

Charles Duhigg writes in his book, The Power of Habit, “Making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget.” Making your bed is what he calls a “keystone habit,” something that kick starts a pattern of other good behavior. And since it happens at the very beginning of the day, you’re apt to make better decisions for the remainder of the day thanks to your bed-making routine.

My newfound daily bed-making routine has turned into other productive habits in my home. I now put my laundry away instead of letting it sit in the dryer or hamper, and I rarely leave dishes in the sink overnight. I also started mucking the horse pen in the morning so it’s checked off my to-do list early in the day, freeing up more time in the afternoon.

I found completing this daily task turned into completing more and more tasks. By making my bed, I began to perceive myself as a more productive and present person. My habits started to become more organized. Making your bed can stimulate a chain of positive action steps in other areas of your life. 

Increases Happiness and Lifts your Mood

“When I was researching my book on happiness, making your bed was the number one most impactful change that people brought up over and over,” says author Gretchen Rubin. Turns out, people are happier when everyday tasks in their lives are completed!

Making your bed is also a simple act of self-care. How you live in your home matters to your well-being. Creating for yourself a feeling of being cared for helps lift your mood and lighten your emotional burdens.

I also became aware of a growing sense of worthiness. I asked myself don’t I deserve to have a clean space that I feel happy being in? Yes. Before I took on this new habit, I would have brushed off that question, feeling silly for asking it. Self-care is an act of valuing ourselves and putting ourselves first so we can thrive and have the strength and sense of self-worth that allows us to be there for others.

In times of uncertainty and stress, it’s the small, actionable steps which matter more than ever. Making your bed can have a significant impact on your sense of accomplishment and can be the start of an empowering self-care routine. 

It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect!

I don’t fold my bed into neat little military corners. However, I do pull on the comforter and make it smooth and clean. I plump up the pillows so they look pretty and I fold the cozy grey blanket (my cat Charley’s favorite place to lay) so it sits at the bottom of the bed. Now, when I walk into my bedroom I feel energized and organized. My neatly-made bed acts as the foundation for my confidence and empowers me to feel I can take on any task that comes my way that day. 

Do you make your bed every day? I’d love to hear from you! Share your bed-making habits in the comments below.

Love,
Devon