My Life with Horses
A life of riding became my life’s mission to help others experience the transformative power of horses.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have you been transformed by horses? Share your experience in the comments below.
I’ve been following your site for a few months now since I discovered it and just read your latest post…I stopped, mouth agape when I read that Rooney was your horse! Shortly after I moved to Colorado after growing up riding on the east coast, I sought riding lessons. I found High Prairie and Jim! I remember donning my leather chaps, paddock boots and helmet and the sweater I used to ride in all the time and I’d literally race to the barn for my lessons. I rode Rooney several times and I remember thinking was a lovely horse he was. So big and grand and such a nice mover. I fell in love with him immediately. Thank you so much for sharing this – what a small world it is. – Mikey Dehner
Mikey, thanks for sharing, wow, that is such a small world that you rode Rooney! How cool is that 🙂 Love hearing that you experienced his awesome big stride. The horse world is so small, geez! Where do you ride now?
I am so very proud of you that you have put your journey into words to be an example for all of us with life issues. Thank you again Devon; you are a constant inspiration!
Thank you for saying that! I appreciate you being part of my journey and your encouragement to keep sharing my experiences. Much love to you, Kim!