Horses and healing | Kitsap Week
January 3, 2013 · Updated 11:31 AM
By Leslie Kelly
SILVERDALE — Drea Bergquist-Bowen has seen it many times — women who come to her broken, unable to function and not certain who they are anymore.
She recognizes it because, years ago, that was her. She, too, had been lost, not certain who she was, and not able to be everything to everybody any longer.
“Women contact me when they get to the place that they don’t have a connection to who they are anymore,” Bergquist-Bowen said. “They’re raising kids, going to work every day chasing success, but they crave a deeper sense of purpose in life.
“They have a lack of joy. They are in business. They are functioning. But they don’t have the kind of relationships they want in their lives.”
For her, it came after 30 years as a business consultant and a manager for nonprofits. She was a mother raising three children and keeping very busy as a volunteer in her community. While her life was good, she felt a void.
“The only time I was really at peace was when I was with my horses,” she said.
At that time she was training two young, wild horses she had rescued. She began to realize that when she was with the horses, she was her “real” self. That experience grew to be her business, Horses Heal Hearts, an equine-facilitated learning and coaching business. The goal: to introduce people to the power of working with horses in order that they develop inter-personal skills, self-respect, confidence and healing.
“Horses don’t care who you are,” she said. “It doesn’t matter to them what you look like or where you came from. It’s the most pure form of friendship you can find.”
And because of that, women are able to relate to the horses without any pretense and begin to find themselves once again.
It’s as simple as a single touch, she said.
A young woman reaches out to touch one of Bergquist-Bowen’s mares. The woman brushes the horse along her nose. The horse rears back and moves away.
“The touch was too much,” Bergquist-Bowen said. “So the young woman knew that and had to make adjustments.
“She read the horse’s body language and she might have been thinking, 'That horse doesn’t like me? Why?’ But the reality is that the mare is just saying ‘I’m sensitive and emotional and I need you to take things more slowly.’”
It’s that interaction with the horse that teaches the young woman about relationships. And Bergquist-Bowen said the learning is easier with horses than humans because horses don’t hide their feelings or their sensitivity.
“They just react,” she said. “Their exterior actions match their interior feelings. They don’t mask anything.”
Horses depend on reading human body language, energy and intensions, much more than in human-to-human contact, she said. And if someone can learn to build relationships through contact with horses, they become more confident in their ability to build relationships with people. And just as with people, every horse has a different personality and has had different life experiences.
“I have some horses that are more shy and it will take longer to build a relationship with them — just as with people,” she said. “That’s where this work mirrors life.”
Her love of horses and her need to change her own life led her to research horses and therapeutic work. She found the website for HEAL (Human-Equine Alliances for Learning) and applied to become an equine-facilitated learning practitioner. During that course of study she also became a board-certified life and business coach. Her passion is guiding women to reconnect with their dreams and goals by listening to their hearts, trusting their intuition, and creating meaning and purpose in their lives by living authentically.
She does work with men and she also works with small groups of up to eight individuals. She travels throughout the country giving lectures on her work with horses and facilitating workshops and retreats on self-esteem and healing.
Recently, she has begun to reach out to local licensed counselors and therapists to create individualized programs for those who are suffering with depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and children and teens who are experiencing discrimination and bullying.
In the case of a young person who has experienced bullying, Bergquist-Bowen would begin by just letting the youngster be around the horses.
“Just being with them has a calming effect,” she said. “Eventually the teen would learn to groom the horse and a relationship would happen. There would be a healing and eventually the teen would feel comfortable to speak about what’s up in her life.
“When they feel safe with an animal that is 1,000 pounds and much larger than they are, they will open up. They will learn about safe space and it will transcend into them being able to stand up for themselves when someone is invading their space.”
She recently saw it work with a young girl who faced bullying.
“She came to the point where she told me she was able to tell a boy at school not to talk to her like that anymore.”
Regardless of the issue an individual has, Bergquist-Bowen knows that by establishing honest relationships with horses, the individual can learn to overcome it. But each person she works with is unique and the work can take anywhere from three months to a year. She works with her clients based on a sliding scale that can be adjusted to an individual’s need. Generally, her clients will meet with her for an hour to 90 minutes each week. Costs vary depending on whether the work includes one-on-one virtual coaching and email progress reports in addition to the hands-on work with the horses. Group prices are less expensive.
“My goal is to help them make changes and making changes takes time,” she said. “It’s a process of getting the clients to learn to trust me and trust the horses.”
A lot of the focus of Bergquist-Bowen’s work is to re-unite each person with their right brain.
“It’s about our creativity,” she said. “We’ve lost touch with the right side of our brains. We spend so much time thinking, organizing, planning and doing, all part of our intellectual side. And there is a need for that. But we need to be who we are. We need to know our soul — our creative right-brain side.”
Bergquist-Bowen can be reached at email@example.com, or by phone at (360) 509-2948. Her website is www.HorsesHealHearts.com.
At a Glance
Drea Bergquist-Bowen offers a program called “My Herd Your Heart” during winter.
For two sessions, each two hours in length, clients spend time grooming one of the horses in her herd.
The program is designed for women, teens and for a parent-teen team working together with a horse.
Participants are required to attend an initial safety meeting where she goes over the “How to be Safe Around Horses” hand out.
There is no formal agenda, she said. Participants learn the basics about horses and their care, but the mission is to spend time up close with nature and horses.