Walk with horses (and a burro) to find solutions within yourself

Kelly Bowen, left, and Melissa Jefferson with Julia, one of their equine assistants at Inside Lead Counseling and Consulting.

Julia insists that we pay attention to her. She is described as a social butterfly. She wants to examine my camera, taste my notebook and my pen. Mostly, she wants to be scratched.

Spud is more laid back — actually, on this sunny spring day, “laid down”  is a more accurate description of his condition. He has no problem if you want to stop and chat, perhaps do a little scratching as well. But if you don’t, that’s fine.

Julia is a burro. Spud is a paint gelding. They have distinct personalities and ways of interacting with people. That’s important because they are two of six animal members of a professional equine counseling and consulting team that helps people and groups better understand their situations and find solutions within themselves.

Inside Lead Counseling and Consulting is a partnership. Kelly Bowen is a licensed clinical social worker who grew up with horses and has worked for many years with Colorado West Mental Health. Melissa Jefferson is an equine professional working toward a psychology degree at Mesa State College. With her husband, Jeff, she has traded and trained horses in the Grand Valley for more than 20 years.

Both have been certified through EAGALA — the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association — to work with horses and people in counseling situations. In fact, they met at an EAGALA training session. They formed their business in 2009.

Inside Lead conducts a program called “Horsepower,” through Hospice & Palliative Care of Western Colorado, to provide equine counseling for children grieving because of the death of a loved one.

This summer, they will launch a program called “Horsepower for Survivors” — with the Western Slope Center for Children — to provide assistance to children who are victims of abuse.

In conjunction with Gateway Canyons Resort, they have presented a women’s wellness seminar at the resort. This September, they will offer a retreat at Gateway Canyons for women, involving horses and writing, called “Pursuing You.” It will feature Mdesa State English professor Ann Leadbetter. Reservations are due by July.

The partners of Inside Lead also plan to focus more on corporate offerings this year, using horse interaction for things such as team building.

Inside Lead doesn’t place people in saddles on horse’s backs. Instead, clients stay on the ground, working with and interacting with the equine therapists.

“Horses are very much in the moment,” said Bowen. “They’re very in tune. They’ll sense tension in people.” And that helps people to recognize and deal with the tension within themselves.

Additionally, whether they’re conducting a therapy session for grieving children or a team-building seminar for a corporate client, the atmosphere with the horses makes a difference, Jefferson said.

“We’re outside, in the arena. People are not in their typical setting. Their defenses are down.”

A variety of exercises may be conducted, some designed by EAGALA, some by Bowlen and Jefferson. They might require participants, leading the horses, to overcome a number of obstacles. Or grieving children might retrieve balls, with the aid of horses, representing different grief-related issues. They might use tempura paints to draw symbols on the animals. Or they might write brief messages to lost loved ones and tie them to the horses with ribbons.

Bowen and Jefferson note which animals members of a group partner with, who talks first and who takes on a leadership role. But they don’t dictate what occurs.

“It’s not our job to say, ‘This is what you’re doing wrong,’ ” she said. “Mostly, it’s an opportunity for introspection.”

And, when horses are involved, such opportunities can involve unexpected and often unexplainable events.

One teenage girl, grieving from the death of her father, said she kept her emotions entirely tamped down until she attended equine counseling. The horses, she said, seemed to understand how she was feeling and helped her to acknowledge her feelings.

Then there was a participant at the women’s wellness seminar, who had chosen a mare, seeemingly at random, to be her partner for the weekend. The woman started crying when she learned some of the mare’s history — that she had lost a foal in a traumatic manner. The woman had lost her own child in an accident, and her bond with the horse became stronger.

Bowen and Jefferson stress that everything they do is conducted with the safety of people and animals in mind. And they are constantly updating their training to ensure their activities have clear objectives, that they are focused meetings of horses and humans.

People can learn about Inside Lead, its programs, partners and equines, at http://www.insideleadcounseling.com.

If you attend a session, or simply go to visit, there’s a good chance Julia will be up by the gate, eager to see what you’re all about.


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