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A magical afternoon with a special Prize

Sarah Reid of Fairytale Wellness & Horsemanship was kind enough to share the magic of Equine Assisted Learning with HeartSpark recently.

Reid, who currently has two horses in her program, was able to make her own dream come true (hence her business name) by helping others with equine therapy and working with the animals that have her heart.

"I am so lucky to be able to be with my horses every day, but many people do not have that opportunity. For many years we have had a lack of horse services in town, no riding lessons or equine assisted learning etc," says Sarah.

"There came a moment when we said if nobody else is going to build it why can’t we? I never would have predicted this path but I’m so happy that I took those first steps and followed my heart. I look forward to many more years of sharing my horses with our community."

It was a beautiful afternoon when we arrived – the sun was shining and there was a fall breeze. We were greeted by a white horse, named Sampson and his little friend Prize, who was in a separate area. Sampson is a 23-year-old white Arabian, who mostly watched our session while he ate hay (nice to have some entertainment with his meal). Prize, who is a pony, is 20 years old and relatively new to the program.

Pick a card

We were invited to sit in a learning area in the riding ring. Sarah let us do a “card pull” where we picked cards from a large deck. Each person showed their card and read aloud what it said, then Sarah read us her book’s interpretation of the card meant.

One card, “Grounded”, noted one of the participant’s empathy, ability to connect with nature and the reminder to take time to ground herself when she’s feeling too energized.

Another card, “Leap”, encouraged someone else to trust in her own decisions and believe in herself.

One of us was lucky enough to pull four different cards that all reminded her about boundaries, not taking life so seriously, appreciating her accomplishments and preparing for a big future of helping others.

It was a nice little exercise to give us a moment to think about who we are, what our lives are like and look inward to see if there’s room for growth and learning.

Sarah then talked with us about horses and their unique relationship with humans.

Considered prey animals because their eyes are on the sides of their heads, they can see danger coming at many angles. They are always on-alert and can be startled easy as they are wired with a flight response (to run away) when faced with danger.

Therefore, a prey animal working with a predator animal (animals whose eyes face forward to easily locate and focus on prey animals) – yes, humans are considered predators in the animal world – is a little unusual. It is noted in nature there are certain prey-predator relationships that allow both species to survive.

Humans and horses can work toget her so well when they are looking after each other – and that’s where the true connection happens, Sarah says.

What horses can do for humans extends further than just working together – (read about the benefits in this CBC articlethis article is not explaining what services Fairytale Wellness & Horsemanship offers).

The mental health benefits of being around horses have been useful to humans for a long time, and Sarah was so glad she could bring this type of programming to Fort McMurray.

"There is an old saying about the outside of a horse being good for the inside of a man and it still rings true," she notes. "Connecting with horses on any level is a gift and truly feeds the soul. My favourite way to connect with my horses is just to be in their presence, sometimes I’ll sit and relax after doing chores and enjoy the peace it brings."

Our Prize awaits

We got to meet Prize after our chat and learned right away that not only does her small stature and sweet, gentle nature make her special, but she also has one blue and one brown eye (this is called heterochromia and can be seen in a wide range of species including humans). Her eyes might look different from other horses, but they were so beautiful and unique.

Talking about safety with horses is an important aspect to a great visit. It was a reminder that some of us feel more vulnerable than others, and we should be respectful and careful of that. Being small, Prize may not look extremely strong, but she can have a powerful kick. We can use situational awareness to ensure her boundaries are being respected.

Grooming and going for a walk

One aspect of the Fairytale Wellness program is grooming. The girls had to select brushes to use on Prize taking into account which ones might make her feel uncomfortable and which ones she would like. They all made sure to be gentle and were interested in the different textures of her mane and fur.

We also learned to watch her body language for what she might like and not like. We talked about how it’s the same with people, if someone is showing certain body language, we need to be thoughtful of that.

After a brushing, we got to paint her hooves with a very cool glittery pink horse nail polish. Sarah showed us Prize’s little back hoof that was different from all her others. It looked smaller and a different shape. But we remembered that our differences are what make us special – I had the privilege of painting her tiny hoof and I made sure she had a beautiful pedicure. I won’t forget it.

What to do after a buff and puff thanks to the HeartSpark girls? A little walk.

Everyone had an opportunity to walk Prize around the ring. Each experience was a little different.

We saw if we are unsure of which direction we are going in, Prize might not want to go with us until we are more confident.

We learned to problem solve and how to adjust ourselves when Prize didn’t seem to be in sync. I think we all felt proud when we had a successful walk with her.

She also reminded us to take a break, have fun, and roll around in the dirt.

Fairytale Wellness & Horsemanship is offering Equine Assisted Learning, horseback riding lessons, an Equine Experience program and wellness retreats.

Sarah says she is looking forward to growing their programming and adding more services.

Follow Fairytale Wellness & Horsemanship on Facebook.

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