The Horse’s Fix

You can learn many useful life skills from hanging out in a pasture with the right horses.  

What can you learn about yourself from spending an afternoon with a horse? Jill Rivoli is betting a fair amount—even if you aren’t really a “horse person.” There are, it seems, a fair amount of those.

“Horses are an interesting combination of powerful and gentle. They are also romanticized—people gallop off into the sunset on them,” says the horse whisperer/equine facilitator. That can lead to misunderstandings.

Let’s get over them with Rivoli, Ladybug, Willow, and Apollo, shall we? The hope is that the whinnying trio will school us in an Equine Perspective session at Carmel Valley Ranch. With the right facilitator, you gain a new perspective on your life, Rivoli says. “With the wrong facilitator. you’re just hanging out in a pasture with horses.” Either way, sounds like horseplay.

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What have horses taught you?

“I’ve had horses that are great teachers. From riding horses as a young girl, I learned leadership skills, communication, and confidence building. A girl of 70 pounds telling a 1,000-pound animal what to do has to be confident. Today, because of my relationship with horses, I’ve realized that I create my life. My life doesn’t happen to me. That awareness came through equine therapy. ”

Why horses and not cats, dogs, or even coyotes? Why are horses special?

“Dogs, cats, coyotes… they are predators. Horses are prey animals. Their survival depends on a different level of awareness.”

How do horses communicate?

“They read our energy and our body language. It’s non-verbal. When you take words out of the equation, you rely on a different language. To effectively communicate with a horse, you have to be really present. They know what’s going on, even if we don’t.”

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What happens during an equine perspective class at Carmel Valley Ranch?

“We groom a horse. It’s magic. People are unsure of what to do. But, within a minute, they stop talking, they start paying attention, and their heartrates go down. It’s meditative. You can see the brain chatter stop. They start smiling, and they are present.

Sometimes, I do a hoof cleaning activity. My brother jokes with me, ‘You’re showing people how to clean horses’ feet?’ But in order to get a horse to lift his foot for you, you need to be direct, and you need to be committed. You can’t be wishy-washy. He won’t listen. This mimics life: The more clear we can be about what our needs are, the more likely those needs will be met.”

Favorite horse movie?

Buck, a documentary about horse whisperer Buck Brannaman. And, for fun, The Man From Snowy River, with Kirk Douglas.

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