That’s right, I just couldn’t stay away! I’ve taken up blogging again much sooner than I thought I would. That is to say, I thought I could ignore the part of me that needs to share and communicate, and I can’t …no matter how crazy things get.

A few months before the semester ended, I had a yearning for the good ol’ days. Back when I was about 10, my mom and my sisters would invite my cousin and a few friends out to the farm just to trail ride, hang out and learn together. I remember these being the happiest weekends of my summer, and they would often include lots of funny memories and great food.

The pictures above are from 2008. As you can see, it was more than just horses – family, friends, food, games and relaxing. It got me thinking that hosting a horsey weekend shouldn’t just be about the horsemanship, but about actually retreating and taking some uninterrupted time to just live.

So I planned my own ‘horsey holiday’ which took place last weekend. Here’s what I did- I came up with a loose itinerary that looked something like this:

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Then I invited the people in my life who I wanted to share the weekend with. I wanted to make sure that no pressure went into this event. Often, people plan horsemanship events and it ends up being more about getting participants and making it pay, than having fun and communing with others.

I prepared the menu, and most of the food, ahead of time. I had a loose idea of the activities I wanted to do (activities that didn’t require riding because of our many aging steeds), and most of all, that fit my theme of release.

The weekend ended up going really well, especially for Storm. I let go of a lot of baggage

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– mostly my need for speed – and we just sat back and ‘staycationed’. My mom and my best friend ended up participating for the whole weekend. Two of my sisters also came with my niece. They could use our horses for the activities, and I think they had a good time. I know the horses definitely did!

The best part of my weekend was on one of the herd walks when I actually jumped on Storm and rode for a few minutes! It was exactly how I’ve always wanted our first trail ride to be – free, relaxed, and soft. We commenced the weekend with a picnic in the backyard.

But there were a few moments where I didn’t know what I was doing – my brain started camping out too, and I nearly had a meltdown. I think I know what I’ll do differently next time 😉

Here is my amateur guide to hosting a horsey retreat. If you’re a professional with your own practice, you probably have way more ideas than I do. But if you’re like me and just want some community, I hope you find this helpful:

Plan

  • Pick a theme. What is it you need? Pick something vague enough that others can contribute, but something you feel connected to.
  • Who do you want to show up? If it’s just you and your family, that makes it easy. If you have friends interested in horses, maybe you need to think about hosting it in a bigger space. Also, do you want it to be casual invite-based? Or open to your following? Who you invite shapes how your retreat goes – remember that.
  • Is the retreat going to focus on horses, or humans? Horsemanship and personal growth can sometimes clash if you’re met with opposing expectations. Make it clear in the invitation what kind of retreat this is and how personal and/or professional it’s going to be.
  • Food and lodging is important on a weekend retreat. Often, when people prepare food together, contribute to costs, or camp out together there are more good feels throughout the weekend. It can often contribute to an awesome retreat!
  • Will there be a cost? A retreat should not be a business. I personally believe that if you want to plan a holiday, it should be relaxing for you as a host, as well as the participants. A retreat should be separate from work. Plan according to how seriously you want to relax 😉

Execute

  • Let your plans change. An itinerary is only good if everyone is down for the plan. If someone’s needs change, or if your needs change, don’t be afraid to change plans. The point of a holiday is being flexible and relaxed.
  • Keep everyone included. Asking people what they’re experiencing, learning, or feeling can be a way for the retreat to become more meaningful. I like to have planned sharing times, or meditation, to help with the relaxed atmosphere.
  • Have optional group activities. Having too many activities, especially when there are different skill levels in the group, can be dizzying. But a few group activities can anchor your weekend and create good memories.
  • It’s more than just horses. Making a good weekend often means steering away from horses – whether it be with the food or side activities (swimming, hiking, etc.) – can make people want to participate in another retreat because it was so much fun.
  • Remember, it’s a RETREAT. This means stepping back from stress, stepping back from hurt feelings, stepping back from training. Just have fun and forget responsibility for a few days.

Pitfalls

  • Having set plans. My brain fart happened when my niece showed up and I wasn’t expecting her. Having a five-year-old in the horse pen is an extra responsibility for sure. I had to figure out how to keep her safe and happy while fulfilling my own need for a holiday.
  • Pushing past skill levels for the sake of activities. It was a lot of fun riding and walking with a group I don’t normally ride with. However, it is tempting to pull out the stops and allow people to do things that might not be totally safe for them or the horse – all in the name of fun. It’s not worth it. Step back and get things under control before proceeding.
  • Just sitting around because it’s a ‘holiday’. Make sure your priorities are straight. If that was your itinerary – ‘sit around all weekend’ – then sure. Do it. But if you had activities and just got discouraged, remember that YOU are the only one going to make this happen.
  • Giving in to chores and work that has to be done over the weekend. If you have things that absolutely need to get done (for example, I had committed to dance class  for an hour over noon that weekend), then do exactly what you had planned and no more, then go back to your horsey retreat without a second thought. This will help you keep a clear mind all weekend, even if you can’t get out of work.
  • Teaching and instructing rather than facilitating. If you’re a professional, you might be tempted to start teaching participants as if they are students. Please plan your activities carefully and strike a balance of guidance and facilitating on your retreat! This is about independent relaxation and growth.
  • Having a one-man manned kitchen. I definitely couldn’t have done the cooking without my friend, Jill. It’s a good idea to either have a potluck, or have help. The food turned out great, though. Moroccan chickpea soup and burgers is the answer to everyone’s problems.

How did the retreat positively impact Storm and I?

  • Storm got used to listening to me in a group of other horses and riders. He was attentive and calm by the end of the weekend.
  • I learnt to slow down and listen to Storm in a group of other horses and riders.
  • I gained confidence and ease in Storm’s presence because I was with him ALL day.
  • Storm learnt that I’m not just his trainer – I’m also a friend.

Hosting a horsey retreat isn’t for everybody, but it’s totally worth the time it takes to make it a success. No matter how big or small, how professional or how casual, taking some time to decompress and chill with your horse will open your eyes to what matters, and give your horse a new trust in you.

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