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Equine learning helping teach lifelong skills

Posted on June 8, 2023 by Taber Times
Times Photo by Ian Croft

By Ian Croft

Taber Times

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Conventional methods of learning are sometimes not the best for everyone, but for those who are not afraid to head out to a ranch and hang out with some horses there is another method to learn some quality life skills. 

Shari Lea Schmidt, a certified Equine Assisted Learning Facilitator and owner of Feather Ranch Equine, offers a program to help teach others life skills. 

Before getting into the details about the program that they offer, Schmidt talked about how they started this ranch.

“I discovered at a very young age that they (have) a very unique healing property to them,” said Schmidt when talking about horses. “I just know I wouldn’t be who I am unless it was because of them, (and) because of that, I want to share that with others, the healing I went through. I knew I wanted to work more with the horses. I wanted to offer a safe place for people to come, reconnect, discover themselves again, to find happiness. I know what it’s like to wake up in the morning not feeling the joy and love, and want to go back to sleep. I knew I want to do something and that’s when I found Equine Connection which is the academy of equine assisted learning, and it’s a national and global school. They have two places in Canada, two training centres in the United States, and then there are three in Australia. Equine assisted learning is a method that we use to do experiential learning. It’s all hands-on working with the horses. There’s no therapy involved, there’s no riding involved at all on the ground.”

Schmidt then talked about why they use horses for their programs, and how they are ideal teachers.

“We use the horse because they are prey animals. Which sounds really weird that we say that, but prey animals are so in the moment. They are so present in their surroundings, their awareness is so meticulous, they are attuned to everything. They live in the moment they don’t worry about what happened yesterday, they’re not gonna worry about what time supper is coming there in that moment, because I have to be ready for survival. They also live in a herd, now the herd depends on each other. They have to have that teamwork for survival. They don’t judge, they don’t lie, they’re honest. They don’t have human-made emotions. They don’t have guilt, that shame, blame. They just live in real honest emotions. Because of that they provide honest and instant feedback to us. My horses need to feel safe in the arena if they work as a team. We use the horses as a teacher in our program because I am the certified facilitator. I allow the horses to work with the participants as a team. Normally, there is one horse and two humans that work together. Our arena is set up in objectively-driven station. They will have different things set around the arena, different obstacles for them to go through each of which has a station card. Each station that they come to has an objective that they do.”

Following this Schmidt went into a more in depth overview of what one of those sessions would look like.

“We do a 5 to 10 minutes briefing which is the information about what the program is going to be about. We go over what’s expected in the session, what objective they’re going to hit because each section has an objective that we hit which is the life skills. Then we go into arena time where they are teamed up with a horse. This is where the magic starts happening, I think. They are partnered with a horse, they go to a station, and between the two humans they read what they have to do at that station. The programs that I run are built upon a building block system. That is where each time that they come we have one objective, then we build onto it, then we revisit, and build onto that one. We do have a 12 week curriculum with each one building upon the other to create these amazing life skills.”

If interested in joining one of these sessions, you can reach Schmidt and Feather Ranch Equine by calling 403-331-9203, by email at featherranchequine@gmail.com, on their website featherranchequine.com, or you can find them on Facebook by searching Feather Ranch Equine.

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