Program teaches communication and life lessons through interaction with horses

Megan Diskin

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Terry Carroll, a certified equine specialist, places a bridle on Willow at the end of one of the Horse Mornings sessions. Photo credit Ken Scarboro/ Senior Photographer

Terry Carroll, a certified equine specialist, places a bridle on Willow at the end of one of the Horse Mornings sessions. Photo credit Ken Scarboro/ Senior Photographer

It’s just past 9:30 a.m. on Monday at the Healing Equine Ranch in Agoura Hills as eight women are led through a morning meditation. The distant rumble of horse hooves permeate the ranch. The women take deep breaths in and out to prepare their minds for the day’s activities.

The meditation is part of Horse Mornings, a program offered at the ranch that focuses on the benefits of the interaction between humans and horses. By slowing down and getting away from the fast-paced and high-tech world, participants of the program can develop skills and awareness that can enhance their personal relationships, business relationships, self esteem, communication and leadership qualities.

On the first day of the program, participants observe horses in their natural herd setting. After identifying the qualities of a good herd leader, participants choose which horse they want to work with that day. Then they build a relationship with that horse and start learning ways of communicating with it.

“Horses are born followers, they’re going to follow the leader,” said Kiki Ebsen, owner of the Healing Equine Ranch and a former CSUN student.

There is a Horse Mornings program for women and men. There, participants learn how pressure can affect a horse’s behavior. Ebsen teaches participants how to use pressure and the release of pressure to create space.

There are different ways of creating that pressure based on the personality of the horse. Sometimes it can be a slight step forward which crosses into the horse’s personal boundary causing the horse to move backward or a less subtle waving of the arms.

When Ebsen and her longtime friend Terry Carroll began offering the program in 2010, they noticed that all the people signing up were women.

“We discovered that it was becoming a safe place for women to share and process with like-minded women,” Ebsen said.

Once the husbands of some of the female participants signed up for the program, the pair created Horse Mornings for Men, which had its first session on March 2.

“Seeing our morning program becoming a really safe space to grow and learn, we decided to call it Horse Mornings for Women and thus market it accordingly. We never meant to exclude the guys so when a demand became apparent, a program was created for them as well,” Ebsen said.

CSUN humanities professor Pat Swenson, who learned about Horse Mornings from a flyer hanging at a Westlake Starbucks, said the program teaches awareness.

“You learn how your energy affects those around you. You don’t realize how you come off,” she said.

She recommends Horse Mornings specifically to women and said the skills learned from it can help make them become stronger people.

“You really see parallels in your own life. That’s why it’s healing,” Swenson said.

Candy Mintz, a CSUN alumna and former Horse Mornings for Women participant, said she learned about communicating from the program.

“It is a remarkable process and not really understood until you are with a 1,200-pound animal and you realize there are ways to communicate with him so that both you and the horse can be effective in getting what you want from one another,” she said.

Ebsen, who studied art and music at CSUN from 1978 to 1980, grew up on the ranch and developed her love of horses there.

She has been an equestrian since the age of 5 and has been learning about natural horsemanship for 13 years. The practice focuses on developing a relationship with horses by understanding their basic needs by watching how they freely interact with each other, and rejects abusive treatment of them.

All the horses at the ranch have been saved from inhospitable situations. They have been rescued from feedlots where they were being fattened up for slaughter.

Although Ebsen started her lifelong love of horses by riding them as a child, what she has learned through natural horsemanship has enriched her relationship with these animals and her relationship with herself tenfold.

“What I wanted to do, natural horsemanship, made me feel better about myself. Horses remind you to stay mindful,” Ebsen said. “Everything is about the present for horses. They remind you to stay in the moment because there may not be a tomorrow. Life is a series of moments and they are what you make it.”

Terry Carroll and Kiki Ebsen trade stories with participants after a Horse Mornings session at the Healing Equine Ranch in Agoura Hills. The two began offering the program in 2010. Ken Scarboro/Senior Photographer

Terry Carroll and Kiki Ebsen trade stories with participants after a Horse Mornings session at the
Healing Equine Ranch in Agoura Hills. The two began offering the program in 2010. Ken Scarboro/Senior Photographer