One Grown-Up's Tale ....
Thoughts from an Equine Assisted Session
Lessons From a Pony
6 year old Cori was on vacation at a dude ranch when her mother recalls that she “went into the barn and never came out.” Cori had fallen in love with horses! By her third day there, she was going on the adult rides; fully entrenched in the world of horses. She returned home and continued with lessons, riding daily through the woods, and trying to figure out exactly what had gone wrong when her pony went one way and she the other. Cori was honing her craft.
Then, one day, when Cori was 11 years old, riding through the trails in CT, she got lost and found herself in the backyard farm of a beautiful estate. She walked up to the front door, knocked, and asked the lady of the house, “Can I please keep my pony here because she’s not taken very good care of her where I’m keeping her now.” The woman told her to come back on Saturday, and they made a deal. Cori would pay $100 a month for the stall, do her own work, and she could ride on the grounds all she wanted. It was great for a while, but the pony was lonely by herself. So, being resourceful once again, Cori knocked on the doors around the neighborhood, asking, “Do you want to have a pony?” until finally one woman said, “Yes”, and they started a communal barn. Everyday, Cori’s mom drove her to the bus station, which then left her off to walk 55 minutes to where she would ride her pony through gorgeous, elaborate, idyllic trails. By age 15, Cori was riding professionally and has continued professional riding for over 30 years. She was an apprentice to Gary Rockwell who is now an "O" level dressage judge and worked extensively with the late Jack Rockwell, training hunters and jumpers.
Fast forward to 2014, when I met Cori Nichols while looking for an apartment. She had a beautiful little cottage for rent on her 72 acre horse farm, Nichols Field Riding Club in Kerhonkson, NY. I told her about two frightful experiences I had with horses and how I would love to get over that fear. I knew that by doing so I could increase my confidence and leadership skills. After all, I thought, if one can lead a horse, one can stand firm in her sense of self both physically, emotionally and professionally.
Cori offered to give me several lessons and I have to admit that I was petrified on my first day. Cori chose Beezwax, Beezy for short, a most beautiful and gentle pony. She knew that the first step to riding a horse is to feel safe. Aha! I had to learn to trust! To trust Cori and her partner Dorothy Novogrodsky, Beezwax and most importantly, myself. So, I learned how to groom Beezy and then how to lead. It started out easy, but I learned that being clear, firm and having good boundaries are the keys to communicating well with a horse. This way, the horse feels safe as well. How true that is for humans too!
The next step hurdle was to get on Beezy. My sense of balance and fear of heights were challenged. Both Cori and Dorothy gently encouraged me with clear instructions and support. Several deep breaths and I did it! Here, I had to be present in my body, settle in, relax and go with the flow, as if in the ocean. At the same time, one needs to maintain clear communication and connection. What a wonderful and exhilarating moment when you know that you and the pony are communicating and responding to each other in an almost seamless flow. It is as if we were one. In that moment I fell in love! How true, again, that is for humans!
Recently, Cori created “Horseplay”, a program that uses equine assisted learning and therapy for individuals of all ages and abilities. Cori, and a team of behavior analysts, psychotherapists, speech educators and speech therapists, life coaches and addiction counselors work with individuals of all ages, including those with developmental disabilities and/or on the autism spectrum. Whether one is riding or engaging in unmounted work, the benefits of Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) are boundless. Mindfullness, concentration and the enjoyment that come from working with horses become strong motivators that improve communication skills and patience. It promotes executive function for people of all ages that include social skills and self management along with improved muscle strength and fine motor coordination. Horseplay offers assertiveness training for girls, personal growth for mental health workers, correction officers, groups and anyone interested in personal development.
I found that horsemanship can build character. It teaches responsibility, efficacy, flexibility, competency, interdependence and consciousness. And last but not least, working with horses helps one to consider how their behavior affects another.
Whether you are an experienced rider or someone who wants to improve your skills, Cori will work with you to achieve your goals. She incorporates lunge lessons, vaulting, dressage, stadium and cross-country jumping and carriage driving. Her training with the US Event Association Instructor Certification Program has helped to develop her technical knowledge as to the "hows and whys" of what riders do to develop horses. She provides training for horses and ponies and she will travel to your home for “home schooling”. Her communication style is clear, knowledgeable and patient ensuring a calm, safe and enjoyable experience. Cori’s love of training horses and riders is contagious. And the lessons learned are life changing. After all, learning to trust oneself is always a good thing!