Horse Sense for Healing

By Steven Libowitz   |   March 26, 2020
Certified Equus Coach Rebekah Powell hosts a virtual meditation gathering on Sunday, March 22

Rebekah Powell grew up outside of Nashville, aka Music City, USA, where her family’s business, not surprisingly, was songwriting. Her father, Monte Powell, was a longtime collaborator with Keith Urban, and other artists who recorded his songs include Tracy Byrd, Billy Ray Cyrus, Tim McGraw, Collin Raye, and Restless Heart. Rebekah’s older sister, Suzannah Powell, has a thriving career as an experimental rap-cabaret artist named Boyfriend. Rebekah’s biggest passion as a kid was writing songs and then going outside to sit with the horses and sing.

“I came by my delusions of grandeur naturally,” Powell recalled recently. “I figured I’d go make a ton of money as a musician and songwriter right away and then maybe become a therapist.”

When she got her first publishing deal, Rebekah relocated to Los Angeles, the West Coast’s hub for songwriters, but that’s where things went a bit awry, she said.

“The music industry here is a lot more unwieldy than in Nashville, just brutal compared to what I was used to,” she said. “I hit a wall. I just started feeling so lost and depressed, wondering what would get me home, feeling like myself again.”

That’s when her other side of her childhood pastime proved valuable – spending time with horses. After volunteering at an assisted equine therapy center, she heard about equine assisted therapy. Within minutes, she knew she’d not only found her own healing, but also a new purpose in life.

“In that first session, my life was so changed by the interaction with the horses. It brought back the strong connection that I’d felt as a child. Growing up, I would go out and sit with the horses and soak up their sense of presence and peace in the herd. It was a real medicine for me as a child.”

Powell received a clear lesson in that first equine therapy session, when the horse she chose to connect with and to take for a walk refused to budge no matter how hard she tried. “I was just pulling and tugging, just trying to get movement. Then I just suddenly lost it and burst into tears because it was just how I felt in my life.”

The therapists asked her where she was feeling so stuck in her own life, and hearing that she didn’t know where to go with the songwriting, they asked if she had a destination in mind when she tried to get the horse to walk with her.

“I realized that I hadn’t, just like in my life. As soon as I picked out a spot to walk to, the horse immediately began to walk with me,” she recalled.

“I’d done a lot of talk therapy as a client, which was extremely supportive, but this physical experience of feeling the pattern play out with another creature and then being able to transform that energy with a horse that can’t lie about it – I knew it was the work I wanted to do in the world.”

Fast forward a few years, and Powell is now a certified Equus Coach through the Koelle Institute for Equus Coaching, sees clients in Los Angeles, and has an ongoing apprenticeship with accomplished horse trainer Nicolette Birnie of Wild to Willing Horsemanship in Santa Ynez.

The appeal and value for her clients is the same and it was for her in that first therapeutic encounter.

“Because the horses are prey animals, they’ve evolved to communicate silently, so they can pick up on our energy and emotions and show us the patterns that are playing out in our lives,” she explained. “Any horse has that reflective ability. It’s how they’re wired. You get in an enclosure with a horse, whatever patterns are happening with your life will play out with the horse, usually pretty quickly. They’re always attuned.”

Earlier this year, Powell founded “Connect with Horses, Connect with Yourself,” a Meetup group created to guide groups in observing and interacting with gentled mustangs and other herd horses. The first gathering in Santa Ynez took place just last month.

But with social distancing due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the Meetup and much of her work has moved online. An introductory session on Zoom last weekend drew more than a dozen participants to practice meditation, a breathing exercise, checking in with each other, and then watching videos of Powell amid the horses in a paddock and discussing what intuitively came up.

“My intent is to use my gifts and expertise to support my community at this time,” she explained. “The work I do with the horses is about coming home to your true nature because the most effective way to feel peaceful and present and supported by the universe is to connect with nature, however that looks. The horses are an amazing partner. Since we can’t go outside and be with them now, we can go online and gather and check in with our own bodies, which also have a tremendous amount of wisdom that we’ve been socialized to ignore. Creating a practice of getting back in touch with the wisdom of your own true nature, and then to spend time with the horses on the videos and talk about how they show up in the world, we can use them as a metaphor for how we might be different, too.”

Powell has planned another free “Presence & Peace Virtual Herd Meditation” gathering for this Sunday, March 29, at 1 pm on Zoom, where she’ll once again be drawing on the wisdom of horses to lead the “herd” in a guided meditation on presence, and offer coaching tools to help participants get grounded when anxieties arise.

“It was great to attune to the energy of the horses and experience media differently from just watching a YouTube video, to lean in and experience the energy of what was happening in that scene. I’m excited to continue because I have a ton of content we can explore online.”

Powell also plans to rejigger what was to be an in-person, on-site three-month program into a 90-day virtual visit with the horses and deeper dive into life coaching. The “Peace and Presence” program, slated to start in April, will consist of weekly group gatherings plus one-on-one coaching to explore what’s available during this time of social distancing.

“A lot of people are in fear, or confused or stuck. But this time is also an amazing opportunity to get in touch with what we really value and need. I want to support people in making the most of this time and getting in touch with the inner peace and stillness to make decisions to make the most of their lives when things return to normal.”

Meanwhile, Powell’s own earlier dreams have been coming true for a while, as her songwriting career as a collaborative coach has blossomed.

“Once I stepped away from the music industry and was on my right path, listening to my internal wisdom and checking in with nature, I got a lot of success in the U.K., a sort of funny wink from the universe… But it’s a similar skill set – coaching and songwriting in assisting other artists, which was my specialty, what I was groomed to do. You ask open-ended questions and support them in a safe container where they’re allowed to be vulnerable and share what they’re feeling. Then they identify those feelings and put words to it.”

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