My Maple Ridge – Interview

See below for a copy of the interview with Andrea of MyMapleRidge. ~ My Maple ridge is her blog is a labour of love, a journey to connect with the people and places of Maple Ridge…

Read the Interview Below:

Andrea: Tell me about the Empowered By Horses program

Sharolyn:  Our programs develop heart centered leadership and build resilience in teen girls. The brilliance of partnering with horses is that the girls will practice and experience what they learn. Girls will discover healthy communication, learn to set clear boundaries, and build self confidence. In our outdoor classroom in Abbotsford,  girls will learn to become heart centered leaders in their own lives; living with courage, compassion and empathy. They practice and master the skills of being present and taking action instead of reacting at an early age thereby setting them up for a bright future of success

Carla: What I really love about our programs is being able to offer experiences with horses (and the dogs, cats,sheep and soon to be chickens) to girls who might never have an opportunity to be around them. I think that girls are naturally curious about and attracted to horses, which really makes it exciting for them to be learning in this environment. The fact that we are in a beautiful green outdoor setting sets the stage for truly magical connections to occur between the girls, with us, nature and of course the herd. We wholeheartedly believe that through this work, many amazing young girls will be truly empowered.

Andrea: How has this program been developed?

Sharolyn: Carla and I met while studying Equine Guided Development (EGD) with Sandra Wallin of Chiron’s Way right here in Maple Ridge.  Then we decided to co-create a youth program focused on prevention. We went to Minnesota to work with Natural Connections who had developed a protocol specifically for working with youth and horses. I’ve been following the field of Equine Guided Development for 10 years and have studied and read everything I can get my hands on relating to horse psychology and human behaviour/empowerment during that time… so now it is time to put the learning into practice! In the last 2 years through our own research and studies, Carla and I began blending and building a program for young to teenage girls (10-18) to empower them and give them a jump start to being confident and resilient as they move through adolescence. We focus on prevention and education through experiential learning in nature while nurturing understanding and effective communication with each other. My dream is that every Grade 5 child in the Fraser Valley will be given a jump start by being able to experience being Empowered By Horses and our future schools and communities will have more empathy and less bullying as a result.

Carla: When I try and imagine how many years ago I first started to dream about the concept of creating a program with young girls and horses, it seems that I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t in my radar.  I had joined the Vancouver Police Department in 1996 because I really felt that it was a noble career.  It was unpredictable, I had the opportunity to meet all types of people and I knew that it would give me a sense of purpose.  Within my first few years “on the job” I met up with a group of officers (The Odd Squad) who were beginning to create a documentary on the Downtown Eastside (Through A Blue Lens) which chronicled the lives of some of the drug addicts that these police officers had created a bond with.  Working in that area was and eye opener in the sense that I really had a better understanding of addiction and realized that none of these people wanted to be addicted.  It wasn’t something they ever envisioned, but they had made a bad choice and no matter how determined they were to get clean, the power of addiction was overpowering.  I had the opportunity to really get to know some of these people and discovered that they were really no different than you or I.  Many of them had a great upbringing, supportive family and dreams and goals of a rewarding life.  What was really difficult for me was that I felt that I couldn’t do enough to help or empower them.  I could sense their struggle as I would listen and offer support.  In the big picture, the encounters with them were so brief because we were always being pulled to other calls.

During the work with the Oddsquad, I had met some teen girls who were part of the St. Leonards Youth Society program called “Horse Resource.”  The girls were shuttled to one of two farms on the weekend to muck stalls, visit with the horses, and have a riding lesson every so often.  I was so excited about this program because it felt like a real fit for me.  I volunteered with them for a few months before their funding was eventually cut and the program unfortunately couldn’t survive.  The experience provided me with a clearer direction on moving forward and in 2001 I bought my gelding, Shady.

After a couple of years I had met another police officer who was less than a year from retirement.   We had been reserves in the VPD Mounted Squad.  He described his work in resurrecting a program for youth who were struggling in the community and bringing them down to work with the Mounted Squad horses.  I think my eyes opened as wide as they could and my jaw hit the floor.  I knew I had to be involved.  In the meantime I was struggling with my overall happiness at the VPD and thankful to have Shady to spend time with bring more balance and joy into my life.  I began working with Dave to see if I could take over from him with the VPD youth program when he retired.  It became clear within a short period time that there were not the resources to continue but I knew one thing and that was that I had to do whatever it took to create this program.  I studied life coaching, read many books on personal development, continued researching a variety of teenage topics, and had the opportunity to do a workshop with one of the leading visionaries in equine guided development, Linda Kohanov.  My path lead me to Sandra Wallin where I met Sharolyn.  I resigned from the Vancouver Police in July 2010.  It has been an interesting journey that is for certain.

Andrea: What does a typical day in the program look like?

Sharolyn: When a young girl steps onto the Empowered By Horses outdoor classroom she is welcomed by the sound of birds and the sights of horses, sheep, dogs and the sensation of a breeze on her cheeks. We often begin our time under the big trees in the back pasture under the tree affectionately called “Grandpa Tree”. That is where we share what is going on in each other’s week and set our intention and lessons for the day. For example, if the lesson is around body language and being clear with intention and boundaries, we would talk about “Energy Bubbles” to help describe the sensation of boundaries. As the girls role play with each other on sensing and setting boundaries, we observe how everyone has a different size of bubble and how that bubble can shift and change based on how well we know the person we are interacting with. Then we move to working with the horses and ask them to follow our lead or back up from our direction at the end of a lead rope. Then we gradually work towards moving the horse with clear and purposeful intention and energy without touching the horse or the lead rope. And I assure you the feeling of empowerment from moving a 1100 lb animal because you ASKED as opposed to TOLD is a shift to be felt and enjoyed with the horse and later in interactions with their friends and family. Some days we capture the lessons of the day with an expressive arts activity. The expressive arts (collage, painting, drawing, writing) enhances learning so the experience can be “set” into the girls mind and body through creative reflection. And often these “art keepsakes” can help bring the girls back to remembering this moment of empowerment if they face a challenge in the future. Most horse exercises are done from the ground. In the longer programs of 10 weeks we do move into mounted work in the second half of the program so the girls can experience connecting with a horse on horseback. However these exercises are not “riding” lessons, the mounted work is used as a new perspective and vulnerability to learn from. Each lesson, each group, and indeed every experience is unique as we are on horse time. What is consistent is that as facilitators we partner with the horses to bring the girls into the present moment and shine a light on each girl’s inner strengths whether the lesson of the day is about respect, boundaries, leadership or communication. In partnering with horses we teach the girls different TTouch exercises (similar to massage, TTouch is a combination of specific touches, lifts, and movement exercises to help release tension and increase body awareness) as a way of giving back to the horse and allowing the girls to ground and connect with the horse.

Carla: Okay Sharolyn, that was brilliant….I honestly am sitting here scratching my head thinking of what I can add…what you wrote sums it up beautifully….

Empowered By Horses next program is Horse Talk — Mom & Daughter Camp from June 10-11, 2011.  For registration information contact Sharolyn or Carla via email,,  or for more information about the Empowered by Horses program including photos and videos check out Empowered By Horses on Facebook, and follow on Twitter @poweredbyhorses

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