Louise Goodling, Founder of Equine Partnering

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

Q. Please tell us a little bit about yourself

A. My name is Louise Goodling. I grew up in Greenwood, Virginia, near Crozet. I've trained horses and taught riding professionally since my teen years. When my children were young, I taught at an elementary school for a few years. I retired in 2017 from teaching and coaching at Sweet Briar College in Amherst, Virginia, to start Equine Partnering. Equine Partnering is an Equine Facilitated Learning & Therapy business.

Q. When did you first fall in love with horses?

A. I've always loved horses. When I was a kid, my parents told me I could have a pony when I saved up enough money to buy one. Anytime anybody gave me a penny (that's how old I am, a penny bought a piece of candy when I was young) or money for Christmas, I would put it away and save it for a pony. When I was eight, I had saved up $75, and bought a pony from a neighbor. That was the beginning of my equine career. I worked summers at a local Appaloosa farm and competed on a collegiate team in college.

Q. Super random, but do you know Claudia Sacellary?

A. I know Claudia, as well as Countess Gyurkey, her mother-in-law. My mare, Csilla, is one of the last of the Countess Gyurkey's Hungarian line of horses.

Q. We just bought her house. Small world. Why did you decide to use animals as therapy?

A. In high school, I was a volunteer for a therapeutic riding program that helped people with physical limitations. I saw that horses helped people emotionally as well physically, and that was the beginning. Horses show us our strengths and weaknesses without ever judging us. Horses are also extraordinary healers and awareness teachers. At Sweetbriar, I proposed teaching a class on Equine Facilitated Leadership, which I taught for two years. I use the word facilitated because I consider myself a co-facilitator with the horses. I'm an equine specialist who keeps everything safe and coordinates activities, but the real healers and teachers are the horses.

Q. There's a lot of literature about horses as spiritual beings.

A.It's true. They reach something intensely spiritual and emotional in us. I think, for me, it's freedom and a heart-to-heart connection that keeps me coming back. Women especially seem to identify with horses.

Q. Do you partner with local organizations?

A. At the moment, I’m working with a couple of counselors, who bring their clients to the farm, and this is my fourth year working with SARA, (The Sexual Assault Resource Agency) in Charlottesville. Their therapist, Lindsay Detlie, brings clients out, and every summer, we hold a camp for teen sexual assault survivors. I also work with Christine Bowers, a local therapist that works primarily with children and adolescents. The work I do without a therapist, I call learning or development. I want to be very careful not to sell myself as a therapist. I also hold workshops that encourage people to explore themes like respect, trust, team building, leadership, creativity, and mindfulness. I also offer individual and semi-private sessions

Q. Can you expand on the workshops?

A. The workshops are for groups- usually four to six people. Groups generally consist of family members, friends, or professional corporate teams who have specific themes. Leadership is one area horses are great at teaching. Horses need confident leaders who communicate clearly. They are masters at reading energy and body language, so working with horses helps people learn to be more aware of their non-verbal messages and the importance of having their words and emotions match. As prey animals, horses don't trust people (predators) whose words and actions don't match their emotional state. There is no faking it until you make it with horses.

Q. Can you talk more about the non-verbal communication piece?

A. Horses don't use words to communicate. They read others' energy/presence and body language. To get a horse to follow your lead willingly, you need to be present, show clear intention, and be trustworthy. Horses don't like frauds because they don't understand or trust them. They can't lie and they’ll always show you how they feel. They have no regard for physical appearances, ethnicity, or how much money you have in the bank. What they care about is the energy you're putting forth and what you intend to do with that energy. To be effective with horses, you need to operate from being present and grounded and then communicating clearly and consistently. A simple task but difficult for most. Through working with our breath, we can become grounded and calm.

When you are centered, horses want to be with you and are willing to let you join their herd. It's a beautiful feeling to be accepted by the herd. They don't always touch you. Horses aren't touchy-feely; they like to be close physically but, not necessarily touching. It's a great compliment when a horse chooses to come close and accept you into their group and an even bigger compliment when a horse decides to touch you.

Q. Can you walk me through an average session?

A. Equine Partnering activities take place from the ground and use interactive, experiential learning techniques. Private sessions are usually about an hour and semi-private sessions 1.5 - 2 hours. Workshops are generally 3 hours. Sessions vary depending on the needs or desires, of participants while workshops have a theme such as leadership, team building, personal empowerment, awareness, anxiety control, creativity, healing,ect.. If we're working on developing awareness, we might start by observing the horses and paying attention to Equus's non-verbal language. Horses are prey animals, and as prey animals, they're hyper-aware of everything in their environment. Every flick of an ear, swish of a tail, repositioning of the body means something. To build confidence, we learn to maneuver a horse on the ground by leading them over and around obstacles. We work on ourselves to be calm, grounded, and present, worthy of following, as opposed to using coercion or force. A relationship with a horse alone is incredible, but one based on trust is medicinal and magical. Horses are also great listeners. They never interrupt, tell you how to fix anything, or repeat your secrets. They're also moving to meditate with. The Heartmath Institute conducted a study with monitors, on horses and people at the same time, proving that horses match their heart and respiration rates with those in a meditative state.

Q. Beautiful.

A. Yes, it all starts with respect, and that includes respect for yourself. I often think when you've been a victim of trauma, small or big, you have to learn to trust, respect, and love yourself again. Horses can show you what respect and trust feel like. As large animals, if you're not used to being around them, they may be outside your comfort zone. You may experience some emotions, such as anxiety. Within these sessions, we talk about what feelings are coming up and how to work through them.

Q. I would probably have anxiety approaching a horse.

A. Naturally, to help you move past that, after initially getting you comfortable being around a horse, I would ask you to pick up a horse's hoof. You would probably experience a wave of anxiety. We could talk through that - practice coping skills. Then by picking up a hoof, you would be working through your fear and building skills to take with you and apply to other anxiety-producing situations.

Equine Partnering encourages people to consider their beliefs because many of our actions and anxieties are based upon our core beliefs. For example, have you ever been told, don't walk behind a horse?

Q. Yes.

A. Why were you told this? Because I would get kicked. Right? This information was intended to keep you safe, but fear got planted. How can I take care of horses and never walk behind them? To be with a horse, we must learn to walk behind them safely. To walk safely behind a horse, you need to let them know where you are so that you don't startle them. Very seldom is there a vicious horse who would mean to kick you? I call it walking the circle of trust. My job is to show you how to communicate with the horse in a way that allows you to safely walk behind them to experience what it feels like to let go of something that no longer works for you. Once you've walked the circle of trust, I'd encourage you to take a moment and consider your core beliefs. Do you hold on to a belief, maybe from childhood, that was meant to protect you that no longer helps? Perhaps a belief that prevents you from being the best version of yourself?

Q. What other tools do you use?

A. When we work with horses and key into their reactions, we learn about ourselves. We make small positive shifts and immediately notice a positive change in the horse. It's incredible to experience and see. I also use the Epala personality assessment that's based on archetypes. It uses archetypes to mark tendencies in personalities to help people learn about themselves and how to work together in a fun way. The personality assessment is included in the team building and leadership workshops.

Q. What about therapy for kids?

A. Kids and ponies go together. Here we paint, dance, and play with ponies. The kids love it. Joy is an essential part of life. I think that we don't play enough as grown-ups. If you've never painted a pony, you're missing out. It is a fun and empowering experience. Equine Partnering creativity workshop helps adults reconnect to joy through play.

Q. How would spending time with a horse reduce anxiety?

A. When you’re agitated and full of anxiety, (what's called being in your lizard brain), we’re essentially dumping chemicals, adrenaline, and cortisol, into your body. It's leftover from the days when we had to survive from predators. Most of our recent anxiety comes because our lizard brain takes over. I encourage people to learn to recognize that and let it go - hold yourself through your breath until you can respond instead of reacting. Horses get frightened and spook. If the danger isn't going to eat them, they have this incredible ability to let it go, or return to grazing. They have a lot to teach us about recognizing what is happening in our bodies and how to let go of anxiety, fear, and anger. If you're reacting to something by getting emotionally upset, you feel threatened at some level. Maybe not a saber-toothed tiger, but perhaps you feel like your time is wasted or you're not appreciated. We tend to feed our anger until it blows, creating havoc. Horses help us see the value of letting painful feelings go.

Q. What about addiction? Do you ever work with people who have an addiction?

A. I have not worked a lot personally with people with addiction. There’s a lot of work with horses helping with addiction. Horses help us learn to love ourselves, which I believe is at the heart of overcoming addiction. Have you heard of the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or tapping?

Q. Yes

A. We do some tapping with the horses. EFT uses a statement, "I deeply and completely love and accept myself." That is such a hard statement for most of us to say out loud. We beat ourselves up with negative self-talk. If you genuinely love yourself, you will nurture your body, mind, and spirit. Beating addiction, or any other issue, starts with loving yourself. To love ourselves, we have to look at the beliefs we hold.

Q. Who is this?

A. Walker (big black mutt wandering by). We named him Walker because he just walked into our lives one day.

Q. Is there anything you would like to add?

A. I hope people will come to an Equine Partnering session or workshop to connect to animals, nature, and themselves. In this crazy world where we live, many people are removed from the healing power of nature. To be outside, unplugged for a few hours, and connected to horses has so many positive effects. It’s healing to be completely present at the moment, filling your lungs with fresh air, getting dirt under your fingernails, and bonding with a horse. Here, at Bent Post Farm, we have dirt, horse poop, chickens, dogs, and goats……… all good, wholesome, natural therapy. To learn more about Louise you can E-mail her here or check out her website.

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