When Alejandra Lara, a native of Chile, followed her then partner to the wintery ski slopes of Park City, she suddenly found herself feeling very isolated. She was in a new country without any family, friends, or the ability to speak the local language. Luckily, there was one thing she could easily find here that she had known her whole life. "I grew up with horses, they were my friends since the time I was a little girl. When I came here I couldn't speak any English, but I could speak horse," jokes Lara. Capitalizing on her unique connection, Lara took her horse whispering ways to the National Ability Center (NAC) and developed an Equine Assisted Learning Program (EAL), one of just a handful in existence at the time. She dove straight into the life-changing work of empowering veterans (video here) and differently abled people to overcome trauma and build self-esteem, confidence, and life skills.
Although Lara, who serves as the coordinator of the EAL program, still spends plenty of time every week at the NAC, she's expanded her repertoire by creating her own business, Park City Horse Experience, which she runs out of High Star Ranch in Kamas. While there are some opportunities to get in the saddle, including a Mindful Horsemanship class and a summer camp for kids, this is not the average horseback trail riding you can find with other outfitters. "It's a mindful, conscious way of being and interacting with horses in the exploration of self-awareness with the intention to raise new perspectives on life," explains Lara. While it may seem a bit nebulous, in practice, it's really quite simple and can be very transformative. Lara's first offerings with Park City Horse Experience were Horse Meditation Circles. Basically, it amounts to practicing meditation outdoors in a corral where horses move freely around you, inside and outside the circle, as they please. Being in that type of environment with the horses, Lara claims, creates an increased awareness and a platform to process personal issues. What is it about horses that facilitates this as opposed to a dog or cat? Despite being "domesticated," horses still function largely on their instincts. They are a prey animal and, as a creature instinctually worried about the possibility of being eaten; horses are keen observers of their surroundings and feel the safest with a herd. This, more often than not, means a horse is more aware of you, what you're doing, and the type of energy you bring than you are yourself. By connecting with the horse, you have the chance for introspection.
Beyond the meditation circles, Lara has added a number of different workshops and classes at Park City Horse Experience that are available to individuals, families, and even corporate groups. All of the experiences are designed to be open to everyone and can be tailored to your specific needs, whether you've ridden horses your whole life or you've never seen a horse in person.
Personally, I don't have a lot of horse experience, but I'm not a complete novice and have ridden horses on several occasions. That being said, I did feel slightly nervous when Lara asked me to step into the corral with Bob, a large horse I had never met, who was at total liberty to do whatever he wanted (no saddle, bridle, etc.) for a brief demonstration of some of what she does with people. We spent the first few moments observing Bob, who didn't want anything to do with us, while I tried to puzzle out what he was feeling. Then Lara asked me to close my eyes and spend a minute or two deeply breathing, becoming aware of where I was holding tension in my body. It was similar to what you might expect in a yoga or therapy session, except you constantly feel the presence of this 1,000-pound animal wandering around you. The mindful observation and breath is key to Lara's work and helping people interact with the horses because it provides a time and space to acknowledge personal issues you have as well as the time to embrace the horse as a sentient creature who reacts to your energy. When most of us think of horses, we think of an animal that we can ride, not as someone who might be scared, annoyed, tired, curious, happy, or capable of feeling a host of other emotions we attribute predominantly to humans. Sure enough, by being mindful of Bob, as well as myself, the anxiety we initially had completely disappeared. By the end of my hour-long conversation with Lara, Bob kept wandering over to me and putting his face up next to mine. He even wanted to follow us out of the corral like we were all part of the same herd.
Want to get a taste of what Park City Horse Experience is all about and interact with some amazing horses? You can sign up for a personal class with Lara or join her for one of their upcoming events: a Horse Mediation Circle & Reiki on October 18, Horse Mediation Circles on November 1 and 8, and a Liberty Horse Connection Workshop on November 9.