When Marie Thiessen was a child growing up in downtown Prince George she would go as often as possible to the riding stables.
“Being in the presence of a horse is just soothing and comforting,” she said.
Today the fantastic creatures she describes as honest and non-judgemental play an even more prominent role on her family’s 40-acre farm in Vanderhoof, where they are called co-workers.
Thiessen is now a certified equine-assisted personal development (EAPD) coach and as the owner of Haven Equine Assisted Learning and Wellness Center has opened the door to helping others unlock their potential.
Previously she worked with School District 91 as a certified educational assistant where she had noticed high anxiety in children.
“I have anxiety myself, and the horses are so comforting to me,” she said, noting many others are also struggling with anxiety in a community where few resources are available.
“So I thought why don’t we incorporate our love for the horses and our desire to help the community and try and do a program that we can extend out and see if we can help someone. Really I just wanted to create a safe and secure and nurturing environment for those that need a place for healing and wellness.”
Thiessen and her daughter Rayna received their EAPD certification after attending an ‘intensive’ week-long course in Edmonton, Alta.
They have eight rescue horses, most of whom have some form of a disability or had no place to go, and were in need of a little extra love, compassion, and care, Thiessen said, adding they have a lot of love to give back to people.
Horses are prey animals and their heightened sense of awareness can easily detect the feelings and behaviors of those around them.
“They’re basically a mirror—they reflect how you’re feeling, and you can’t pretend around a horse,” Thiessen said.
“They can hear your emotions, and then that leads to some pretty interesting discussions because we can use that as a means of conversation.”
Thiessen stresses she and her daughter are not counsellors and said some have mistakenly believed they provide riding lessons.
As an EAPD coach or facilitator they help guide people through the use of horses to establish goals in overcoming obstacles within their lives that can be anything from confidence, self-esteem, challenges with communication or relationship problems.
“What we do is we read the body language of the horse while they’re working with the person, and then we use that information and we use it to communicate with our clients what their experiences are; what they’re noticing with the horse; what they’re noticing within themselves,” Thiessen said.
“We’re basically just facilitating personal growth of people.”