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059 - Michelle Goss

Updated: Aug 26, 2021

“Name one thing you have learned without experiencing it.” Michelle Goss joins us from Spirit Mountain Healing Center in Arizona. She combines her lifelong love of horses in her “horse guided coaching” practice. As a mental health counselor, she talks about breaking down mental and even physical health barriers, building connections, and being in the moment with these powerful animals that instinctively mirror our emotions. Enjoy.

The Illuminate Recovery Podcast is about Mental Health, Mental Illness, and Addiction Recovery. Shining light on ways to cope, manage, and inspire. Beyond the self care we discuss, you may need the help of a licensed professional. Curt Neider and Shelley Mangum are a part of Illuminate Billing Advocates ( They are committed to helping better the industry and adding value to the lives of listeners by sharing tools, insights, and success stories of those who are working on their mental health.

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name one thing you've learned without experiencing it michelle goss joins us from spirit mountain healing center in arizona she combines her lifelong love of horses in her horse-guided coaching practice as a mental health counselor she talks about breaking down mental and even physical health barriers building connections and being in the moment with these powerful animals that instinctively mirror our emotions enjoy welcome to the illuminate recovery podcast we shed light on mental health issues mental illness and addiction recovery ways to cope manage and inspire beyond self-care we will discuss you may need the help of a licensed professional my name is kurt neider i'm a husband father entrepreneur a handyman and a student of life i avoid conflict i deflect with humor and i'm fascinated by the human experience and i'm shelley maingum i am a clinical mental health counselor and my favorite role of all times is grandma i am a seeker of truth and i feel like life should be approached with tremendous curiosity i ask the dumb questions i fill in the gaps the illuminate recovery podcast is brought to you by illuminate billing advocates make billing and collections simple with leader in substance abuse and mental health billing services verification and analysis of benefits pre-authorizations utilization management accurate claim submission and management denial and appeal management and industry-leading reporting improve your practice's cash flow and your ability to help your clients with eliminate billing advocates kurt and i are super privileged today to be able to speak with michelle goss michelle is a horse guided life coach at spirit mountain healing center she has a master's in mental health and equine therapy in gilbert arizona as a horse guided coach michelle has the privilege of bringing horses and people together for more than 30 years for the purpose of starting conversations about mental health and life issues which in the beginning are never easy conversations uh this is where horses help to break down these barriers with without ever saying a word by drawing upon their unique abilities to read our body language and mirror our emotions we can learn new ways to manage anxiety fear grief anger and many other emotions spirit mountain healing center where horses do not teach us about writing they teach us about life michelle thanks for being with us i think i think equine therapy is maybe one of the most popular and exciting aspects of mental health treatment and so i'm really glad that you came on today to kind of talk about what you do well i appreciate that so talk a little bit about how you ended up um getting into equine therapy what you know kind of what's your history and what brought you to that space well um how i'd like to start this story is the first word out of my mouth wasn't mom and dad it was horse i've always had a passion for horses since i can remember anything with horses it wasn't just a phase it's in my genes in my blood so i did everything i could around being with horses and learning about them as a kid and whatever um eventually went on i have a bachelor science degree from the university of wisconsin river falls and equine science i have a minor in small business after all that went on to be a professional horseback riding instructor and trainer for nearly 30 years most of it here in arizona and that and that's where i've developed a lot of my 35 years of working with people and horses in all sorts of different ways i've worked with you know different types of horses different people different disciplines and a student of mine said a long time ago i've always had a holistic approach to how i've done things and that i was never what you call a traditional trainer i've always had a passion for learning how to do things i would learn how to uh emanate my students if they're having problems and figure out how to help them with that very you know be in their shoes type of thing and so i did that and fast forward life throws curveballs at you uh found myself divorced and uh a single mom of a three and a half four-year-old and um the economy uh shifted in 0.708 and writing lessons became a luxury item not a necessity and i was struggling so kind of started looking at what do i want to be when i grow up again and everything was around horses and i saw some things about counseling and coaching things like that and reached out to a friend of mine who was a social worker at a school at that time also a horse person and said hey you know what's this like and you know she says oh in a couple of years you can do it took me down to tucson to uh a clinic that introduced me to equine assisted mental health and it completely resonated um it was totally my passion i just went i've got to go do this how do i do this and um she introduced me to prescott college here in arizona and that's where i got my master's degree in counseling psychology and equine assisted mental health and i've been combining my 35 years of experience like i said working with people in horses to bring a very unique aspect as i call it horse guided coaching because the horses do guide the sessions and i love the work that i do that's fantastic and it's fascinating that you know animal therapy or you know treatment animals is not is not so new but but horses are a mighty big pet to be you know doing therapy with talk maybe if you can a little bit about what a therapy session look like looks like and what kind of shifts and changes you're seeing as you work with clients okay the uh the biggest thing to start off with why i feel it's so powerful with horses and humans first of all horses and humans have been together for centuries it's documented and there's just this connection but the biggest thing i think that really adds to the sessions is that horses are paranoid and we're predators and horses main means of defense is running and so by understanding behaviors in that they either give us what we need or show us what we need in that moment they're very tuned to body language subtle energies because they need to make decisions about their life very quickly and that and that's where the utilization of horses is very powerful and i believe a lot of my experience of 35 years of working with horses understanding their behaviors i worked with a lot of quote problem horses and you know understanding where they're at and their energies so a lot of times the first session as i we have a quick introduction about uh what i do and any questions and safety things and that and i always tell my clients that i am uh the navigator of their journey uh they are the captain uh my job is to help keep them as safe as possible but as i like to say you know i'm gonna warn them if there's an iceberg coming up but if they want to run into it well then we'll figure out what we do with it and you know at any time they're not comfortable with anything they get to say so there's no right way or wrong way to do any of this because it is in the moment it's experiential and we're working with other sentient live beings who will take control of the session henceforth guided coaching so a lot of times i'll have them i'll ask them are you comfortable going into the pen with the horses they're usually out in their paddock free and if they say yes i'll tell them to go on in and introduce themselves to the horses however they want to and take some time to do that and then i ask them just notice you know what you what you're seeing what you're feeling those sort of things what's coming up for you and then we'll start to process with that other students your clients than that i've had high anxieties just not real comfortable around it so we'll find other ways to do it i have a pen that is called the amazing pen and maze is amazed because that's exactly what it's been built into by clients and sometimes we'll just go out and do some activities necessary not with the horses to help reduce anxieties get comfortable with that so it's it's very individualized very specific to each person each group each member at that moment when you're working with the horses i mean those horses you know you talked about or you your your introduction maybe a little bit talks about the way those horses mirror you know our emotions and mirror what does that look like as a as a client comes up to a horse how does the horse respond to them so that you pick up and that client picks up that something's going on here well there's several different ways a lot of it is understanding horse behavior and and how they react when we have more negative type emotions it puts us as humans more into a predatory mentality and they're going to react so they'll move away sometimes they won't engage they'll go different areas sometimes they'll come up and and try to bite or pin their ears it's a variety of different things i think a perfect example of it is an adult female that i've been working with who's been very shut down to her emotions recently we were standing outside the the paddock and she was discussing some issues around her brother which brought up anger for but she showed no external signs no change of voice no affect change anything like that and every time she started to bring up uh her brother the three horses out in the paddock started becoming very aggressive rearing at each other bucking kicking biting each other every single time the moment that we discussed it or she calmed down they go back to doing their business this happened a total of five times during the session about the fourth session she looks at me and says what's going on with these guys and the first question out of my mouth was what's going on for you they're mirroring and she wasn't able to bring it up so i asked her what do you see the horses doing and she said well they're aggressive they're angry they're going after each other they're chasing i've never seen them do this before and so it opened a conversation right then and there about what's going on for you i notice every time you talk about your brother this happens and she said well i get angry about that and we opened a conversation about the anger that she carries um at that time you know just being able to see that for herself and experience and know that it was okay two weeks later she'd actually gone on a family vacation with her brother and when she came back she she was clearly changed and i said so how'd it go and she says she starts talking about her brother but this time i could hear anger in her voice i could see a change in her body and i actually asked her i said you seem kind of angry about this and she goes i am and now we could start releasing and working with it um and that's just the power i mean that's one example of many tristine and and from uh from a you know you being face to face with her you really didn't see any indications that she was angry you couldn't see the body language but those horses sure picked up on it or could you see it too i could see a slight a lot of it was by choice of words because i've worked with horses for a long i'm quite tuned to body language because it's how i've kept myself safe and years working with the animals um but a lot of is just allowing the process to unfold and watching you know the first time it happened it's like i take notice of that but when it happens continuously during this hour session it's time to make note of something something's going on and just the fact that she could see her anger if you will with the horses and that's i think the biggest power that that the horses bring to us is they make our process tangible it's something we can get a hold of she could actually see her anger right then and there in a safe way that was an overwhelming tour that wasn't you know in a negative connotation it just was you know and they went through it and when they moved past it they went back to doing what there was there was no negativity around it it just was anger and that's all it was um so very powerful in that moment interesting have you worked um it sounds like you work a lot with adults have you worked with adolescents and younger kids oh yes as a writing instructor and trainer i was one of the few instructors here in the the phoenix area that worked with kids 5 and up i developed a program for them so yes i work with kids adults teams all sorts of things i have groups i do couples um you know a perfect example of one of a young boy that i'm working with and i love what i do because it can i can stand alone and just do my own work like with the adult female or i can work conjunctively with other mental health professionals i have a young boy he's going to be 10 here shortly he'd seen traditional counseling for anxiety issues and had been taught the traditional coping skills and and was doing better but he was still having as his parents called them meltdowns uh quite frequently and so they brought him to me and uh through the horses he was actually able to practice those coping skills in the moment with the horses and develop emotion regulation empathy all the things and become very adaptable uh when we started i used a scale of one to ten ten being the highest on where his meltdowns and anxieties were he was about an eight or a nine um in the meltdowns two or three times a day every day i was having problems in school you know at home with his siblings just a lot of issues he was becoming afraid to go to his soccer games even though he loves soccer becoming very debilitating so as we we progressed he's been with me for about 18 weeks or so one-hour sessions and not necessarily every week and he is now at a point that he has a meltdown and there is seven or eight maybe even a six once a week if that he's able to now a lot of the sessions we do we're practicing skills and recently gave him an activity and he went out and you could clearly see all the skills that he has learned and work right in the moment and regulate and and do what he needed and stay calm and his parents are just ecstatic everything's improved especially because he's going to be getting ready to go back to in person school this year he was all online last year so we've started talking about the anxieties around that and he's got the skill set to help him and his anxieties are he said about a three or a four instead of a nine or a ten and um you know he says that's manageable i can handle that that's awesome he's becoming an amazing young man and it's just so powerful to see this change and watch him work through the issues as they came up each session right then and there and be successful and realize hey if i can do this with a thousand pound animal and practice it then you know he's got that experience and those skill sets it's very empowering and is how much of the therapy is done in the in the pen with the with the with the horses and actually on the horses there is no uh on riding you know on board uh stuff there it's all from the ground um and a lot of times sometimes we do activities with the horses in a paddock sometimes like i said an amazing pen i have a round pen i have arena i did a group work uh not too long ago in the arena so bigger spaces i have a variety of different areas and different ways i can i can do activities pretty much it's limitless except to my imagination and i've learned over the years to start a process and just let it unfold which i absolutely love because it's it's so unique i never know what's going to come out of it and um it's just so much fun the curiosity part of it so that's why there's no horse experience necessary whatsoever with this because we do not do any riding it is all from the ground and yeah can you do it with writing i could and and that i do some i do work with some clients that have their own horses and um work with that way and empowering that way because i have such a unique skill set coming as a trainer and writer i do offer that but the majority of what i offer to the public is is on the ground activities and that so i'm curious about this 10 year old boy you're you're doing work with him he's done work as a you know with the therapist in the in the office and he's made he's got the skill sets he's understanding it he's applying it but his anxiety is still really high can you and i know it this unfolds and and maybe you don't have all the words i don't know but how what makes the difference what made the difference between coming from a therapist in the office and coming into the into the arena with the with the horses me something in your life that you have learned not through experience good bad or indifferent that's the key right there is you can learn all this stuff in in an office but then you've got to remember it and be able to go out and practice it and especially for a young boy who suddenly is faced with an anxiety issue and his system is kind of habituated to being in a high state of anxiety he's not always going to remember all that and with mom and dad being upset it can add too much energy to the system where everything goes out the window i mean it's test anxiety and it's in its finest and so with the horses in the moment he can become anxious but in the moment then i'm there to support the horses to work through the process what skills can you use how can you use them and it becomes the how of it and actually applying it in the moment you know the only thing we can control is ourselves in the moment in the present you know if we're anxious we're usually in the in the future if we're depressed we're in the past and so by being in the moment and experience he was really afraid he had a lot of anger and he'd get afraid because his anger wouldn't get so big that he just couldn't function he couldn't think straight and he'd have these rages and he was scared of himself and by having these huge animals and and my support and in the moment and being active we could reduce that step by step and the biggest thing is is he didn't need to talk about it he got to do something with it and i work a lot with anxiety depression and traumas and when we're in those high emotional states a lot of times we don't have the words we we aren't functioning and we want to just get better in the moment and with the horses and what i do i can offer that the first session right away just a subtle shift or just something that shows wait there is a different way there is hope for me and there is help and that's powerful super powerful that they're practicing it in the moment and those horses are responding they're getting that instant feedback right because the horses are responding instantly to those shifts exactly exactly uh you know perfect example is the couple that i worked with um sent them out into the paddock with a couple of ropes and said okay draw your space with these ropes your boundaries so they did and and then i gave them a bucket of feet which was their stuff as i say in quotes it's you know they're emotional their kids their life you know their entire life both as and each one had a bucket and immediately boundaries were being blurred they were giving their stuff away feeding horses they were in their space it kind of become kind of crazy and they couldn't keep them away and this went on for about 10 minutes or so and i said okay come on out and as they both walked out the horses were still trying to push them and get in their space and they have five kids and there's some issues at home with the oldest who's 14. and uh so we processed talked about it and they're like okay yeah this is what we do we're always giving our stuff away trying to placate it and i said how's this working well not real well you know they've got these animals in their space i said so what would you like to do differently well we don't know i said well here's the cool part you get to come up with something right now we can work on this and then you get to go back in and see if it works right now and they're like really i said yeah so they talked about it and the wife's like let's put all our stuff in one bucket and let's do this and draw a bigger space so they went and did things and they had a completely different they actually set their bucket down didn't give their stuff away and were able to keep the horses and actually one of the horses actually had enough of it and walked off and stood underneath the shade and went okay i'm gonna go stand over here um they decided at the end to give theirs give a reward for that if you will give some of their stuff and the horse stayed outside of their their boundaries did not try to follow them did not push them i mean completely different and they were like wow and so we could have a discussion around that on how to implement those things now with their children and their life and everything else and we came up with a plan to start doing that and you could just feel the energy shift and the empowerment of they didn't feel like they were stuck anymore you know they actually had some hope of okay we can do this together and they actually showed a lot of their strengths as a couple and we're drawing on that as we're going forward because they have some good strengths and let's build on those to make some good changes that's incredible and i'm glad you went into that because i was like that was my next question what do you do with couples how does that work and especially with kids when you bring kids into the mix you know a couple you know a couple relationship is probably the most challenging relationship we'll ever have and you add kids to that and it you know it brings in all sorts of chaos yeah when they were first doing the activity you know i asked them identify which of these horses i have three horses one was off kind of on the own on the outside and they're like well this is so and so but the two that you know we're in their process this is definitely this one and this is this and you know we could identify and be able to set those boundaries and and change things in that moment and got instant feedback that was tangible and visible at that moment um once again you know now they have this experience they can take home we came up with a plan and as a reminder it's like like when things get tough remind yourself remember this experience and hold on to that you know we've got a stepping stone to start building you know if you can do it with a thousand pound horse yes it takes some time but look what you just did in an hour with horses you've got the process let's build on it very cool how many i know you said that you're what you do can be stand-alone and you can do it on your own and have effect how many of your clients are working with other therapists and come to you as a an extension or addition to what they're already doing um i've got a couple right now that are on extension i do have a group i work with the substance abuse recovery center right now every saturday they come inso i'm working conjunctively there to support their recovery i would say in general i'd say about 25 are coming from other therapies or they've had other therapies and at a point that they just feel it's not they need something different um and that and then the rest i would say are probably on their own individually in that when you work with um with groups of people that are in addiction recovery is is the work that you do different than it would be with someone that's maybe primarily you know anxiety or depression or mental health is do you see the same work oh i see basically the same work i love working with groups in fact they're my favorites just because groups to me represent a microcosm of what's going on in everybody's life and so to me i think the power of the group with the horses is even more um has more of an impact on everybody at that point especially coming from a residential group they already have some connections in that but i can support individually i usually have a group activity um and that or activity and that's the great thing about my activities i can they can be individual they can be for a couple i can use the same basic thing like the amazing pen i'll ask an individual what do you see with this pen is there anything you want to change with this maze and we go from there i can do it with the couples um and actually where the amazing pen is right now has actually been built by the group and it was really an interesting process because very quickly as they were doing it some of those that were more confident and bold went right out and started the ones that were more timid and newer in their recovery and learning things took a while to do it but eventually i brought the horses in and it was an amazing experience because i had pears go off with two horses one on each side of each horse and they had to negotiate through these obstacles and you could actually see them work together on teamwork communication they boosted each other's confidence support i just huge relationships all in the hour and at the end they were all high-fiving each other because they're like look we got him to go over this and oh it's safe or it's this i'm just the power of that and i've watched it individually and i've watched it in couples groups so everybody walks away with what they need um in that moment that's powerful it i would imagine and you you can confirm or deny that somebody who really doesn't want to do therapy someone who you know is really resistant to that and that's not for them or they've never done it before maybe this is their first time in i would imagine their experience with you in in the arena with the horses would be a little bit different and maybe a little bit more approachable what's have you had experience with that type of a scenario oh absolutely um that's partly why i call it horse guided coaching i i've over the years kind of poked at it and and it's kind of society as well that therapy kind of has negative connotations um maybe you have bad experiences or know someone or it's just negative and um i've i've asked a lot of people over the years what's your definition or what comes to mind with therapy and a lot of a lot of the the blank answer is you know sitting on a couch telling you my problems and then i asked about coaching and you know it's hey that's helping someone that and i think the biggest thing with what i do that helps break through that is like on my website i have a picture of my barn and it says one of michelle's many offices i have an indoor office but i have offices everywhere my tack room and a pasture wherever you know we're not sitting around in a room it is not traditional by any stretch of the imagination and sometimes just being outside near these animals or just outside and just having a conversation about things is so powerful i had a client recently um who uh we were discussing some things and kind of became anxious and she said can i take a horse for a walk i said absolutely pick a horse so she picked one and next thing i know we were power walking around the arena with this horse discussing but as her anxiety as she was releasing it and discussing it and being with this animal and everything she was processing and was coming down you know when we when we processed the end she started at about an eight or a nine and finished at about a three or four um i've had another client too her anxiety that day was so high i was having a hard time keeping up she was all over the place finally after about 15 minutes of trying to keep up with her i said let's go pick a horse she's what i said just let's go pick a horse so she picked one that brought him over to the grooming area brought out the brush box and said here's the brush start brushing and keep talking within minutes i could understand her she was making complete sentences and we were unwinding these patterns and you could visibly see or relax the horse showed it because his head relaxed he cocked a foot he sighed and he just fell asleep instead of being because when we brought him out he was kind of in an anxious state as well and she looked at me and she's like wow that's amazing so we had a baseline i said look list for now every time you come in with the anxiety let's start brushing this horse or pick a horse so we have this baseline of where we can process and check in she does about three or four sessions in a row in the fourth session she comes in and i said are we going to need the horse today she's no i'm in a great place and she was able to regulate and and maintain that without the horse we did other activities but she didn't need that she was able to regulate herself at that point which was really powerful for her as she'd been struggling in the past to make her sentences coherent and her point of you know being heard and all this sort of thing because she was just so anxious everybody just be like calm down and she's like i can't and here we found a way for her very simply to get feedback and to calm herself down so she could be heard so what's happening in that scenario what's happening between that that woman and the horse that allows her to calm down where she couldn't in other arenas in other areas right a lot of it is is just the connection i mean imagine the power of a thousand pound animal holding space for you as you are in that moment even all anxious and everything else because she was not threatening she was just anxious if she'd been more negative and aggressive the horse would react differently but she needed space at that moment and the horse had the ability to hold that space for her as she was and accept her completely and holy authentically you cannot lie to a horse i mean you can lie to people all day long you can lie to yourself all day long but they see past that um you know they don't judge a book by its cover so to speak they will connect and if you're authentic in that moment even if it's high anxiety they will hold space for you if it's incongruent um they'll let you know that as well it's like the adult female with the anger issues she was congruent internally um with her anger but she wasn't able to connect with it and they allowed her to to to do that and show that it was safe and they demonstrate the process i mean here they are angry aggressive chasing each other around and being angry and once the process went through and it was released they went back to just being themselves again doing whatever they were doing before and that's powerful um you know a lot of us experience in our life where we need space held for us authentically and it's not given to us and you know in that moment whatever they need and some of my clients you know i tell them whatever you need if you need space just to be you get to tell me that there are times i can leaning against a fence just watching and the client spends the whole hour with the horse and we talk about what do you need in the beginning and where are you at at the end and that's all we do um and i i'm grateful i can offer that in in such a huge range that there's not that awkwardness of silence silence is actually healing and holistic in that moment which some of us have never experienced before and can be emotionally overwhelming in fact a client adult female of mine just had that happen for her the other day as we've just started she comes from a very abusive family and wants to be accepted and i had to go into the the uh paddock with the horses and i said i want you to ignore these horses and she didn't see half the stuff one was following her around she didn't see it all these things so we discussed it and a lot of it is what she comes up from her family she's always been ignored and dismissed and i said okay so we talked about it i said okay now i want you to open yourself to the acceptance of these horses and immediately two of them came over stood head to tail with her in between and held that space for her literally between them horses that are are congruent with each other will help each other and will stand head to tail and switch flies off each other's face that groom each other it's a sign of respect and friendship so for her to be right between them and they put themselves in that position right between around her holding space because they were head to tail um as i pointed this out to her she broke down and and started sobbing because she could feel that space being authentically held for her for the first time in her entire life and it was incredibly profound and uh powerful wow yeah and i can see how it would be and those horses have no judgment they have no judgment one way or the other and even as human beings and therapists we know that we need to hold this space with with no judgment it's not good bad or wrong or right but but we don't always have the capacity to do that wholeheartedly right and and have no judgment it's kind of part of our human nature to judge our situations like those horses are on some level but they really don't care one way or the other but whether they're safe or not right it's really about a safety piece absolutely and that's i think that's part of my uniqueness that i bring to it yes i agree with you on humans and judgment but i've worked with horses personally and professionally uh that i've learned to let a lot of that go or at least recognize it and be able to hold space for it um because my personal develop i wouldn't be here without a couple of my horses personally and what i've learned and i i can bring that it's a gift to me now that i can bring to others and share with that you know i believe that's my purpose now in life is everything i've learned through my personal experiences with horses and professionally as a riding instructor and trainer um yeah in fact i was with in the paddock the other day with a client uh and was holding space for myself up against the fence and i noticed that one of my horses walked by and kind of jumped and and reacted and i looked and my client was several feet away from me and i went huh and he looked at me and says what was that i said that would be me i said and i knew exactly what was going on in my head there was some things i was distracted by coming up and i just said i'm gonna go remove myself and stepped out of this the energy field in the paddock and kept a distance and sure enough then he connected and whatnot so i still use my horses i have a t-shirt that actually says my therapist eats hay and that's for me too because there are days that i'm i need that space held for me and i know where to do it and they'll they'll hold it for me um or call me on my stuff and i need that too so um yeah i love the power of that you don't lie to them very well huh that's like they they don't they don't accept that that they see it whether you're trying to show it or not oh yeah uh absolutely there's kind of a joke that that went around my barn a long time ago um basically for an average horse the size of their brain is about the size of a large baking potater give or take and the joke became for myself is well i've been outwitted and outsmarted by a potato most of my life so um yeah it's learning to to let go of a lot of that and just you know accepted for what it is because they have no malice they they have the best intentions and to be able to have space held and for me to be able to help people have that space as well um is is just i mean i keep using the word powerful i don't know what else to say with that i it's it's almost indescribable it really is it's it's beyond empowering um and you can take it with you for the rest of your life you know that's the thing is a client of mine several years ago had a very profound experience in the round pen with a horse uh she was trying to get the horse to do an activity around go over a pole in there and um it became very chaotic the horse was bucking and and just running around and creating major chaos after a few minutes you could see your frustration was going up anger and it was getting worse so i said okay time out we process the moment she became authentic and connected with that cohesive the horse came over and put his head on her shoulder and he did this five separate times she'd send him back out and when she was incongruent it was chaos the moment she got congruent he connected and did this five separate times it was very powerful and at the end as we're processing she says you know i've been through traditional talk therapy and and it's helped but she says i can choose to ignore words all day long she says but how do i ignore that experience with this horse that i just had and i think that sums it up very clearly yeah because it is really it's really hard to ignore that experience yeah and it's so it's so immediate it's it's like you either change something or or the whole situation just stays chaotic right yep exactly and i think that's the power there's so many things you know sometimes things sound better in our head and then when we say them out loud it's like yeah that doesn't yeah that doesn't work well that doesn't make sense and we we're the only animals on the planet that have the ability to create an emotional reaction physiologically and emotionally by thought alone you know change of thought change your behavior but we get stuck in our thought processes we get stuck in that anxiety and and you know repetition and negative thoughts and the power of of the horse guided coaching actually stops that because you're in the moment and you get to see your thought actually play out okay i've got all this frustration and or anger or anxiety or whatever it is suddenly it's tangible it's real you're seeing this thousand pound animal be angry or be anxious or chaotic and be stuck in that process and here you've got the power to to shift that to try something different and get the instant results of that rather than waiting and getting stuck in your own process you get to actually find a way of how to get out of it and it's tangible it's you know it's there you get to see your results in the moment i ask clients a lot of times which would you rather do mental calculations all day long or dig a ditch majority will say dig a ditch and they say one because it's less tiring because mental calculations definitely are exhausting but most of them will also say is because at the end of the day when i dig a ditch i get to see the effort what i i get to see my progress for what my effort i get out of it what i put into it and i think that is one of the keys to horse guided coaching you get out what you put into it you know whether it's total chaos or nothing or or whatever it is in that moment that's exactly what happens so suddenly the process is now tangible it's malleable you can do something with it and i can't find any other place in my life i've ever experienced that in the moment with that much power that's incredible um so i i hear you talk about the fact that sometimes your stuff comes up as you're doing work with other people what what does this journey look like and the one part that i love about that is that you're telling us without saying it is that our work is never done right there's always work to be done but what maybe has some of i don't know if you can share an example but what are some of the work that you've done with horses that that you've been able to process through oh uh my anxiety uh one of the horses is kind of the foundation i have a full brother sister to each other their grandmother is my first horse so there's a huge connection and and that um i believe he was put in my life to call me on my stuff he's the only horse in my career that i asked for help with training him and it had nothing to do with his training it was all me i think one of the most profound things that he helped me with was my anxiety about keeping myself safe i've been working a lot with that certain tools i've been working with the trainer and that and um i i was working on this specific tool i i call it a shutdown if your horse starts to run away it's how to to bring it in so to speak and i was in the round pen working it on my own and my anxieties were really high in fact my trainer the the the first ride that i got on him um i took about two steps with him and ended the shutdown and he looks at me says you know you can breathe more than a breath that's the same life i was literally holding my breath so i i've done a lot of work and i was working on it and my my horse reacted he i called it boogering and my anxiety went right through the roof but i worked on it enough that i did the tool and shut it down immediately and kept myself safe and i remember bursting into tears at that point and this huge relief because what went through my head is oh my god i kept myself safe this actually worked and i can do this and the empowerment of it and i remember holding my horse's head to my leg as this is all going through in you know 10 seconds and he's looking at me like you okay mom can we move now and i remember at that point releasing and just getting off at that point with this huge weight lifted off of me this anxiety being released of wow i can do this and then proceeding from that i think that was one of the biggest things that i would say take away from that and that i bring to the table as well incredible incredible stories okay so part of me says don't ask this question because it'll take away from all the really great stories that you've shared but where do you get your horses from and do you prefer certain types of horses to do this work um well like i said two of my horses come from my childhood uh i've bred them and raised them they've been part of my life since the day they were born um i have three horses right now i'm actually working in process i started i've just applied for a non-profit status of part of my business and i'm working on by the end of this year to add a pair of miniature horses to my herd right now i mean one of my horses actually is kind of a rescue from a client and he's gone through a lot of his work it's amazing the work he's done and what he gives back now because of that um i i've downsided a lot of downsized a lot of them i heard recently due to covet and economic things and age i've lost a couple of my herd um but i at this point i don't really have i mean my first horse breed that i had was an arabian i do have some affinity the two are half morgan half arab um but i have worked with miniatures i've worked with wild mustangs i've worked with draft horses and everything in between so i i really don't have anything uh specific to a horse and a breed like i said the miniatures i'm want to add those because one they're really cute but with people with high anxiety or young kids they're less threatening and we can still do the same work and that and with groups and adding miniatures in with the full-grown horses uh one of my internships actually had a pair of minis that we would add into um the big the big horses and the full size and boy some of the stuff that came up with that was just amazing i mean just profoundly it was just crazy so um there's really no specific um at some point i'm gonna have to add more to my herd or replace them i'm most likely gonna go find rescue horses and do some work with them for myself um have donations whatever um there's nothing really specific this is so organic of what i do that i've learned over the years that if i try to not be organic with it it just doesn't work right so i keep myself open as possible to the the organic of it and i believe the the right horses at the right time will show themselves and be there for me and um there's a guru in the equine assisted mental health field her name is barbara rector and there was a quote that came up like one of the first intensives that i was at in prescott college intense is we actually did four four sessions four four day sessions at a ranch up in prescott where we immersed ourselves as participants and they were intense but her her quote was whatever happens is just perfect and i hold on to that because that's exactly what this whole process is about which is profound because really you know if we come in as a therapist with with preconceived con ideas about what we're going to do with the client we've just we just really did ourselves and them a disservice right is to stay curious and stay open and allow things to happen and i've heard you say it numerous times i could have never you know you could have never dreamt that that was going to happen like that was amazing and and if you would have had you know if you would have played a role or intervened then it wouldn't have happened the same way and it kind of messes things up so i love that piece about it and i can tell that working with the horses requires you to be in that space more and hold that space better than maybe what a regular therapist or conventional therapist might have to do because of the horse work so that's very cool i love that that you're willing to share these stories with us they're really powerful like you said and and profound to see that the extension and how those horses can really affect the way people um you know can heal and do their work and get that constant feedback that immediate feedback that's pretty cool oh yeah it is i i love what i do and i'm quite unique at it i've had a lot of mental health professionals from the phoenix area i do a complimentary overview and tour i feel the best way because it's really hard to explain is either through stories or a personal experience so i give everybody a taste sample if you will and i've had several of the representatives from these different mental health uh facilities in the the valley here come who have experienced horse you knowequine assisted uh therapies and stuff and and i always tell them i'm like you know i'm going to blow your mind because i do this completely differently than anything you've ever experienced and they've all walked away going i wow never you know that because i believe and in my experiences both personally and professionally is horses will either give us what we need or show us what we need and my job is to facilitate that um generally i'll have an idea for an activity and i present it and i just go with it it's all i have to be in the moment as well because yeah and i've learned how how not to be involved or be aware because when i first started yeah i get involved and and it would go someplace else and i'd be like what it's not supposed to be that way until i finally realized no it is supposed to be that way that's that's what they need and and as i tell them i'm like i said i'm the navigator they're the captain and this is all about them this has nothing to do with me um there is no right way or wrong way i mean a lot of people ask me well is this the right way to do this i don't know is it it's up to you you get to make that decision if they want to ask for help sure ask for help the first question out of my mouth will be what can i do to help you or how do you want me to help you um and so it's always empowering the client because it they have their own answers this is about them not about me when i'm doing my own work then it is about me um and and that but uh i that's the uniqueness of it and and why i'm so passionate about what i do so if i heard you correctly you would say that your equip equine program is is not equivalent to another equine program you bring some things to the table that are very different than what other programs might have absolutely my 35 years of working with clients and horses and understanding behaviors i consider myself a lot of a behavioralist because i have studied that like i said i've worked with a lot of different horses that have had issues i've helped them release these issues and work through them and and whatnot so i understand i've worked with people to with their horses and and i have a very unique skill set that most people just don't have um and and that so yeah i i do bring it and uh just allow it to happen as as it is um i don't have a lot of structure per se if you will where we're doing this this this and this it's it's very in the moment dynamic because uh i can read i can read body language i can read a lot of things very quickly and assess very quickly in fact one of the first things i do is i have two dogs i'll have meet people at the gate and i'll introduce them their names are dot and lucy and the first thing i tell everybody is look they're great friendly dogs but i ask you to help me with their training and i say do you know i ask you no talk no touch though eye contact and i said once they come in they're gonna try to engage you once you come in and they've settled down you know they're friendly if they're quiet go ahead and pet them love on them all you want but just please don't engage with their jumping and instantly my dogs will tell me who's ignoring what state of being everybody is by how they react and so i already have that assessment right from the get-go and then i can follow that with the horses and and things like that so i always joke you get six um you get six coaches for the price of one you get all my 35 years you get three uh thousand pound four-legged therapists which are my horses and then you get the bonus of the 265-pound four-legged uh coaches which are my dogs so most people can't offer that huge package like that that's incredible michelle thanks for sharing um sharing about your program sharing about the work that you've done for just so many years and your love of these horses and and the power that comes from working with them um i would imagine that people are going to want to connect with you what's the best way for them to do that um email me or call or text my number is six 480-988-2165 or you can reach out at email at michelle.spiritmountain and my website is and there's information on there as well post all my social media i'm on linkedin facebook instagram and google my business so there's lots of different ways to reach out i said i do a complimentary overview and tour um come get a taste of what i do and if you're concerned or not sure it's going to work for you or just very curious you know it's about a 45-minute session that i give complimentary so very cool very cool i love that one other thing i want to ask you one other thing and i don't know if we'll keep this in the in the podcast or not but i'm curious because i know from uh from an insurance pace standpoint that equine therapy in and of itself doesn't typically get paid for unless it's being run by you know masters level therapist which you are and you've got the notes to show that you've got this treatment plan and and you're working on treatment goals how does that work for you how do this point i don't take insurance yeah because it's so hard to get paid for it right it's it's that plus they also restrict a lot of times how many uh sessions i can do with clients and i feel that is incredibly detrimental to the well-being of my client i have a third party come in and who knows nothing about me or what i do and my clients to say you know you only need five sessions that's partly why i've started the nonprofit side in the process of that to be able to get donations in that and be able to offer scholarships for those that can't afford it um or you know have no insurance whatever so right now i am private pay on that because it is just but i do keep notes and everything else and and do all that i run a lot of it under the coaching uh aspect as well and and that um so yeah that's at some point i may look at it i don't know i've got a lot of other plans to head i'm working on collaborations with the department of corrections and a lot of other big things and i'm actually working on being able to travel i'm developing some workshops right now to travel locally and then my goal is by next summer is travel nationally with my animals and do consulting and workshops so i may just skip the insurance thing all together yeah and then with the consulting people would pay you per your you know per year coming in per time and you would just get that up front and and they would take care of that that's pretty cool i like that idea a lot of a lot of my passion not only with the horses i do a lot of psycho education i love teaching people we are the only animals on the planet that have the ability to ask why and on one hand it's why we're on this meeting and doing all these cool things but on the other hand it's also why we get stuck because we can't find the answers and that's one of my bigger goals is is to [Music] bring it out bring the education piece out through the horses through consulting and these workshops that's ultimately my my dream and my passion is where it really resonates i want to be able to share this with as many people as i possibly can that's incredible michelle i love i love your passion around this and uh i'm definitely gonna keep you in the back of my head as i talk to people and go hey you should probably go talk to michelle i appreciate that thank you like i said i've got a lot of things uh developing in the wings here so very cool i appreciate it appreciate your time thank you so much awesome i appreciate your time too

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