As I packed my bag into the car for the airport and locked the house behind me, I had the distinct feeling that I would return from this trip changed. The day before I had the same fleeting feeling – tidying rooms, crossing items off my to do list, getting ready to travel – a sense washing over me that something was about to shift. I have had similar intuitive feelings in the past, but mostly related to the carpet being pulled out from under me, a foreboding – the loss of my mother, a new and challenging lens to see the world through; the day I sensed my (then) husband no longer loved me unconditionally, a knot searing into my stomach.

This early morning in September, leaving for Colorado, was different. A gut feeling for change sprinkled with hope and possibility, a hint of wonder stirring inside me – floating around in the air, almost imperceptible and yet absolutely, distinctively present.

When we arrive at Melisa’s ranch for training, we sit with open hearts and curiosity at what the weekend will unfold. Each experience is completely different and in many ways the same. The structure is reliable: we sit as practice coaches, and we sit as practice clients – clearing out our own space so that by the time we are certified to practice many of our deep wounds are healed. What happens within that reliable structure is totally organic and unpredictable – the magic of the experience. As each group forms it takes on its own personality shaped by the guidance of our mentor, Melisa Pearce, and by the individuals who make up our shared circle – a different group of herdmates each time.

The first time I found myself in the arena for check in I was calm and curious with a streak of terror. Thoughts of doubt would wash into me and disappear mostly, but they made their presence known. I had no idea what to expect or what was expected of me. I didn’t know anyone. I had absolutely no idea what the word gestalt meant. All I knew was that there would be horses and there would be healing. I had no idea how much transformation would take place before me and within me through this journey. That I would find the ability to dream again – really deeply dream – nurtured by vision work, guidance, and support. That we would form such deep bonds that I almost can’t remember my life before knowing the deeply compassionate people that make up our human herd.

I had no idea that an indoor arena could be so dusted with magic – music, tears, belly laughter – the honesty, the pain, the acceptance – the horses showing up at a level I had never seen before.

I knew in my heart that horses were healers. They had nurtured me back to wholeness time and again (my parents’ divorce, the loss of my mother). My understanding of this was very private and without language. It was something I felt but hadn’t shaped words around. All of a sudden here I was, in this arena surrounded by deeply feeling humans who spoke the language that had stirred in my heart for years. The feeling was distinctly that I was within a dream, but that dream was real. Like a tiny ember that had been tucked away and slowly stoked, breathed into life before me, more real, more beautiful than I had dared to imagine.

Days are full from sun up to sun down when we gather as a herd. Often we wake with the sunrise over the Colorado valley to the sound of hoofbeats and deep shadows, steamy beverages, feeding the horses, sometimes helping with chores. Somehow time stretches out slowly, savoringly. Into the arena we go, to leave our deepest pain in the arena sand. So much life happens in one day in this work that the day feels like an exquisite eternity. Then just like a dream the weekend is over before it’s begun. We return to our lives – outside of the arena walls – forever changed. Forever bonded.

Time continues to feel evasive when I think of this past year. One year ago I sat in Melisa’s indoor arena for the first time with an underlying sense of anxiety and trepidation, feeling at the edge of an unseeable future. One short year later I pack up my car to return for training and feel a stirring of exaltation, a warmth around my heart and belly because I am going to see a group of cherished friends. In this seemingly short amount of time I have been able to nurture myself back to living with deep joy and a great sense of possibility – with the support of a truly amazing herd of humans and horses, compassion, trust. My intuition that once showed me pain and fear now serves me for wonder and for dreaming. For that gift alone my gratitude reaches the moon.

At night I fall asleep now dreaming of what might be around the corner. I dream without limitations, without editing, without fear of rejection. I wake up excited to continue creating a world that matches my spirit – a world of healing, horses, a beautifully soft place to land. A world born from that tiny ember, slowly stoked.