Marketplace: Park City company offers Horse Experience
Alejandra Lara combines therapy and horses
September 19, 2017
A group of strangers sit in a circle inside of a corral. They begin discussing vulnerability and are told to take deep breaths. Then, three horses circle in on them, setting their muzzles on the participants' shoulders or leaning their foreheads gently into participants' backs.
This horse meditation circle is one of the most popular services Alejandra Lara offers at her business, Park City Horse Experience. She opened her doors in June, and has since seen over 70 customers participating in activities such as corporate team building, family adventures with horses and yoga with horses.
Lara grew up on a ranch in southern Chile, where horses were used in everyday life.
"The horses were my best friends," she said. "Through my teen years, I went through many tough situations in life, but horses were always there."
Lara came to Park City in 1999 and began to volunteer with the horses at the National Ability Center. She knew little English, but found friendship and a feeling of safety with the horses as she helped participants of all abilities ride them. A few years later, a friend introduced her to something that validated her beliefs about the power of horses on the human mind and body – equine therapy. It combines horses and healing so that patients can work through their problems in the presence of these large animals.
In 2002, Lara became certified with the practice and presented the idea to start a program at the NAC, who welcomed it and allowed her to offer meditation circles and other horse experiences to people with disabilities, soldiers returning from war and teens recovering from addictions.
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"They gain self confidence by working with a 1,000 pound animal that has their own mind, their own moods and their own personality," she said. "They are going to have to work on assertiveness, communication skills, how to read non-verbal language and also be able to set boundaries."
Equine therapy at the NAC was so successful that Lara decided it was time to invite more people, particularly locals, to experience it. She found a place to keep horses at the High Star Ranch in Kamas and people began to find her.
Some clients return weekly in order to work through grief, trauma or other personal trials. Since horses are non-predatory animals that live in herds, many of their characteristics make them perfect therapeutic animals. Their breath and heartbeats synchronize with the people they are next to, Lara said. Plus, they match people's moods, so those with anxiety can physically watch an animal calm down at the same time that they personally do.
"There's no way to lie to a horse. They know exactly when we are sad, angry, frustrated or completely relaxed. The horse is going to mirror that back to us," she said. "From that present-moment, non-judgmental mirror, we can really start being able to drop masks."
The Park City Horse Experience has various options for activities and themes. In the corporate team horse experience, employees complete challenges together and develop better communication skills. In horses and yoga, participants can choose to do a meditation circle and Vinyasa yoga at the ranch ($70 per person) or take the horses on a trail up to a look-out for outdoor yoga ($175 per person).
Besides in her own life, Lara has seen the healing take place first-hand in others, such as the time a horse stepped right behind a soldier who had previously attempted suicide. The horse pressed its forehead into the man's back and his harsh demeanor softened.
"He told me, 'this has been the first time in years that I feel like someone has my back. I needed that,'" she said.
Lara continues to work at the NAC, but hopes to also grow her own business so everyone can participate. She's looking into adding a couple's horse experience this winter for partners to improve problem-solving skills together as well as a locals night so people to give horse therapy a try.
"Working with horses in nature really brings us as humans back to a place of presence, of being present, of who we are really are," she said. "We are so busy with these crazy lives that we have lost that capacity somewhere."