Whoa Nelly… slow down… Imagine yourself living on a horse ranch without any reception or internet. You’re surrounded by nothing but the sound of trees rustling, birds chirping, and maybe the distant moo of cattle or neigh of a horse. There are no TVs. There is no radio. The city is over an hour away. The only things you have for entertainment is a swimming pool, a swing, and a game room with some old books, a pool table and an old piano. And of course, there are the farm animals.
My guess is that envisioning a place like this makes you fall under one of three categories: anxious, peaceful, or excited. Most of our Millennial and GenZ generations today find it incomprehensible to go even an hour or two without our phones, without netflix, or without internet connection- and that is exactly why I think a place like this is so healing for our mental, emotional, and physical health.
Even throughout quarantine, I was still working twelve hours a day, trying to roll with the changes, to re-strategize our operations at Breaking Taboo, on top of teaching and coaching and everything else that has become a normal part of life. I know I tend to have a guilt complex whenever I slow down. Hard work was ingrained in me as a child; in fact, play-time was always a rarity, something you had to work at to deserve, and even then, something to only allow every once in a while. Work has never been my issue, and “play hard, work harder” is perhaps even a type of motto in my generation, but allowing myself to slow down? That’s something I have been working on giving myself.
“Slowing down lowers stress and blood pressure, enhances decision making and other cognitive functions, and restores emotional equilibrium. In allowing ourselves to experience the present – rather than rushing toward the future – we become more attentive to what is happening around and within us” (1)
Maybe it’s cliche, also, but the older I get the more I look for balance. If it weren’t for COVID and trying to find some ways to safely escape the city and get out of being cooped up indoors, I probably never would have googled “dude ranches near me”- again. I remember first learning about dude ranches as a kid watching City Slickers (great movie btw). I had always wanted to go to one, but I had no idea that there are, in fact, many horse ranches of various sizes and specialties all across the country. And not all of them require you to wrangle cattle.
I may be bias, because I love horses, and I was born in the countryside, so I have always been drawn to the country. Even though I currently live in the city, I have often joked that when I retire (if I retire), I might just spend my days on a little farm with my dog, my horse, my cats, maybe a couple ducks (don’t ask why), and my cow Betsy. Yes, I have quite the imagination, but one thing I did not know was how close I was to experiencing this type of life already. I mean literally, physically close.
One ranch in particular, Rankin Ranch, stood out to me. They are a family run ranch located in Southern California, just a two and a half hour drive away from Los Angeles. Two and a half hours, a climb up the mountains, and you feel like you are in a different world. Being able to do that is part of the beauty of California. Besides the close distance, I was immediately intrigued by the ranch’s inviting, homey feel. The great thing about ranch retreats like this one is that they are all inclusive, meaning you get lodging, a swimming pool, two horseback rides per day, three home cooked meals (barbeques, yum!), and even a hayride to play a game called “ring the horseshoe”. This sounded like a dream to me, and the exact place I needed to get away and recharge my batteries.
In the holistic healing and alternative therapy world, horses are well known to be healing animals. The term Equine Therapy, or Equine-Assisted-Therapy has been around for decades. Other types of horse therapies include Hippotherapy, Equine Assisted Learning, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, Equine Assisted Physical Therapy, and Therapeutic Horsebackriding. All of these various therapies involve interactions with horses and other equines.
Records of horses being used as therapeutic healing aids to treat a variety of ailments including gout, neurological disorder, and low morale date back to the 17th century. The earliest recorded mention from the ancient Greeks was in the writings of Hipporcrates who discussed the therapeutic value of riding (2)
Today, Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT), is used for individuals with and without special needs, including those with physical, cognitive and emotional issues. Equine therapy can treat ADHD, Anxiety, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Dementia, Depression, Developmental Delay, Genetic Syndromes (such as Down Syndrome), traumatic brain injuries, behavioral issues, abuse issues, and many other mental health problems. Equine Therapy can help the individual build confidence, self- efficiency, communication, trust, perspective, social skills, impulse control, and learn boundaries. (3)
Of course, you don’t have to be diagnosed with anything at all to enjoy the many healing benefits of horseback riding. There is nothing like a nice smooth ride in the mountains, listening to birds, the rustle of trees, and feeling the sun on your back to relax and appreciate life. Or, a nice gallop through the fields to get your blood pumping and your adrenaline going. The horses love the exercise also!
(Note, make sure you are riding at a place that treats their horses well. You can usually sense if a horse is treated well by the same tell-tale signs you would use to examine any living creature: bright eyes, healthy shiny coat, strong hooves, a calm yet alert disposition. It’s not a bad idea to do your research on a ranch or stable ahead of time.)
The connection with an animal, but especially with a horse, has always been a very spiritual one for me. There is nothing in the world that can describe the absolute trust and connection one has when you’re on a journey with such a magnificent creature. It is truly a liberating and healing experience, and I know it sounds cheesy, but my soul always feels so replenished afterwards, and I gain more appreciation for life and for our mother earth.
During my rides at Rankin Ranch, I met Kelin, our horse guide. We got to sharing about ourselves, and she revealed that she also came from a background in psychology and that after working in the psychology field for a few years, she applied for a job at this ranch, and now lives on the ranch and works here full time. She told me that it was the best decision she has made for her mental health and spoke of how happy she was to have chosen this life for now. She also told me that every evening, they let the horses out to run free in the pastures amongst the cattle, and then when it’s time to go home, all they have to do is call and the horses willingly come back to their stables. Hearing about how happy both the horses and the people who worked and lived here were made me feel really good about this place.
It’s not difficult to see why. From all my years in the mental health field, studying depression, happiness, suicide prevention, learning about mental well being, and contemplating on the chase for happiness, or rather, the mindset of happiness, I’ve come to realize one simple fact, over and over again: happiness is really quite simple. It may seem difficult to reach, even elusive, at times, but ultimately- the experiences which make us happy are simple in nature.
It really does not take a lot for human beings to feel good. Furthermore, most of the typical excess things we think we need to be happy can actually be a hindrance.
Society teaches us to live in a life of hustle. To climb a ladder, prove ourselves, make our mark, and to never stop go-getting. That is what the materialistic capitalistic mindset advocates, but it is not always what is best for us. I for one, sometimes find myself contemplating the shallowness of living a life to keep up with the Jones’s. “In fact, research suggests that materialistic people are less happy than their peers. They experience fewer positive emotions, are less satisfied with life, and suffer higher levels of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.” (4)
Furthermore, nature and outdoor activities are profoundly beneficial for our mental and physical well-being. A study published from Social Science and Medicine, Volume 91 concluded that “physical activity in natural environments is associated with a reduction in the risk of poor mental health to a greater extent than physical activity in other environments.” (5)
Speaking of the study of happiness, what is interesting is that researchers studied hundreds of families for a decade and concluded that “family relationships are more important than family income for happiness…But if you look at the way people allocate their time, you might get a different idea.” (5) I was reminded of all of this at Rankin Ranch, which happens to be a sixth generation family owned ranch, originally started as an extension of the family’s backyard. I must admit that I was taken aback at just how homey and familial the environment was, and I was slightly in awe of the simple, quiet hospitality.
All of the meals were home cooked inside their kitchen or out on the barbeque grill by the people who worked there. Everyone at the office, including the owner, took turns on kitchen duty. On my first night there, I remember being surprised and humbled to discover that my dinner was a meal that Amanda, one of the ranch owners and the daughter, er, great-great-grandaughter of five generations of Rankin Ranchers, had cooked herself. I really did feel like I had just stumbled into someone’s backyard, and was treated as a traveling guest at a family home. Everyone was just so nice. And even though it wasn’t a fancy five star hotel- in fact the ranch lodgings were quite ranchy, the simplicity was a part of the charm.
I call this, living the simple life and getting down to earth. I really do feel that every city slicker needs to experience some time away from the bubble of buildings and events. There is so much more to life than work, hustling, parties, and “making it”, whatever industry you are in, and places like this can show us what trading materialistic things for nature and peace looks Everyone can benefit from clearing their heads and just enjoying the scenery.
Without getting too deep into it, my theory is that genuine happiness, while simple in nature, requires healing ourselves from our own traumas, which in turn requires immersing ourselves in actions which are healing for us. It also requires a clear headspace for us to gain clarity and authenticity to feed our inner child- as that is where much of our trauma is held. And, of course, it requires love and respect- mostly toward ourselves. A little extra care, some good conversation, feeling connected, and some fun can do wonders. And of course, there is living life with purpose, but I’ll save the hoof of this conversation for another time… 🙂
“The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit and freedom.” ~ Sharon Ralls Lemon
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” –Lao Tzu
“Ranch headquarters are located in the beautiful little valley of Walker’s Basin. Our mountain valley is deep in the heart of California’s Tehachapi Mountains and at the southern end of the Sequoia National Forest. We have been a working cattle ranch for over 155 years and know you will enjoy our tasty Rankin Ranch beef during your stay. The guest ranch celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015 and continues to attract guests from around the world. Rankin Ranch is one of the oldest and largest family owned ranches in California. Six generations of Rankins have lived and worked on our 31,000 acre cattle ranch. We truly enjoy the opportunity to share our lifestyle with our guests. We hope you enjoy the following history of our ranch and local area.”
~Serena Hope Sun
- “Slowing Down Enhances Health and Well-Being” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-gift-aging/201812/slowing-down-the-world-speeds#:~:text=Slowing%20Down%20Enhances%20Health%20and%20Well%2DBeing,-Source%3A%20Olena%20Yakobchuk&text=On%20the%20other%20hand%2C%20slowing,functions%2C%20and%20restores%20emotional%20equilibrium.
- “Equine-assisted therapy” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equine-assisted_therapy
- “History of Equine Assisted Therapy” http://anxietytreatmentexperts.com/equine-assisted-therapy/#:~:text=Equine%20therapy%2C%20also%20known%20as,%2C%20Depression%2C%20Developmental%20Delay%2C%20Genetic
- “How Gratitude Beats Materialism” https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/materialism_gratitude_happiness#:~:text=In%20fact%2C%20research%20suggests%20that,%2C%20depression%2C%20and%20substance%20abuse.&text=Materialism%20can%20get%20in%20the,deeply%20rooted%20propensities%20for%20gratitude
- “Is physical activity in natural environments better for mental health than physical activity in other environments?” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0277953612003565#:~:text=The%20study%20concludes%20that%20physical,kinds%20of%20positive%20psychological%20response
- “For Happiness Seek Family Not Fortune” https://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20080619/for-happiness-seek-family-not-fortune#1