Matney Cook

My oldest memory is of one of my first riding accidents. I was holding on for dear life as the pony bolted across an open field. In the background my mom and brother were yelling, “Jump Matney jump!” but all I remember thinking is, “I’m never letting go!”

Eventually I did go ahead and jump. I was promptly dusted off and the pony was caught and no one was any worse for wear. What stands out the most about this memory now is that I was on a handful of other horses before this experience, but this is my first memory. Why? My theory is: my heart rate was high. My survival mode was switched on. My life force was activated.

Perhaps this is where my unconscious love of wild things originated – the feel of the wind against my face until my eyes were streaming with tears; the rush of formerly unknown strength that was revealed in the face of adversity and danger - intoxicating! Holding on for dear life even when the ride is not going as planned is a moment you will never forget, as many horse people can confirm!

Matney Cook

In some of my lessons my clients have heard me say, “You only have to be more stubborn than your horse” with a smirk on my face. Laughter always breaks up the sometimes too serious nature of horsemanship activities with these flight-based prey animals. This sarcastic prompt is a way for me to highlight the deep patience it takes to wait until what you’re looking for arrives. That’s how the horse, and our brain, knows that we’ve made progress in an exercise - stopping and reflecting on what just happened. This is also the foundation to developing a horse that enters a partnership with humans willingly and with enthusiasm. When they know their efforts are noticed and appreciated they will run to the gate to greet you and offer you their best - because you’re offering them yours.

As an adult who now teaches lessons to kids as young as 4 ½ years old, I cringe as I think about the things I did with ponies as a child, that first memory in particular. That first memory is certainly not a representation of my loving and discerning mother, Terri Cook, nor her horse skills. She turned many heads in the 90’s going out and teaching natural horsemanship techniques via her studies of early John Lyons. She also single handedly changed many horse’s and individual’s lives one lesson at a time with the seemingly new, yet ancient wisdom of natural horsemanship. In 2007 this led us to become the first certified master trainers under Ken McNabb, one of John Lyon’s first certified trainers!

Many times when we have negative associations, our attitude and behavior will inadvertently reinforce the negative association by expecting it to happen. How does one develop the strength, patience and creativity to change their perspective? To rewrite their story about a situation, a horse, or themselves? My answer to these questions are patience and awareness balanced with focus and realistic goals. An open and honest heart is also an important part of the equation. I first witnessed and learned the value of these ingredients watching my mother work with various "problem horses" long before being her apprentice at the start of my training and teaching career.

Matney Cook

But understanding how to train horses wasn’t enough for me. I struggled teaching their owners effectively and in an effort to learn and understand relationships more thoroughly I attended a workshop hosted and taught by Leigh Shambo, owner and operator of Human Equine Alliances for Learning (H.E.A.L.). After experiencing the power of equine facilitated learning (EFL) and psychotherapy, I went on to be the youngest person ever accepted into the H.E.A.L. Facilitator Training program, which I then graduated in 2009.

Relationships are therapeutic and healing. They're the cornerstone to moving forward in life in a sustainable way. They help us discover natural rhythms of the planet, and unlock our potential for self-made joy and balance. Horses offer us an opportunity to practice these relationships. We all have basic relationship patterns learned subconsciously at a young age. If there are unhealthy stressors causing bad habits to arise in your relationships with friends, family and co-workers, they can pile up. Until there is awareness shed on these patterns we cannot change them. With a trained EFL facilitator, entering into a relationship with a horse can be an opportunity to re-train your brain to unveil deep body and awareness-based authenticity. This can integrate and balance heart and mind, healing old wounds and allowing you to stand in your power as a person. And if you already have a horse, altering your handling methods to allow for a more natural and rewarding conversation as partners is as simple as opening your mind and heart to allowing the magic to happen!

And that’s just the beginning of your journey...the ultimate lifelong journey to self that allows us to fully give back not just to those close to us, but to the world at large with self-aware presence and consciousness. It’s truly amazing to me that horses are not only willing, but look forward to opportunities to support us in this practice.

Looking back I’m so grateful that at a young age I was taught to stick firmly by what I believe in - the healing power of relationships and the role horses play in empowering us to shape our future selves through re-training our responses. I give thanks to that stubborn little pony who first gave me a ride I will never forget, and to my ground-breaking mother Terri, as well as all my other mentors along the way. Whether two or four legged, my mentors taught me how to be more devoted and committed to my goals and intention on this earth. I’m never letting go of my love for horses and this life, and I look forward to facilitating others in discovering their own passions for both!