My a-ha moment came after I met T.K. the horse.
The big brown-and-white paint horse stood in front of me, looking me in the eye from under his shaggy brown fringe.
He was beautiful, but I was intimidated.
“Can I pet him?” I asked cautiously.
With permission, I rubbed T.K.’s coat and gave him scratches. He leaned into it, and I immediately relaxed.
I was at Dreamwinds Equine Assisted Learning Centre on Line 10 in Bradford West Gwillimbury, where I was about to take part in a teamwork activity.
I was paired up with BWG resident Chantel Felhaber, who was there with her three kids, Juliette, Amelia, and Ewan, and a group of others also taking part.
Chantel and I stood on either side of T.K., each holding the end of a rope tied to his bit.
One by one, we went through several obstacle courses with a few basic rules to follow, including do not step over the wooden poles lying on the ground that mark the edge of the courses.
We found a good rhythm with T.K., and I pretty quickly got into calling him, “Buddy.”
We were working as a three-unit team.
When we reached one of the final obstacle courses, it was a tight squeeze to get this large horse through.
That is when I had my a-ha moment. The rules did not say anything about not being able to move the wooden poles — we just could not step over them.
We pushed them out of the way and suddenly it was a lot easier to walk T.K. around the course.
In less than an hour, I had gotten a crash course in not only how to interact with a horse, but also in leadership, communication, problem solving, body language and teamwork.
“You don’t realize it’s coming down the pipeline — the a-ha moment can really quite be something,” said Tracey Evans, owner and master instructor at Dreamwinds.
“We’re so on task. It’s creating awareness. It gets us out of our head. What does my horse need? What does my team need?”
Starting Dreamwinds was a childhood dream come to life for Evans.
“I wasn’t born into horses. I had a passion for them, and my dad had a huge passion for them,” she said, adding they often frequented police horse stables to get a glimpse of the animals.
But Evans took her career into the corporate world, getting a business degree and going to work for international companies.
After years of feeling like she worked all the time, Evans went back to her love of horses and decided to learn how to ride. That decision sparked a huge career change.
She bought her horse Oliver and took a horsemanship course in 2003.
“I learned he wanted a leader” — someone consistent and compassionate, she said. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing to teach leadership with horses?’”
By 2011, she moved into the property where Dreamwinds is now located, and her horses moved there in 2012.
She held her first leadership workshop with a group of colleagues for a large company where she still worked at the time.
“I finished the day going, ‘This is what I must do.’”
By 2015, Evans was certified as an equine assisted learning educator and was running Dreamwinds full time.
“You become part of the herd. You’re presented with challenges,” she said, adding there are workshops for all kinds of skills, such as trust, leadership, conflict resolution, and negotiation.
Dreamwinds holds events for different groups — students, businesses, people with post-traumatic stress disorder, and even date nights for couples.
“(The horses are) looking for leadership. They want a strong leader so they feel safe. The horse will step up otherwise,” she said, adding teams learn to communicate clearly and use body language to learn what their teammates need.
This is the same kind of mindset we all need to deal with people in business or otherwise, Evans said.
Melissa Deschene of Barrie was at a recent Dreamwinds workshop with her daughters Madison, 9, and Riley, 11 months.
“(Madison) loves horses, and I figured this would give her more of a chance to be more interactive with them,” she said.
Madison just smiles when asked what she loves about horses, especially Franklin, her favourite one at Dreamwinds.
“Everything,” she said. “I like riding them.”
Evans now has eight horses at Dreamwinds, one of which is retired, plus one donkey.
The breeds range from Jimmy the Clydesdale, which Evans takes to the Terry Fox Run in BWG every year, as well as thoroughbreds, half-horse-cross and Tennessee Walking Horse.
Jimmy is a favourite among participants, said Evans.
One local hockey team even made him its mascot, and another group coined the phrase, “I’m getting Jimmy’d” if someone feels they are not being heard, she said.
“People never forget what the horses teach them.”
For more information about Dreamwinds, visit its website.