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Glenwood Springs retreat teaches more than horsemanship

Kimberly Nicoletti
Summit County Correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Andrea Porter/special to the daily
ALL |

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Last weekend, Sacred Tree, a holistic health care and wellness spa in Breckenridge, held a retreat in Glenwood Springs.

The event drew more than 40 people, affirming to Sacred Tree originator Brigette Schabdach that her plans to expand into the Roaring Fork Valley this fall or winter are well-founded.

Phillip Whiteman Jr., a renowned horseman and cultural consultant from the Cheyenne Reservation in Lame Deer, Mont., led the two-day retreat at Storm King Ranch up Mitchell Creek in West Glenwood. It revolved around a respectful, nonconfrontational approach to training horses. But on a deeper level, it taught a way of life ” one rooted in love for Mother Earth, self and all living creatures.



“The container is a horsemanship class, but it’s really more than that,” said the Rev. Dr. Melissa Nelson, who has studied with Whiteman for seven years. “It’s about relationships, life and bringing the sacred back to life.”

Whiteman thinks with a circular, or right-brained, perspective, rather than linear, black-and-white approach. Circular thinking focuses on centering oneself before acting. In horsemanship, it includes behaviors that help center the horse, rather than dominating the horse, as linear thinking does.



Whiteman demonstrated his belief that wherever people focus is where they will end up, through his interaction with his horse, Sioux Boy. While riding, rather than using reins or kicks to steer Sioux Boy, Whiteman simply centered himself and focused on the direction he wanted to go ” right or left ” then looked that way, and Sioux Boy turned in that direction.

Whiteman inspired participants Bruce and Lee Bowles, a couple who live in Glenwood Springs and have trained about 35 personally owned horses during the past 30 years.

“It’s just a different way to look at life and the whole human-horse energy,” Bruce Bowles said. “I’ve tried a lot of different things, and this is where I was headed all the time … body language is so important ” and the subtle cues from the horse. I’m trying to be more aware of what the horse is trying to say, to watch closer and go with my feelings.”

Thirty years ago, he learned to shake blankets at horses and use fear to control them.

“You don’t scare them like that anymore,” he said. “It’s more of a cooperative thing, so it’s been a journey for me, too. It’s like raising kids. It’s really satisfying when things go right, but when things go wrong, you wonder what you’re doing wrong.”

As Whiteman pointed out: “If you don’t like where you’re at, it’s your responsibility to bring yourself to center,” as opposed to forcing a horse (or a life situation or another person) to change.

“This thing, it makes you look at yourself,” Bruce Bowles said Sunday morning. “I couldn’t sleep last night; I was pretty excited about the whole thing.”

Brent Allred, who lives in El Jebel and works with horses through the Forest Service, practiced Whiteman’s initial teachings Saturday night when he returned home to his wife and 1- and 4-year-old daughters. He realized that when he comes home frazzled after a day of work and feels resistant to doing chores, his kids pick up on that. He said when he comes in the door, he can change the chemistry of the household just by the energy he brings in ” and sometimes he doesn’t bring the kind of peaceful energy he wants.

So Saturday night, he walked away from the stress of chores and making dinner and took his kids with him. He just sat quietly with his girls, focusing on centering himself and his children.

“I’ve practiced (projecting calm, centered energy) more with the horses than I did with my own kids, so that was an eye-opener,” Allred said Sunday morning.

As Whiteman explained Sunday as he worked with a young, untrained colt in a circular pen, when people get too far to the outside, away from the center, they can get hurt, both in life and in the circle with the horse. He said untrained horses tend to pull inexperienced horsemen out of the center, where they can be trampled. Different life challenges also tug on people, to pull them out of their inner balance, or center. So remaining centered, both in life and in the pen, creates safety.

“When you look outward, it prevents you from looking inward and finding your gift,” Whiteman said, adding, “be careful of what you think, say and feel because it can create your future.”


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