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The Way I See It ...

Better Than Summer Camp (June 2023)

I do try to adhere to the suggested themes for these monthly articles, as often as I can. This month’s, though, had me a bit stumped … and the fact that I am writing this on the day of the deadline has convinced me that I have nothing of value to say on the topic of summer camp!

It’s not that I didn’t go to summer camp. I was a member of Messengers, Explorers, and CGIT (Canadian Girls in Training), all facilitated by the United Church. And I remember going to camp with at least one of those groups, on more than one occasion. But I have very few memories of those experiences. I was painfully shy growing up, and I found the camp experience to be very intimidating. I think the best times I had while at camp were during quiet time, when I could sit on my bunk and write in my journal.

While no longer shy, I still derive great benefit from journalling, from looking within. And so that leads me to talk about a camp-like experience I had several years ago, when I visited Liberty Lanes, a retreat centre run by Mena Canonico, who works with a team of therapy horses to help clients transform fear, self-doubt, and unresolved trauma so that they can align with their soul’s calling.

At the time, I was struggling with feelings of shame and self-loathing, the aftermath of the abusive relationship that I have talked about before. But I knew, somehow, that I was meant to go there. I was meant to spend some time with those horses.

The centre was located in Caledon, and even the drive up there, on a beautiful Saturday morning, filled my heart with joy and my soul with hope. Following is the testimonial I wrote after my experience, which I hope speaks for itself:

I really didn't know what to expect when I booked my Discovery session with Mena and her team of horses. All I knew was that I was drawn to the horses, after having met Mena several months ago, and hearing her story about how those horses came to be with her. I was deeply touched by the story she told me, about one of her rescues. "I have to meet that horse," I told her over the phone.

The session was everything I could have hoped for, and more. I went there knowing that there was something holding me back from living the life of my dreams, but I just couldn't figure out what that "something" was.

Until the horses got involved. It was apparent that they had messages for me ... and Mena's ability to tune in to those messages and articulate them was absolutely amazing. I also appreciated, more than I can articulate, the safe space that Mena created ... a space that allowed me to be open, and to receive the incredible, life-changing gift of clarity and freedom. And perhaps the most amazing thing of all ... the horse with whom I connected the most, and the one who got me to the point of breakthrough, was the same horse I had been so touched by, when I first spoke with Mena on the phone. And his name? Dream. How perfect is that?!

During the week of May 14-19 this year, I organized a series of events in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Week, and in support of Recovery Speaking Initiative, a non-profit organization of which I am currently Chair of the Board. One of those events was a presentation on equine-assisted learning (EAL), and how it can support survivors of trauma. Mena was one of those presenters, as three other amazing individuals:

Lori Burns – EAL facilitator at Horse Ability, located in Corbeil, Ontario

Dr. Kristina Karvinen – a professor at Nipissing University, who is currently involved in an ongoing research project on the benefits of EAL

Anne Theriault – a sexual assault survivor, who has been helped by equine therapy

There is something about “horse people” that always draws me in. They always exude warmth, openness, and compassion. The presenters at the EAL presentation were no exception. While I was happy to see the results of the initial study, what struck me even more profoundly was Anne’s portion of the presentation. Knowing first-hand some of the feelings Anne had struggled with, I was deeply moved by her courage in sharing a profoundly personal experience, for the first in public.

One of the women in the audience was equally moved, as evidenced by her tearful account of her own childhood experiences. The tear-filled embrace between her and Anne moved me, also, to tears. There is joy and hope in connection, and in sharing our struggles.

“Look inside yourself; everything that you want, you already are.”

~ Rumi

The messages that were prevalent during the EAL presentation were life-giving to all in attendance. And I believe that any experiences that lead to a better sense of self, such as my session at Liberty Lane and my journal-writing times during summer camp, can only create a positive ripple effect in the world. For these experiences, I am eternally grateful.


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