Centre unleashes horses’ therapeutic power

Laura Hill writes her “power symbol” on her Empower U Equine partner at the first women’s retreat. | Christalee Froese photo

The Empower U Equine Centre offers riding lessons, kids camps, equine assisted learning, and most recently, retreats

NIPAWIN, Sask. — Barbie Harder and Shannon Dickey have always known the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a human being.

Their own four-legged steeds have long been the grounding forces to get them through life’s trials.

“My horse Ace basically saved my life,” said Dickey, outlining her battle with breast cancer and an escape from a difficult marriage.

Barbie Harder also depended on horses as an outlet when her busy childhood home was overwrought with activity, including the care of her special-needs sister.

“We know what the horse has done for us in our lives so we thought, ‘why don’t we share this to help others too?’” said Harder, a full-time educational assistant in Carrot River, Sask.

The Nipawin pair began dreaming about a horse training centre in 2018 when they travelled to Alberta to take Certified Equine Assisted Learning at the Academy of Equine Connection.

At the time Harder and Dickey each owned horses, riding together in a drill team.

After seeing how horses could facilitate personal, emotional and cognitive growth for kids and adults, the two women began thinking about expanding their herd with the goal of helping others.

“Over time we realized there was so many more ways we could connect people with our herd both on the ground and under saddle that our vision began to evolve,” said Dickey, who works full time at the Nipawin detachment of the RCMP.

“We wanted an equine learning centre that was not discipline or breed specific that welcomed people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities and served as a hub for local horse enthusiasts.”

The right-tempered horses, each on their own journey, began finding their way to Harder and Dickey as they shared their vision of partnering with the horse to teach and heal. Some horses arrived at the newly coined Empower U Equine Centre from the race track, some were former competitive horses and still others had no specific purpose, but now they do.

Ace, Shannon Dickey’s drill team horse, leads Camille McCrea, left, Shelinda Phillips and Laura Hill to their power words. | Christalee Froese photo

“Horses are a great reflection of ourselves if we slow down and take the time to listen — they speak loudly and demand that we bring the best version of ourselves to the arena each time,” said Harder.

The brand new barn and arena designed to pamper the Empower U Equine herd of 12 horses, and the people who visit, was built in 2020 with a vision to offer Equine First Aid, riding lessons, equine assisted learning (EAL) and retreats. The expansive barn features box stalls, a meeting room with kitchenette, several loft sitting areas and a bathroom with shower, all attached to a large indoor arena. However, after just one week in operation in early 2020, the hopes and dreams of Harder and Dickey were derailed when COVID-19 restrictions came into force.

“We had just expanded our herd, bought new equipment and had no income or any signs of it,” said Dickey.

The industrious pair was not about to take a set-back lying down, so they bought corral panels and began offering riding lessons, kids camps and EAL outdoors. This June, with COVID restrictions still in force, the Empower U Equine Centre welcomed 12 women onto its grounds to host its first Empower U Equine Women’s Retreat.

After two days of horse interaction, yoga and self-care sessions, the participants walked away in awe of what Harder and Dickey had created, and in amazement at what the horse could teach them.

“Being around their beautiful non-judgmental horses was comforting on so many levels,” said participant Beth Berg, a social justice worker.

Barbie Harder, left, and Shannon Dickey care for one of the 12 horses in the Empower U Equine herd. | Christalee Froese photo

Teacher Georgia Drohomereski had a similar experience at the two-day retreat that featured four horse workshop sessions led by Harder and Dickey and their herd of 12 equine teachers.

“The facilitators and horses taught me different ways of thinking about the world and myself. I found a place I felt peaceful and safe,” said Drohomereski.

“It was a magical weekend and I can’t wait to go back.”

With a successful women’s retreat under their belts, Harder and Dickey are eager to become a gathering place where people can experience the power of the horse and the beauty of northern Saskatchewan.

“We want to be a destination,” said Dickey, adding that a second annual Empower U Equine Women’s Retreat is in the works for June 2022.

“Horses don’t lie and they don’t judge,” said Harder, explaining that the horse has a unique ability to assist with anxiety and depression. “They live in the moment and don’t care where you come from or what you look like.”

To register for an Empower U Equine experience, visit empoweruequine.ca.

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