For this particular interview for our Courageous Women series of blogs, I ventured out into the Somerset countryside to meet up with Rosie Withey. It wasn’t the sunny spring day I had hoped for otherwise we would have sat outside with her horses for company; instead we took to the comfort of her cosy farm cottage next to the fire.
Rosie Withey specialises in Equine Facilitated Coaching and Emotional Wellbeing Coaching. Her business is the culmination of her life’s dream, to work with people and with horses, and to help and inspire others to live a life that is true to them.
Over the years Rosie has followed her own path of self-discovery and personal healing and this has enabled her to become the facilitator and coach she is today.
Join me as we explore Rosie’s story, and how Horses as Teachers came to be.
What was life like before Horses as Teachers? What were you up to?
I’d had a riding centre for 13 years which I sold back in 2003. I then worked as a freelance riding instructor, and decided to re-train as a life coach. I was also taking a bit of time out. Life had been full on since being a teenager, growing up on a farm, and then running my Dad’s business.
I had a couple of years after selling up with no horses at all. I just didn’t want to get out of bed and muck out 10 stables, or do whatever other jobs needed my attention for a while. I did eventually get a pony for my daughter, and we were really fortunate to find this place, and move here.
When we moved here it was like finding the life of my dreams – living in the countryside, with my horses on the doorstep.
We brought the pony with us, and because it wasn’t quite up to doing everything my daughter wanted, we decided to buy another one to share, and that’s when I bought Jack. It was clear from the outset that he was quite stressed, under fit, and desperately in need of my TLC.
Within 6 months he became so fit and bouncy he bucked my daughter off and frightened her. Witnessing it, he frightened me too, but I didn’t allow myself to acknowledge my feelings at the time.
I continued to ride and compete with him despite my own nerves, and he won his first few dressage competitions. He was always very stressed about travelling though, and on the last occasion he got so worked up he went over the front bar of the trailer. This was a pivotal moment, as it was then that I decided to focus my attention on understanding why he behaved the way he did.
I first made contact with an animal communicator. She was able to connect with Jack through a photograph I sent her, and happened to mention Linda Kohanov, a name I’d not heard of before (an internationally recognised author and equine therapist who wrote a lot about the horse-human relationship.) At the time I didn’t explore it and did nothing until about 3 months later, when I was riding Jack down the road. There were cattle on the other side of the hedge, the noise spooked him, and Jack shot sideways. He slipped, and we both fell. I took the full force of the fall and broke my collar bone, fortunately Jack was not injured, but it was almost as soon as I hit the floor I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t keep up the pretence that I felt fine on this horse any longer.
I got on the internet and Googled Linda Kohanov – Equine Therapist, and ordered her book The Tao of Equus. I read it cover to cover and spent half of it in tears, because for the most part it was like she was writing my story, it resonated with me so strongly. I very quickly found somebody in the UK who did Equine Facilitated Learning, and took myself off to Shropshire for two sessions with a facilitator.
I can wholeheartedly say it was life changing.
I discovered how horses use their emotions as information and how they feel most connected when we are show our vulnerability and are authentic.
Spending some time with the 4 horses there, it brought up a raft of emotions that I had not acknowledged before, and when I went back and did a further 3-day workshop in the November all about activating your authentic self, it was like an awakening. Here I was at 46 suddenly realising how much of what I’d done in my life had been to please other people, to the extent that I didn’t really know what I wanted for myself.
Despite the uncertainty I felt, I was really excited. There was another lady on the workshop talking about going to Arizona to train with Linda Kohanov and that was all I could think about. By the following February I was in Arizona too.
Where did your journey begin with your business – was it “a lightbulb” moment? How would you describe it?
The incident with Jack out on the road was definitely a lightbulb moment. I knew instantly something needed to change, and when I went looking for answers about him, I discovered much more than I bargained for.
I was completely unprepared for the intensive personal development programme that formed the first two parts of the training with Linda Kerhanov out in Arizona. I was going ready to learn how to become a facilitator, and yet for the initial 3 months I felt like I’d been taken apart piece by piece.
As a result I began changing things in my life, integrating all the skills I had learnt. My relationships changed, especially with regards to setting boundaries, something that I had struggled to do in the past.
Another defining moment was standing in the arena at one of my first sessions. I was trying to connect with a horse and yet it walked away from me, and showed more interest in the grass. I remember thinking “but I’m supposed to be a horsey person, why doesn’t it like me?” Eventually the facilitator asked me what was going on, and I explained how I was feeling really sad that the horse was ignoring me. As soon as I was honest, and honoured by true feelings and shed a tear, the horse turned round, walked over and stood beside me. I was stunned.
Discovering that I wasn’t listening to my authentic self, and needed to honour my emotions and learn to work and move through them on the apprenticeship programme was another lightbulb moment. Some people say it’s cultural that we don’t listen to our emotions; it was certainly the case when I was growing up. We didn’t acknowledge, anger, fear, sadness, or pain, it was always “for goodness sake you’ll be fine.”
What surprising lessons have you learnt along the way?
One of the biggest lessons was discovering that I could live without the low-grade anxiety that I had carried around with me my whole life. I had spent many years both running my Dad’s business as well as my own, being under pressure, and feeling stressed. It was only when I began looking after myself, that I found a sense of inner peace and calm. I realised I could just be, and that the low grade anxiety I had didn’t have to exist.
The other lesson has been around honouring your feelings. Through the work I do now, I help others to unveil their inner joy and peace, and discover a sense of self-love. People need to feel safe to feel vulnerable, so they can release any emotional blocks or limiting patterns of behaviour. I simply create a safe space in which they can do that, a space where they can allow their emotions to flow, and connect with their authentic power.
What’s a typical week for you?
A typical week involves getting up early each day to muck out and spend some time with my horses, before working with them in Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) either one to one with a client or in group workshops. My Discover one-day, and my Connect three-day workshops run on alternate months. The Discover day is an introduction to EFL where you can dip your toe in, and give yourself the space to learn and reflect and have interactive time with the horses. The Connect workshop affords more time to fully immerse yourself to develop self-awareness, set personal boundaries and understand your emotions.
I have telephone or Skype coaching calls in the diary for those who come to me for emotional wellbeing coaching. Here I incorporate all the skills I use in my workshops, just without the horses.
Some weeks I may have some riding coaching sessions in the diary too.
There are also days in the week set aside to work on my business, something that has taken me a long time to learn. I used to think time spent on administration wasn’t classed as “working,” and meant I just never stopped.
I now schedule in days to keep up with all the office work, to go out and network, have coaching myself, as well as attend events, and host trade stands, so that I can take time out for myself.
What has been your biggest challenge in your business?
One of the biggest challenges has been telling people what it is I do. In the early days most of the people who came to me had read Linda Kohanov’s book, and were well acquainted with her work.
As the business grew and I began to promote it myself, the challenge was helping people to grasp the tangible benefits of Equine Facilitated Learning, compared to that of other modalities of personal and spiritual development, as well as finding ways to be more focused in my marketing, so that I was visible to my ideal client group.
On a more personal level I have had to overcome my fear of standing up and talking about myself and my business. Although I may project outwardly confident, I am more of an introvert.
And finally, having done my own inner healing, I am now able to sit with my own uncomfortable emotions, enabling me to be the facilitator I am today.
What are your greatest passions in life? Are you able to weave these into your business?
My greatest passion is to help people to live a life that is true to them. I also love being with horses, so in essence my business is my life, although it doesn’t take over. I still make time to read, enjoy music, go dancing, and spend time with my family.
What or who inspires you to grow and develop personally and in your business?
The people who inspire me are those who are authentic, who have overcome challenges in their life, or faced adversity and worked through it.
People who are very successful at what they do, and are willing to admit that they are still learning and feel comfortable to stay in the beginners mind inspire me. Knowing that their work is never done, to me this feels like a healthy place to be. I’m not an activist; and although I may be intrigued by other people’s philosophies, I would rather do what I do quietly and allow the results to ripple out.
Some of the most successful people I know are those that have allowed themselves to feel vulnerable and moved through it.
What are you most grateful for in your business?
Being able to live in the countryside and having horses in my life comes high on the list of things that I am most grateful for both in life and in business. Neither of which could be possible without the unconditional support and love of my family.
It’s a huge challenge being self-employed; however it’s the freedom, variety, flexibility, and the opportunity to travel and explore new adventures that motivates me to keep going.
What have you found most rewarding from running your own business?
Through whatever style of coaching I adopt, the most rewarding outcome for me is seeing people make massive shifts in their lives, in an un-seemingly yet simple and effective way.
The work that I am doing is making a difference. I know that when individuals make a shift in themselves, it will also have a profound impact on the other people in their lives, and I know it will, because it has in my life, and the relationships I have.
What do you consider to be courageous?
I would consider stepping out of paid employment, away from the corporate world, to find an alternative, and to spend time connecting with who you really are as being courageous.
Stepping into vulnerability when you’ve got a notion or an idea, but no evidence to suggest that it is going to work or not, that’s courageous too.
I think there would have been a time in my own healing process, when I certainly wouldn’t have called myself courageous, because I was in such a difficult place. I had come out of a really challenging divorce, and my level of self-esteem was so low I didn’t think I was good at anything. However I realise now it has taken courage to step out of my comfort zone and build my business, and both my clients and the horses have shown me that.
What’s next for you? Are you beginning a new chapter?
I am beginning a new chapter, as I’m looking for new premises from where I can run my workshops. The venue where I have been for the past six years has recently been sold.
It will take some time to find somewhere, as any new venue needs to align with my own values, especially in regards to the way they look after their horses.
I’m staying open to new possibilities and exploring what comes my way, it maybe that I look towards running my workshops at several different venues.
My 2 part NOW programme has also been attracting more interest of late; and my aspiration is to grow this element of my business.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in business?
When I started this work I realised I had largely morphed into whoever I was working with, and remember mentioning to my mentor I was thinking about collaborating very early on. At the time she advised me not to, because quite rightly this was my opportunity to go out and create something that was my own, as opposed to doing what I had always done before, and adopt someone else’s style.
Taking her advice I facilitated workshops on my own for nearly 5 years before working with anyone. In the past 2 years I have worked with two people, and it’s been a complete success, and that’s because I wholeheartedly know who I am now. I know what’s important to me, and I’m happy to convey that. I completely respect the other person for what they bring and for their perspective; we complement each other, and often create something that is much bigger than the individual parts.
Therefore my advice would be to know your true self before you look to collaborate with others.
My belief is that we are all beautiful on the inside, outside and everything in between, it’s not about getting good it’s about letting go of all those self-limiting patterns of belief, so we can connect with our authentic self. It’s a never-ending journey of self-discovery and personal development.
Here are 2 fabulous takeaway tips from Rosie’s interview;
#1 Honour your feelings – be your true self, don’t try and hide or suppress your feelings, feel them, respond, let go and move forward.
#2 Step out of your comfort zone, because it’s ok to step back in again – although it may be terrifying, stepping out of your comfort zone you show your vulnerability openly, and by doing so you allow others to do the same. By working with your vulnerability, you can look to expand your comfort zone, safe in the knowledge that you can step back in again. Small steps are ok!
I hope this interview has offered you a new perspective or given you some food for thought. If you would like to find out more about Rosie’s incredible work, why not hop on over to her website here.
Until next time, be truly you!