Archive for Interesting Horse Women

Dream Horse Women Interview: Kansas Carradine on Trick Riding, Cavalia, and What’s Next

Riding on U-Tube

After attending the 2008 Equine Guided Education Association’s Big Sky Horse conference in Valley Ford, California, I received a mesmerizing U-tube posting (see below) from conference participant Kansas Carradine. The video begins with the athletic and graceful Kansas doing expert lasso-work which is deeply sensual. The video then moves into awe-inspiring trick riding for Cavalia, including “Roman” riding—where Kansas stands atop two horses at once, with one leg on each horse. The footage where she is wearing red and blue shot outside in Australia contrasts with the dreamy sequences onstage in Cavalia.

Lifelong Love Affair with Horses

In a phone interview from her home near Lake Tahoe in early February 2008, the young mother told me, “I can not remember a time before horses.” By age 4 she was riding and from 5-7 she did gymkhana and trail riding. From ages 7 to 11 she was jumping horses and riding English-style. She has been performing with horses since she was eleven.

Going off to Summer Camp—for 7 Years

When Kansas was 11 years old, she left her Hollywood home for the Riata two-week trick riding camp in Exeter, California. The first thing they did was ride horses in the river. When she returned home, she announced to her startled father that she was moving there permanently. Within a few weeks, Kansas was living and working at Riata’s boarding school, as one of the performing “Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls.” Riata’s owners became her surrogate parents in what was then the only trick riding school in the U.S. Kansas thrived on the stability that the boarding school offered. Kansas recalls the responsibility instilled through working hard taking care of the horses, practicing, and performing. Kansas and her parents credit Riata and the horses for helping her navigate successfully through difficult adolescent passages such as her parents’ divorce and substance abuse.




From 2005-2007, Kansas performed in Cavalia, the dream-like theater and multi-media sensation that evokes the mystical, magical, and transformational relationship between human and horse. Kansas describes Cavalia, “I had always dreamed of it, but it didn’t exist yet. I had tears in my eyes the first time I saw Cavalia—being in Cavalia was a dream come true. Cavalia touches everyone. It transports people to another time. It is timeless, wrapped up in fantasy, mythology, and the collective unconscious. Knights, Celtic mythology, bareback riding, little girls—it is all there.” The performance schedule could be grueling with 7 shows a week and 250 shows annually in different cities and countries.




Kansas sees the hand of destiny in her work with Cavalia. While performing with Cavalia, Kansas met her future husband, artistic director Alain Gauthier. She credits fate for bringing her to Cavalia and to her new life as wife and mother. Kansas actually performed on horseback until she was four months pregnant. She and Alain left the tour from Brussels, Belgium when daughter Phoenix Rose (now two) was sixteen months old.

What’s Next

Now in her late twenties, Kansas shows the same courage and clarity about following her passion and taking the road less-traveled as an adult that she did as a pre-teen girl. She loves living in the beautiful Lake Tahoe area, and is a devoted mom to her daughter. There are, of course, horses in her life, including some Friesians (those magnificent horses that medieval knights rode), and she is learning dressage. A lasso act in Reno beckons, and she and her husband Alain are busy creating inspirational equine theater.

Kansas credits horses with lifelong learning. She recently began training with Ariana Strozzi, one of the founders of the Equine Guided Education Association, and is planning to get certificated in the program. Kansas credits the work with bringing her into even deeper relationship with the horses in her life. Kansas is also looking into working with horses and at-risk teens at a program near her home. For now, though, it is a deep pleasure to share horses with her two-year old and set down some roots. It is a safe bet that the coming years will include horses, learning, family, and of course following her passions.


U-Tube Performance: 

Los Angeles Times article about Kansas: 


Equine Guided Education Association: 

Ariana Strozzi:




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Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary

Nestled into the rolling hills outside of Lompoc, California is the Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary. Home to 200 horses living in family herds, the sanctuary tends wild (feral) horses and burros while advocating and educating about their precarious living conditions and need for preservation. In late August, I scheduled a trip to southern California around their 10:00 am Living History tour. I stayed overnight in nearby Buellton so I could catch the tour on my way back up to my home in northern California.


Wild Horses and Transformation at Return to Freedom

I first heard about the wild horse sanctuary five years ago from graduate student Sandra Easter who shares my interest in women, horses, and healing. She had gone to Return to Freedom (RTF) when her life was swirling in the turmoil surrounding her divorce, a move, and her unknown future direction. Sandra had stayed at the sanctuary (in a facilitated experience) to just “be” with the horses, and found tremendous peace, acceptance, and personal insight. As she described her experiences, there was clearly a mystical or spiritual quality to her time watching and being with the horses. Sandra said that being with, or even being near the wild horses was very different than being with domesticated horses. She found it difficult to express her powerful experiences in words, yet her experience was transformative, with long lasting healing effects. A few years later, I found mention of Return to Freedom in Carolyn Resnick’s fascinating book, Naked Liberty, about her experiences with wild horses, and I wondered again about RTF. I was especially curious to meet Neda DeMayo, the founder of the sanctuary and was pleased to learn that she would lead the tour. As she greeted the visitors, Neda impressed me as someone very comfortable in her own skin. Neda has the build of an athlete, with thick chestnut hair, and eyes that are warm and watchful.


Living History Tour

Grandparents with their horse-crazy granddaughter, a middle-aged woman who felt compelled to come, and a mom and her daughters on their way to a pioneer camp made up our group. In the barn, surrounded by stacks of hay, we watched an introductory video made in 2004 that eloquently outlines the plight of the wild horses and the daunting challenge of RTF. From 2 million mustangs in the 1800’s, only 32,000 remain, mostly on U.S. government lands, after millions were brutally rounded up and slaughtered. Of those that remain, 22,000 of the mustangs are penned up in holding tanks, often for years at a time. Many of the horses left in the wild or in the unscrupulous hands of people that “adopt” the horses suffer from emaciation and disease.


A Pioneer Standing up for Wild Horses

In a thoughtful discussion after the video, Neda’s role as an advocate became clear. Even with all of the daily chores of caring for 200 horses and burros, running an organization, and fundraising, one of Neda’s most important duties is political advocacy. She pioneered the concept of placing family groups and herds rather than breaking them up. As herd animals, horses suffer when they are alone, because to be alone, or separated from the herd, is to be in danger. Her eyes cloud over as she laments the loss of individual species and the abuse she has witnessed. Neda’s years of fighting for the mustangs has led her to understand the painful truth that mustangs are at risk of dying out simply because they have little financial value.


She told us that that the very best way to protect the wild horses is by educating and rallying public support to ensure protection. DeMayo has taken the plight of the horses into the court of public opinion by garnering Hollywood attention and support for the important RTF programs and advocacy work.


After the tour and our questions, Neda introduced us to some of the many horses and even burros that live at the Sanctuary. We met “Spirit,” the mustang that was the prototype for the Dreamworks animated film by the same name. We met different rescued horses and learned their stories, as we had a chance to pet them. We walked up the hillside and into the area with the wild horses who came to inspect us quite readily. It made my heart glad to see other nearby family herds roaming freely.


Challenge and Hope

As the tour came to an end and I headed back through the winding roads to the main highway, I was awed by the enormity of the work that lies ahead to preserve the American wild horses. I was also filled with hope as I recalled the before and after footage of Paloma from the video. The video chronicled the emaciated, white pregnant mare that arrived at the Sanctuary, with the future for herself and her unborn foal uncertain.The “after” footage showed a vibrantly healthy mother parenting her foal Francesca Rose. The beautiful white Paloma (dove in Spanish) is a wonderful symbol of the hundreds of horses that have passed through the sanctuary. Paloma has even taken in orphan foals to mother them as well.


Next Steps

As I recall my morning at Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary, it is clear that the task requires the same qualities of the wild horses themselves: tremendous strength, endurance and persistence. The RTF Sanctuary is an important model, but its acreage is not enough to feed the horses it serves without supplementation. Herd sizes are maintained with non-hormonal birth control. In the summer months, feed alone costs $10,000 a month. We must be the voice for the horses and we must act now with all of our courage and strength.


There are many ways to support this vital work, including donations, purchasing books and gifts from the RTF store, and writing letters to our representatives in Congress and the U.S. Senate. For more information about Return to Freedom, and to support the work of RTF, please see

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Dream Horse Women Interview: Alyssa Aubrey and Medicine Horse Ranch

alyssa-and-teen.jpg  The e-mail said that on Cerini Road I would pass two cattle guards and see the horse barn on the right. What it did not prepare me for was the dynamic, yet relaxed and generous horse woman I would find waiting to let me into the gate. Alyssa Aubrey welcomed me one recent July morning at Medicine Horse Ranch, a center for Equine Guided Education in Tomales, California. She greeted me with a firm handshake and strong, penetrating hazel-green eyes as she asked me why I wanted to meet and interview her. Like the well-tended horses in her life, she is curious, intuitive, and at ease with herself.


Alyssa Aubrey is the founder and program director of Medicine Horse Ranch, which is home to 22 horses. She runs a retirement home for horses, as well as taking in other horses to board. Her intelligent eyes light up when she talks about her twin passions: horses and teens. Alyssa is relatively new to having horses in her life fulltime, yet her competence in tending the horses is obvious. As a girl she collected dozens of horse figurines and spent hours drawing horses, but had no horses of her own. As a woman, she volunteered to work with children and teens removed from their homes to help them navigate the legal system and receive much-needed services. After doing that work in Florida, and moving to California, she began taking workshops with mentor Ariana Strozzi and became a Certified Equine Guided Educator. Since 2005 she has joined her twin loves for teens and horses through a remarkable program for at-risk adolescents.


Teens and Horses


Aubrey’s “Horse Sense for Teens” groups began when she got a call from the Novato Youth Center asking her to organize a special day for teen girls in their pregnancy prevention program. She donated her time, while others donated the space, the horses and the art materials. What began as a one-day workshop for six Novato Youth Center at-risk teen girls hosted by the Novato Horsemen Association has grown to ten two-day workshops serving 90 at-risk adolescents young women and men. Non-profit social service agencies rely on her unique training program that helps teens learn about themselves using the language of the horse.


Standing up to a Bully: It’s All About Congruence


A teen that came for a recent private session with Aubrey had dropped out of school and refused to return because she was being harassed and bullied. The young woman began her session by describing her experience of being intimidated by a fellow student.  As she relayed her story, Medicine Horse Ranch program horse Toyota walked over and began to knock his head into the girl’s shoulder, gently, but insistently. Toyota continued to “harass” her by pulling on her collar, pushing her around, and at one point even untying her shoelaces with his teeth.  The young woman was clearly irritated with the horse’s antics; her jaw tightened, her breath quickened, and her speech got tense. The young woman appeased, then pleaded with Toyota, saying, “Please don’t do that,” while simultaneously petting him on the neck.  As she continued her efforts to ‘make nice’ with the horse, the horse continued the harassment even more until finally, in complete exasperation, the teen held both hands out in front of her and yelled, “STOP IT!”  Instantly Toyota complied, dropped his head and stood quietly by her side. Until that moment, the girl’s actions were not in congruence with her intentions.


For the first time, by witnessing the horse’s reaction to her, and her response to his actions, the young woman could recognize that she was giving off mixed messages, which were only contributing to worsening the situation.The teen now had a reference point for the congruency needed to effect change. She had learned how to stand her ground and mean it. In just one session, under Alyssa’s firm guidance, the willing Toyota had guided the young woman to learn how to access her own personal power in a powerful form of experiential learning.  Having practiced new skills at Medicine Horse Ranch, the young woman returned to school and successfully stood up to the bully.


Because horses are “prey” animals (they do not eat other animals, but instead are food for various predators), they are very attuned to their environment with what has been called socio-sensual awareness. For horses, predators are easy to spot because their intentions do not match their behaviors: they are incongruent. The horse, just like an astute teen, can spot the deception easily.


Horses and Teens: A Winning Combination 


Alyssa Aubrey loves working with teens because she finds them honest, and very savvy about picking up cues from the herd. Aubrey explains that teens respond especially well to the work with the horses because much of it is in non-verbal language, and they are keen observers of the social cues around them. She finds them willing to face their fears and make positive changes. Aubrey stresses that the non-verbal nature of the work is especially effective for English language learners. In Alyssa’s previous career as a talent scout for models, she learned the importance of empowering young people.


Incorporating the Wisdom of Ancient Traditions


Alyssa Aubrey incorporates another non-verbal modality, art making, into her “Horse Sense with Teens.” The youth especially enjoy listening to rhythmic drumming, imagining their personal spirit horse, and then decorating special horse masks that they take home. Aubrey’s work has indigenous roots in ancient cultures that had rites of passage for teens going through massive changes physically, psychologically, and spiritually on their way to becoming adults.


Following the Call of the Horse


Alyssa Aubrey is passionate about her work, even as she scrambles for donations to cover the costs of the non-profit. She feels called to the work not only by the agencies that contact her, but by the horses themselves. Aubrey became very reflective as she told me how many women she has met like herself that have been inexplicably drawn into being with horses at this time on the planet. It is a calling that she and others find is hard to put into words, but it is real and compelling nonetheless.


Aubrey notes that since 2000, there has been a 300% increase in programs that bring humans and horses together for healing and learning purposes.  Aubrey has joined with other like-minded equine educators and practitioners as co-founder of Equine Guided Education Association (EGEA) to support practitioners to learn and share best practices. For more details about the January 2008 EGEA conference that will feature speaker Linda Kohanov and other noted equine education facilitators, see


Fortunately for us and the young people entrusted in her care, Alyssa Aubrey has the integrity and courage to follow her own calling, and has answered the call of the horse.


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