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Healing with Horses: The Power of Equine Coaching with Leah Goldman

Leah Goldman is a Certified Professional Coach and Intuitive Listener and Guide who uses nature-based and equine principles to help people move forward in their lives by breaking through barriers, uncovering old narratives, and finding clarity to lead a life of fulfillment and purpose. During our recent Confidence Conversation, Leah and I spoke about how to set boundaries and say no, healing from toxic relationships, and the important role horses can play on your journey to emotional healing and well-being.

A little about Leah: A lifelong lover of animals, Leah began riding and caring for horses at the age of six, and has over 30 years of equine experience. It was her first dog, Boots, and a connection with a horse named Finleigh who became the inspiration behind Fika Coaching.

While Leah has always had a passion for helping others, it was through her own self-healing journey that she unlocked her passion and potential to help others as a coach. Leah found support and strength through the guidance of other professionals, but the real healing came from spending time with animals and being in nature.

In this article (which is quite different from our episode, so yes, you should totally tune into both), Leah shares her own personal journey of rejection and heartbreak to healing, self-acceptance, and self-love. Here's what she had to say:

Tell us about your coaching expertise and you help your clients reach their goals?

I am an ICF Professional Certified Coach, An EQUUS Certified Coach, and an EQUUS Experience Certified Facilitator. I combined my 30+ years of equine/horse experience with my background in Clinical Mental Health, Fitness, and Coaching to create Fika Coaching. I utilize nature-based and equine principles to help clients move forward in their lives by breaking through barriers, uncovering old narratives, and finding clarity to lead a life of fulfillment and purpose. The horse is a mirror of ourselves, and sometimes we see things we like and often we see things we don't like. Working with horses provides a unique look at what is happening in our lives and why. The real-time feedback you receive from the horse is unlike any other type of coaching you will receive. In order to help clients reach their goals, they must be ready to "look in the mirror." I primarily support women aged 30-70. Many have experienced grief and loss and are seeking what is next for them. I also support those struggling with anxiety, boundaries, lack of clarity, and those who are in a transitional stage in life. I also work with leaders on cultivating a "power-with" dynamic, which is how horses have successfully survived for the last 56 million years.

Many people swear by the power of equine therapy and coaching, while it’s a novel concept for others. What's the link between horses and mental health?

Immersing yourself in a herd of horses or even being with just one horse creates a joyful, playful, and supportive environment. This relaxes the usual mental and emotional defenses and begins to change our neural wiring. You are also partnering with several nervous systems that are much larger than ours. Nervous systems are designed to attune to, influence, and be influenced by other nervous systems. That’s how we are able to pick up on people’s moods. Larger nervous systems, like nature's or a horse's nervous system, have a more powerful influence over smaller ones and they are able to positively influence ours. Horses are naturally wired to reside in a state of deep peace and coherent regulation as well as being wired for joy, freedom, and connection. Research has also shown that horses can sync their heartbeats with ours from up to 4 feet away. Directly impacting our heart rates, blood pressure, and our emotional state.

Coaching isn’t a career people think of when they’re asked what they want to be when they grow up. Tell us about your journey.

I began riding horses at the age of six, and they have been a part of my life ever since. I can't remember a time when horses didn't exist around me. Growing up, I wanted to work in schools and chose to become a school guidance counselor while simultaneously earning my degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I landed my dream job as a Counselor and worked at a school from 2011-2014. In 2014, just before our holiday break, I was unexpectedly let go. Nothing had happened that would have warranted me being fired and I was too young to know to ask questions or stand up for myself. My confidence was shattered.

I finished out the school year and transitioned into Marketing and Advertising for a large multi-purpose health club and ended up loving it. I loved the change of pace and the environment. During this time I entered into a serious relationship. Three years in I started to feel like my job wasn't fulfilling anymore and I wanted to return to helping others, I just wasn't sure how. My boyfriend at the time was being transferred for his job and I felt largely like the move would be my exit from the marketing world.

However, life pulled the rug out from under me again when I learned he was living a double life. My whole world fell apart in a matter of seconds. Completely in shock and consumed with grief, I turned to my horses for healing. That's when I discovered how powerful healing with horses could be. It was through my own journey and my own grief, shame, and guilt that I was able to overcome my limiting beliefs that I had about myself and what I was worth. I quickly realized that I had to give this gift to others and that is how my Equine Coaching business was born.

As soon as I earned my coaching credentials I was off and running. I am so passionate about what I do. I have my seen so many of my clients succeed and change their lives through the partnership of horses. Working with both the human heart and the horse heart masterfully takes a certain skill set and is what sets me apart from others and makes me the coach that I am today.

Breakups can be hard, especially when the cause is because your relationship wasn’t as it seemed on the surface. What advice would you give to women who find themselves in a dark place after leaving a partner?

Oh gosh, everybody’s healing is so different but we can usually find parallels in each other’s experiences. I would say, based on my own experience, to not let anyone tell you to move on before you are ready. You have a right to grieve at your own pace. Create a stable routine for yourself and be mindful of how much energy you have in the tank. I remember feeling so proud of myself for completing minor tasks like unloading the dishwasher because at the time it felt monumental to be able to keep myself going and maintain a household.

Get help from professionals and lean on the most supportive people in your life who won’t force their judgments or opinions on you. Find the people who can hold space for you and take it one day at a time. There are lots of little things I did for myself that worked for me like journaling, setting small daily goals, eating as healthily as I could, resting when I needed to rest, and being social even when I didn’t feel like it. It was important for me to not completely shut out the world when it would have been very easy to do so.

And of course, having access to animals largely contributed to my overall mental health. I realize not everyone has access to horses or maybe not everyone likes animals but for me, they were instrumental in pulling me out of such a dark hole.