Carrie Brady is assisted in running her Wilton-based retreat center Possibilities Farm with a four-member team who work to bring a sense of serenity and inner peace to those seeking out the facility’s services. However, they are not licensed therapists, nor are they licensed in any wellness-related practice. And if they were licensed, it would be a first: Brady’s team consists of horses.
But don’t expect to saddle up and ride off on adventures. The horses at Possibilities Farm mingle with the two-legged visitors on a combination of body-mind-spirit exercises. Yoga and dance sessions are held in the horses’ presence, and creative artists are invited to work next to the horses to finish their writing or paintings.
With the horse duo of Sweet Potato and Mere plus the miniature horses Moon and Paddington — the latter makes trips around the region to health care facilities and schools — Brady is dedicated to exploring the cathartic possibilities that equines bring to human wellness. In this edition of Suite Talk, Business Journal Senior Enterprise Editor Phil Hall speaks with Brady about her distinctive business.
When did Possibilities Farm begin and why did it begin?
“Officially, the horses moved in September 2016, but I say it began a very long time ago when I was a little girl in Michigan. I fell in love with everything about horses. I did not have a horse. When I was growing up, I had the opportunity to work in a barn and anytime I was there I felt better. I knew when I was around horses I felt at peace and calm and relaxed.
“I always said when I was very little that I was going to do something with horses when I grew up, but I couldn’t find a profession that made any sense to me. So, my parents got me this ‘Careers with Horses’ book and it had things like jockey, horse trainer, veterinarian. I didn’t want to be a trainer and I obviously could not be a jockey. I decided that I would always have horses as part of my life — and as soon as I got old enough, I would buy a horse.
“So, I grew up and I had a job that had nothing to do with horses, I was working in health care as a consultant around patient-centric care. I learned around 10 years ago that Stanford University was using horses to teach doctors bedside manner. And I thought this was cool. I looked into that and found an entire field of equine-facilitated learning had developed. I found there were certification centers for this. I got certified and built the barn.”
What is the connection between horses and wellness?
“People become self-reflective because the horses are completely in the moment with you. When you change your attitudes, they change their thoughts immediately — humans aren’t that quick to do that.”
What are people looking for and expecting when they come to Possibilities Farm?
“We offer drum circles here and meditation. People come here and have an experience with the horses. People say they come here and relax and are in the moment. I called it Possibilities Farm because the possibilities are there.”
How do you incorporate horses in drum circles or meditation?
“At this time of year, we do it in the barn where it is warmer. We set up chairs in a summit circle. I open the stall doors and have a little chain between the people and the horses. People can put their chairs as close to the horses as they want. Some people are comfortable being right up to the horses and some people would rather hang back. The silent meditation is about a half-hour.
“When we are outside, the group is smaller and there is enough room for the horses to come between every single one of us. We usually have two or three horses out there. They’ll come up and put their heads on people’s shoulders, heads or knees, or just stand there. And amazing stories get told after that. One woman has the horse’s head on her knee, and she told me after that she had huge knee issues and having its head on her knee was very relaxing to her. The horses can tune into us.”
Would the noise from the drumming upset the horses?
“No, but horses have jobs in the herd and Sweet Potato’s job is the security for the herd. He doesn’t like to be right next to the drum circle because he can’t hear what’s going on all around. There are predators around here — there was a mountain lion here once — so he wants to keep scanning what’s going on.”
From my own experience, I feel very relaxed when my little Bichon Frise is curled up at my feet when I am working or watching television — there is a sense of serenity in having him next to me. Isn’t it extraordinary to take that feeling you have with a small dog and magnify it a hundredfold with a horse next to you?
“It’s amazing. People tell me all the time how powerful it is. And I’d say that maybe 30% of the people who come to the farm are afraid of horses. And they tell me that about having bad experiences. But by the end, people are so relaxed.”
What does Paddington do when he is visiting hospital and schools?
“He’s kind of like a therapy dog. When I adopted Paddington, I was looking for a horse that had the temperament needed for this — horses are herd animals and they like to have other horses around, so you are asking that horse to go into an environment where there are no other horses at all.
“We’ve done mostly outside visits — you can take them inside, but you’d have to do baths and wash their hooves. When he was at the hospital, we have the patients come out under an awning and it worked out well. People pet him and laugh — it is so surprising to see a horse — and it reminds them they are capable of finding joy, even if they are in a rough situation.”
Who are the Possibilities Farm visitors?
“People from New York, the Hartford area, Long Island. I had a woman who I had worked with in health care come out here from Minnesota — she wanted a session with the horses because she didn’t know which way to go in her career. And she got some clarity.”
What are your goals for your business?
“After three-and-a-half years of experience here, I would like to have the ability for people to take the horses for walks in the woods. With the space limitations here, I don’t have the ability to put any covered facility here. I am thinking if it would make sense to expand it because people are enjoying it so much.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to create a retreat center where we can expand the services we offer, such as by supporting therapeutic riding horses who may need a few weeks or months away from their programs for rest and recuperation. Just like the current Possibilities Farm, in our new home we will continue to celebrate every individual human and horse and support them in discovering their unique strengths and gifts and sharing them with the world.”