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St. Anthony’s Ridge Horsemanship Center owner Brenda Corr, center, instructed retreat participant Susan Frank, left, in an activity with Halo, one of Corr’s geldings. Frank was a retreatant at the horsemanship center’s June 8 summer retreat.

A Viroqua-area horsemanship center is applying the Winston Churchill philosophy, “There’s something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man,” to the inner lives of those seeking deeper spiritual discernment.

Started three years ago, St. Anthony’s Ridge Horsemanship Center has offered its “Hoof it to Healing” retreats to help participants foster their spirituality through a connection with horses. Five participants, enjoying the day of making connections, came away from the June 8 retreat with new awareness.

“Interacting with the horses was awesome,” said retreat participant Barb Partin. “I really didn’t know how emotional the interaction is with your horse. Feeling the energy between the two being connected was awesome. I will recommend to others.”

Although based on Roman Catholic teachings and Franciscan-inspired values, the retreats are open to anyone seeking spiritual growth and healing.

“I have been healed by horses since I was 9,” said retreatant Susan Frank of Viroqua. “It (the connection with horses) could help us all. The principles apply on so many levels — physical, mental, spiritual — and to all areas of our lives.”

The center’s 145 acres gives participants time and space to disconnect from their busy lives and connect with nature. Along with activities to form a relationship with a horse partner, the retreat’s program incorporates inspirational talks, healing prayer and time for personal reflection.

With the assistance of the “posse” ministry team, retreatants have the opportunity to experience God’s healing power.

“Connecting with horses is a metaphor of my relationship with God,” Corr said. “Connecting with God, we are a conduit; there’s an inside-to-inside connection.”

Corr began the horse-human ministry after she bought a horse she diagnosed as catatonic. A few days after bringing the horse to her home, Corr said the gelding “blew up.” The gelding is now a regular part of the retreat program, helping participants seeking wholeness.

Although retreatants were instructed in a gentle method for communicating with their horse partner, Corr emphasized the handling of the lead rope wasn’t just to teach a maneuver but to also establish a deeper connection. That concept sets a retreat apart from a horse-handling clinic.

Corr says effective communication with a horse comes when the horse is able to release fear.

“Horses can sense things below the level of our awareness through ‘feel,’ ” Corr said. “We want the horse to release in the root of its neck. To get this release, we need to help them choose our good feel over their fear.”

Retreat participants were matched with a horse outfitted with a halter and long lead rope. The human partner was instructed to stand by the side of her horse behind its shoulder and then step away at an angle while running their hands forward on the lead. As the handler gave the horse more line while maintaining a sliding contact on the rope, the horse would turn and face its human partner.

Since the horse didn’t need to brace against a pull on the lead, the base of its neck relaxed.

Retreatants were also guided through centering exercises demonstrating how a person’s focus or mental intention can create strength and control in the body’s limbs. The exercises illustrated how patterns of thought empower a person’s abilities.

The horsemanship center is offering one more retreat this year, Sept. 28. For more information, visit the center’s website at www.saintanthonysridgehorsemanshipcenter.com or call 608-632-5208. The center is also on Facebook.