Windhorse retreat offers safe haven

With the assistance of seven gentle, four-footed friends who possess an uncanny sense of intuition

Sandy Bell from Windhorse Retreat with her horse

With the assistance of seven gentle, four-footed friends who possess an uncanny sense of intuition that goes beyond human comprehension, Sandy Bell helps people help themselves.

At Windhorse Retreat, her equine assisted training facility located about 20 kilometers northwest of Rimbey, clients develop partnerships with horses and in the process gain a deeper understanding about themselves.

For Bell, the retreat, which has been in operation for about six months, is a complete lifestyle turnaround.

Before making the decision to move to the Rimbey area last year she was a busy career girl, battling city traffic every day, working in the confines of an office and dealing with high pressure job stresses.

To bring order, peace and tranquility to her day, Bell would escape from the confines of the city to spend time with her horse, Alaska, a beautiful Percheron-cross.

The stolen moments with her horse always left her feeling more peaceful and grounded.

Bell’s love of horses went back a few years to when joined a girlfriend on a trail ride into the mountains west of Calgary. She didn’t realize the ride was not for inexperienced riders such as herself.

“Really, I only knew enough not to fall off and this was not a trip for beginners. At the end of it I was tired and dirty, but my heart was content.”

The trail ride sparked her interest in horses and she decided to take riding lessons. Within the year she purchased Alaska and their love affair began.

“He is a wise soul; he truly taught me about patience and courage and forgiveness,” she said, gently patting his silky black coat.

With Alaska to keep her grounded, Bell continued to work in a traditional office setting but ideas about a career change were beginning to jell in her mind.

“I knew I needed something completely different. I wanted to work outside and I wanted to help people.”

She began exploring the field of equine assisted learning and the more she discovered about it, the more she liked it.

Her research led her to take the training to become a certified equine-assisted personal development coach.

Since that time she has never looked back. She and her partner decided to purchase 25 acres of land near Rimbey and Windhorse Retreat has now become a reality.

The farm base business is challenging, but rewarding and she continues to receive lots of support and encouragement.

And, of course, the horses, the majority of which have been donated for the cause, are a continual source of inspiration.

“It’s amazing, really,” she said. “Horses can be facilitators and guides. They can help people in their personal and professional growth. Horses act as active participants or facilitators in activities designed to help us understand more about ourselves, our relations, our communication styles and the issues in our lives.”

She explained that horses, like people, have their own gifts and characteristics.

“They are experts at non communication.”

She noted that one of her horses, Dixie, senses when someone is suffering from grief and can give them the feedback they need. Another horse, Target, displays leadership qualities and one horse display the characteristics of a bully.

“Horses are experts at non-verbal communication and are always honest in their reactions to us. They teach us about trust and patience, respect and boundaries and impact and control.”

Interacting with horses in a supportive and safe environment is calming and lowers stress, boosts self-esteem, self-confidence and self-control. It also encourages understanding of one’s self and others and enhances physical activity and improves sleep, she said.

Windhorse Retreat offers a variety of full or half-day retreats for team and personal development. For more information check out


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