Miraval in Tucson, Arizona, is a destination spa known for special programs and spa treatments that you can't find anywhere else. The most famous is The Equine Experience, where you interact with a horse and learn things about yourself -- how you deal communicate non-verbally, with frustration, and relate to all living things
The Equine Experience was created by charismatic cowboy therapist Wyatt Webb, who has been doing it at Miraval for many years.
His idea is that the way you do one thing is the way you do most things. So Wyatt or his trained instructors teach you how to do simple tasks with a specially trained horse, observe how you do it, and give you feedback.
Miraval's Most Famous Experience
The Equine Experience is one of many Miraval experiences that lets you build confidence, character and self-knowlege by getting you out of your comfort zone. Some people who do the Equine Experience have tremendous fear of horses, either because they've been hurt (trampled kicked, stepped on, you name it). Some people anxious because they've never been around a horse. Or some people are confident, then have to deal with setbacks when they horse doesn't do what they want, when they want.
I recommend you sign up for The Equine Experience before you arrive, as it is popular. A small group of people gathers out front, gets in a van, and drives to a nearby location.
There, Wyatt or his staff talk with the group about what you're going to do with the horses, as you sit in a circle under a tent. You also can talk about any feelings you might have about what lies ahead.
The tasks include picking out a horse's hooves (which includes getting the horse to hold its foot up).
After that is done you brush the horse, walk it and then lunge it in a closed ring. Lunging is where you stand in the center of a ring with a whip (out of my comfort zone!) and get the horse to move around you in a circle, at a steady speed, then change directions.
The Horse Hears What You're Saying With Your Body
All these tasks require non-verbal communication, and the horse picks up on what you are saying with your body. Being relaxed and confident definitely helps. If you are frightened, tentative, or just don't know how to tell a horse what you want, it probably won't respond.
People who are used to being in control often have a hard time if the horse doesn't cooperate. This a place where tears can flow, and more than one person told me the The Equine Experience changed their life.
The idea is to at look how you do things and see if it works for you. If it works, keep doing it. If something's not working, don't do it anymore. Try something different (and repeat until it works). And if that doesn't work, ASK FOR HELP....even though it's seen as weak in our culture.
I grew up in Oklahoma. I used to ride a bit and love horses, even though I fell off them and was once bitten in the arm by a devilish horse named Angel.
So I had a high comfort level with horses and everything came pretty easily to me.
The Demon of Perfectionism
There wasn't much drama in our group, but I still learned things about myself. I noticed some things about myself as I went about the simple tasks. First, I had a little bit of anxiety -- not because I was afraid of the horse, but because I knew other people would be there, and I want everything to go 100% right, THE FIRST TIME. Ninety-five percent right and a learning curve isn't good enough for this perfectionist!
Carolyn came to check in with me, and I told her that I had to work with the horse a bit to get it to lift its hooves. "You've done four hooves and some people haven't even gotten up one," she said. Then I diminished what I had done. "Well, that's because I've been around horses before." It was interesting to observe that I wouldn't let myself have a sense of accomplishment, even when I got the result I wanted.
Brushing and walking the horse were also very easy for me.
Dial It Up or Down To Get The Result You Want
Then came lunging, which I had never done before. Carolyn explained that it requires using your intention and energy to communicate with the horse, asking it to go around the ring and change directions. The horse (and -- big surprise! -- others we communicate with) really do respond to the energy we put out. For instance, one lady was super-anxious and the horse kept going faster and faster. Carolyn said it's possible to "dial it down" or "dial it up" to get the result you want. This is so important to remember.
After the exercises there was a bit of "processing" as we gathered back under the tent. I realized that my perfectionism takes the fun out of things.
The Equine Experience cost $45 charge for 2.5 hours if you are lead by Wyatt's staff, and $150 if you do the experience with Wyatt himself in a group limited to 10 people. You can also take a 1 hour 45 minute desert trail ride for $75.
I also recommend Webb's book, "It's Not About The Horse: It's About Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt". He has no trouble with the horses, but faced his demons over at Miraval's high ropes course!
5000 East Via Estancia Miraval, Catalina, AZ, 85739
Phone: 800-232-3969 or 520-825-4000
Miraval's high season rates (Nov. - Feb.) start at $592 per person, per night (double occupancy) and $727 for single occupancy. That includes a standard room with all meals, airport transfers, taxes, resort fees and a $50 per night resort credit. In low season (summer) rates start at $485 per person, person (double) or $619 for a single. Activities like Equine Experience, the ropes courses and long hikes are extra. You can also find special packages that might be a better deal.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for the purpose of reviewing those services. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.