Ridgefield horse trainer leads riders on adventures of the spirit


RIDGEFIELD – When equestrians gather for one of Ridgefield trainer Debbie Heurion’s riding workshops, SpiritEd Adventures, they start out without their horses. The first step is just to get in touch with themselves.

Classes begin with an exercise called a “Courage Circle,” where riders learn to recognize what is happening in their body when they experience fear.

Fear can be an important opportunity for learning, says Heurion, but it’s important to recognize when you are challenging yourself just the right amount. Riders who always stay in their “green area,” or comfort zone, might be happy and confident, but they also don’t grow and change. Riders who dive into their “red zone” are experiencing too much fear to be learning. But the “yellow zone” offers just enough challenge and stress to be a place ripe for growth and learning.

Classes also teach meditation and the importance of stillness and quiet. Heurion believes that horses connect to us through our heart, not our mind, and this stillness allows us to make that connection. On the second day of the workshop, riders are joined by their horses and have a chance to practice what they have learned, as they stretch their skills and explore their boundaries.

Heurion offers her workshops throughout the West Coast and nationally. Riders who complete SpiritEd Adventures often dive deeper into the second workshop in the series, Walking with Spirit, or work privately with Heurion in Discovery Sessions. She is passionate about working with adolescent and teen girls to instill a sense of courage and clear boundaries, and she has brought her program to young women experiencing addiction and abuse.

“I always knew that’s what I wanted to do,” said Debbie Heurion of training horses. When she received her first horse at the age of 10, a gift from her grandparents, she had no one to help her so she had no choice but to “do it herself.” Heurion’s childhood home was shadowed by addiction and abuse, and she found a refuge with her horses. They were her safe, happy place, and she believes they saved her life and spared her from the family legacy.

Heurion was determined to learn as much as she could about horse training, so she watched trainers, went to horse shows, and watched videos. Her chance for a real education came soon after she finished high school, when she was selected for an internship at Vantage Point Farm in Yakima, a successful Arabian horse farm. She spent a year and a half there, learning to start young horses and condition show horses for performance and halter competition. A few years later, Heurion was ready to hang her own shingle on the farm she and her husband purchased in Marysville.

Heurion’s focus on english and western performance horses took a detour when her then 8-year-old son, after competing in English performance classes, discovered the other boys riding fast and wearing blue jeans and cowboy boots in Western gaming events.

“That was the last time he showed English,” she said, laughing. His seasoned Arabian show horse was about to learn barrel racing and pole bending.

Since a lot of the kids her son rode with wanted to learn gaming too, Heurion started a Western gaming 4-H club.

“I was determined that these would not be crazy horses, and these kids would know how to ride,” said Heurion.

Her young riders started to attract attention at competitions, because not only were their horses calm and obedient, they were in the ribbons. People were asking how to copy her kids’ success, and a growing number of gaming riders were coming to her for advice.

One of these riders brought her the horse that would change the course of her work. Louie was a rescued horse who, despite great efforts from his loving owner, was growing increasingly difficult and dangerous. Two farriers and a veterinarian recommended that Louie be euthanized, because he could not be helped. Heurion wasn’t accepting horses for training at the time, but his owner begged, “Will you at least meet him and talk to us? I don’t know what else to do.”

Louie had many physical and behavioral issues, and would bite and kick at his handlers. But when Heurion looked at him, she said, “I saw this horse with a huge heart and big eyes, begging someone to set some boundaries.”

She accepted him for training, and he stayed for two and a half years.

“Louie was the one who really gave me a path of not seeing things so traditionally in training methods,” said Heurion.

In the time she spent with Louie, Heurion felt like she experienced a new and different kind of communication with him. It was an experience at once startling and uncomfortable, but also deeply meaningful.

Louie was followed by more problem horses, as word spread that Heurion was able to help these difficult cases. Each horse was a chance to broaden her learning. She began to incorporate holistic remedies such as herbs and flower essences, and she studied energy work and became an Advanced Certified Pranic Healer.

During her 23 years of teaching horses and riders at her farm, helping them to overcome obstacles and improve their skills, she realized that the personal growth that riders experience with their equine partners made a bigger difference in their lives than their horse show ribbons. As she saw how much horses have to teach people, she came to believe that a horse comes into a person’s life for a reason, and her mission is to help people experience that learning.

“If you come to one of my workshops, I want to help you understand the connection that is possible with this incredible creature that you are already passionate about. Through this relationship, we can learn so much about ourselves and our other relationships,” said Heurion. She believes passionately that, while skill building is part of the journey, the most meaningful learning offered through horsemanship is not about “leads or headsets.”

Heurion offers a free 30-minute phone consultation for new clients. She wants to understand what they are really looking for, and determine whether she is the right person to help them. Heurion works with riders from all disciplines.

“Discipline doesn’t matter on this journey,” she said. “We never know where it’s going to go. That’s why it’s so exciting and fun.”

Heurion can be reached at SpiritEd Adventures, (425) 280-7085, or by email djh2237@yahoo.com.