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Ojai, CA

805-633-0715

White Horse Wellness Center provides wellness through horses, art, movement and nature for people with special needs, cancer patients and survivors, seniors, veterans and their families no matter the challenges they are facing.

Stories

Below is a collection of stories and observations about the history leading up to...

 

A Bit of History

Lisa Tomlin

I've loved horses ever since I could remember. I begged for riding lessons for years, until my parents finally relented and got me my first riding lesson for my ninth birthday.

I was your typical horse-crazy kid, but painfully shy. As much as I loved the horses, I could only scarcely whisper any questions I had into my mother's ear once we got to the stable. Talking to new people was terrifying, but the horses didn't judge. Once I was on the horse, I felt powerful and safe. I made friends with the horses fast, and over time my curiosity overcame my fear of speaking. Asking questions meant I got to spend time at the barn and as I became more proficient with the horses, my people skills improved, too.

In high school I started helping younger students and assisting my instructor.  I knew that helping others get what I got out of horses was to be my life's work.

I opened my own riding school and horse training stable in Colorado and taught kids as young as four, people with disabilities and students who competed regionally and nationally. As much fun as it was to see my students' hard work pay off in the show ring, my greatest joy comes from helping riders make a connection and find a partner in their horse. To me the truest measure of success is when you and your horse understand each other, your goals align, and you're both having fun!

Divorce brought me to California with my retired lesson horse, Stevie, in 2008.  While still trying to get my feet under me, I was diagnosed with a large, inoperable brain tumor. After many action-packed years of lessons and horse shows together, neither of us was practiced at relaxing, but we were suddenly forced into learning the art of being still. He got lots of attention I was never able to give him when we were both working, and I learned to just be. Stevie passed away the same year I was declared cancer-free. Our journey together had come to an end, but not before realizing how much my old friend helped me through that frightening time.

After Stevie was gone, I was looking for a way to be around horses again, and found therapeutic riding through the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara's Wellness Program. As soon as I was able to volunteer at the local therapeutic riding center, I realized that teaching therapeutic riding was exactly what I needed to do. Partly because it's the way I can give back for the care I received when I needed it most, but fundamentally because it's exactly what people need.

In The Beginning There Was A White Horse...

Lisa Tomlin

One of the first horses I ever rode (got my first blue ribbon on him, actually!) was a little, flea-bitten grey Arabian gelding named Najan. As I little girl, I thought Najan was the fanciest, most beautiful horse I'd ever seen, and I had all the Arabian horse magazines to prove it!

As a riding teacher I see that Najan was one of the great beginner lesson horses: adorable, gentle, arthritic, didn't mind routine. Not that he was a "dead-head" - he was smart and would occasionally provide his own entertainment with the occasional buck or "accidental" canter depart with a student who didn't yet know how to canter.  Sometimes at a rider's first horse show. "Blue ribbons are neat, but did I just CANTER?" So, Najan was safe and quiet and wonderful, but not lacking personality.

Shortly after I opened my riding school in Colorado in 1999, I began a quest to find the perfect beginner lesson horse. I must have had Najan in my head, because the horse that landed in my lap was as close in physical description as I could have possibly have imagined.

I shared my need for the perfect lesson horse with a friend of mine who was familiar with the local Arabian horse scene and she came back the next day with news of a wonderful 19-year-old Arabian gelding who needed a home. And a job. His owner felt like he had many years of use left, and that he was probably still many years from retirement.  

"How much?"  

"The owner is trying to give him away - he's just living in an abandoned building in Colorado Springs, babysitting an old blind Appaloosa." So we borrowed a trailer and drove down to Colorado Springs the very next day to meet him.

As a youngster and newbie in the horse business, I'd already made plenty of mistakes buying horses based on price, color (I've always liked Palominos!), breed, cuteness, and whatever other factors make it really expensive to run a business with horses, so despite the fire-sale factor, I tried to be cautious about the possibility of finding just what I was looking for on the first try. I remembered a long-time horse trainer's wise words, "There is no such thing as a free horse," as I contemplated the odds of this give-away gelding being perfect lesson horse material on my hour-long drive to Colorado Springs. Don't get your hopes up, Lisa.

As soon as we arrived, the owner went to fetch him from the pasture as we waited in the dusty, worn-out building. Stalls empty, it was mostly inhabited by birds and spiders now.  Dusty bridles hanging on dusty hooks in a dusty barn aisle. Then, footsteps as they appeared in doorway: she was leading the Arabian gelding, followed closely by his blind friend.

She handed me the gelding's lead rope so she could close the gate between the two horses.

I led him into the light and sized him up. He was flea-bitten grey. He was little, but sturdy;  just the right size for a kid's lesson horse. He was quiet, his eyes soft. He was ADORABLE. I shook it off - I hadn't even ridden him.  

The little gelding had been shown Western pleasure, but I rode English, so I'd brought my saddle and put it on him. I'd brought a bridle, too, just in case, but we threw on the bridle he may or may not have worn last time he'd been ridden. When was that?, I wondered as the owner fumbled with the dusty, cracked leather. I got on and rode him around in the empty end of the barn; he had all the right buttons and knew just what I was asking every step.  Not many first rides go like this. But I was a pro, and the friend I'd brought with me was an inexperienced rider. The true test would be with a student. So I stepped off, and put my friend on for a lesson. No problem there, either. All he needed to do was get on the trailer, and I had my very own Najan.

And he did.  Followed me right in, put his nose right in the hay I'd brought, and the rest is history.  That little flea-bitten grey Arabian gelding is Reggie, the White Horse of my Dreams. Lesson Horse Extraordinaire. Painted Indian Pony. Reluctant Unicorn. Comic Relief.  Business Partner. Master Teacher. Healer. Friend.

And that's just the beginning.