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The Greenhorn Chronicles 6: Sandy Bell, B.Sc., M.A. on Windhorse Retreat, Horse Sense, and Resources (2)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2022/06/01


Sandy Bell’s personal biography states: “Windhorse Retreat was born in early 2014 when I transitioned from the urban to the rural lifestyle to pursue my dream of living with horses and offering equine facilitated personal development.  My goal was to establish Windhorse as a place where ‘horses help us reach our full potential,’ and that included my own life-long learning.  At my day retreat in central Alberta, horses and humans come together in deeply meaningful ways for unique learning experiences.  As well as providing equine assisted learning opportunities with horses as your guides, I host related workshops and clinics, so you can learn to help your equine friends or deepen your relationships with them. Community development and volunteerism is core to my lifestyle, so you’ll find me volunteering on committees or boards as the opportunities arise.  Currently, I serve the Alberta equestrian community as the President of the Board of Directors of the Alberta Equestrian Federation. I hold a B.Sc. (Psychology), a M.A. (Communications & Technology) and am an alumnus of EAL-Canada.  I’m a member of the Alberta Association of Complementary Equine Therapy as a Craniosacral Practitioner and Energy Based Practitioner.” She discusses: Windhorse Retreat; Covid impacting the industry; some misconceptions about the economic feasibility of owning horses or having a facility; the equestrian world of a century ago compared to now; gigantic puppy-dogs; horse sense; elected president; separation economically in Canadian society; books, documentaries, or interviews; and final thoughts.

Keywords: Alberta, Alberta Equestrian Federation, equestrianism, Ian Millar, Sandy Bell, Windhorse Retreat.

The Greenhorn Chronicles 6: Sandy Bell, B.Sc., M.A. on Windhorse Retreat, Horse Sense, and Resources (2)

*Please see the references, footnotes, and citations, after the interview, respectively.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What kind of activities are provided at Windhorse Retreat?

Sandy Bell[1],[2]: Currently, we are shut down because of Covid. Before then, we offered equine facilitated personal development for individuals and for groups. We also offered workshops that were related to horse wellness. So, for example, equine for first-aid or Reiki for horses. Things of that nature. We would consider special events. For example, if the Girl Guides wanted to come for a day to learn about horses, then we would set up something custom designed for them. All of those things, we found impossible to do with the changing landscape of Covid. We have just quietly shut our doors for now – so to speak, and are in the wait-and-see mode.

Jacobsen: How is Covid impacting the industry in the same way?

Bell: Yes, but, maybe, more of a negative impact than I’ve felt, I’ve always been able to have other income coming in, so I could feed my horses, for example. I think some people have had a terrible time in that regard. Last year, the Alberta Equestrian Federation set up a special emergency fund for horses. They supported people’s requests for funds for short-term needs for food and medications in Alberta. Some of the stories of hardship were rather heartbreaking. People lost their jobs. They had a horse that they cared deeply about, and were wondering how they could keep them. We helped them a little bit to make that happen.

Jacobsen: What are some misconceptions about the economic feasibility of owning horses or having a facility for most people? Those who are not in the industry and don’t know.

Bell: I think some of the misconceptions are based on what people see in the media, in terms of the Spruce Meadows kind of events. They might think everyone who has a horse is rich [Laughing] and can afford to show at that level. I think that’s pretty common. I think that might even deter some people from becoming involved because it’s like, “Oh boy, I couldn’t do that. It would be costly, cost too much.” There is a misconception that they couldn’t learn to ride or to drive a horse. Those are the two that come to mind. “It’s not for me because of my aptitude barriers, talent, or finances.”

Jacobsen: How would you compare the equestrian world of a century ago compared to now in Canadian society? How is it different with the combustible engine being completely ubiquitous compared to a time when it wasn’t necessarily so?

Bell: People knew horses then because they lived with them intimately. They worked with them every day. They were their partners in the economy. Imagine managing a city with stables right downtown and horses all over, people riding them, driving them, pulling wagons. People were very comfortable with horses because of that. Life was paced differently because it was by horsepower. Of course, then came the 1900’s first World War, the horses were an integral part of the war effort. You read the accounts of how many millions of horses died in battle. So, horses were part of that as well. Very possibly, that’s the reason why things turned out the way they did in the wars because the Allied forces could win with the horsepower behind them. The farms and the ranches here in Alberta who gave horses, shipped them overseas to the war effort, is an extraordinary thing to think about now.

For example, Bar U Ranch in the south of Calgary had, at the time, a world-renowned Percheron breeding program and Percherons from Alberta were a significant contributor to the war effort. After that, people came back home. As you say, the engine took over and slowly work horses on the farm were phased out for tractors. The world changed for horses. We thought of them in a different way. They became a day-to-day, not partners, companions for sport and for recreation. I’m fortunate to live in the country, where around me; there are still some people who use horses in their ranch work, still in very traditional ways. That’s pretty neat to see.

So, they still have that kind of partnerships with horses. I think we might be missing something not having a broader intimate relationship with the horse, but I don’t know that we can [Laughing]. I don’t know if we can introduce them back into the cities [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing] Maybe downtown carriage tours in cities.

Bell: Yes. Someone like yourself who was recently thrown into the horse world. You, probably, are feeling some of that going, “Wow. This is interesting how I feel whenever I am around horses.”

Jacobsen: It is fascinating, the feeling they give you. You can’t, as someone new to it, put a word to it, yet. What’s the word coming to mind for you as someone who has been part of it much more than me?

Bell: You begin to see them as individual beings and appreciate the wordless, or the unspoken, power that they have, and to humbled by their willingness to work with and put up with people. They’re quite remarkable creatures.

Jacobsen: I’m surprised in the stalls how goofy some of them are.

Bell: Yes!

Jacobsen: They’re like gigantic puppy-dogs. You clean the stall, put in fresh shavings, and they go hog wild. They roll around. It’s very funny to see.

Bell: Yes, “The majestic equine, the majestic horse,” has some very goofy sides, sometimes.

Jacobsen: The elegance of them comes when they are out of the stall and doing something as simple as lunging. Let’s say they’re doing a canter or a trot in circles, like a light jog, they’re extraordinarily rhythmic in the innate pace that they have, then they get in the stall and do all these goofy things. When I first got into the industry, it was hard to put those two pictures together. It was like two animals in one.

Bell: They are complex, for sure. We should not underestimate them. Surely, we know their brains are different from us. They must have a different way of thinking and being. But it is quite a remarkable brain, nonetheless. I came across an article, recently, about the differences between the horse brain and the human brain are part of the magic or the foundation for the relationship that we can have with them.

So, if you’re really connected with your horse when you’re riding, and you can feel, if you can think that thought, “Let’s canter now,” the subtle changes in your body can communicate to them. You can get it. You can seamlessly, like a centaur, just fly on. The neuroscience behind the horse-human relationship is starting to fascinate me a lot. I need to read more about it.

Jacobsen: This is a new field, where, for a long time, it was more of an intuitive grasp of it rather than a formal empirical study of the human mind in relation to the horse mind.

Bell: They talked about this. Now, there is the neuroscience explaining it. It is not just woo-woo. These people are not just a little off [Laughing]. It’s not, “No, this is real.” [Laughing].

Jacobsen: When I first talked about entering the industry, people would say things like, “All horse people are crazy.” I said, “Great! I’m crazy too. I’ll fit right in.”

Bell: [Laughing].

Jacobsen: Ian Millar, actually, in some footage, some video footage, I don’t recall the source of it, having source amnesia. However, the content was very similar to other things, which I’ve heard from equestrians. Which is, the idea of “the feel” or “feel.” The idea of simply having an intuitive sense with a horse based on experience or innate talent of feeling animals, of just knowing how to work a horse, get it to go left, get it to go right, get it to do what you want, to have the relationship built, but based on the sense, that horse sense, developed over time.

Bell: Whatever you want to call it, is it intuition? Is it some gift you’re born with? Are you feeling their body with your body and vice versa? Because it is all non-verbal. It’s very complex. So, when we horse people get together and talk to each other, and non-horse people hear us, they think we’re crazy.

Jacobsen: There is a symbiotic relationship there for sure. What was the feeling when you were elected president?

Bell: I was very honoured to have people put their faith in me to steward the organization. My goals were to strengthen government, governance, and financial accountability. That resonated with people. So, that was a nice endorsement of how I thought I could contribute to the organization. I previously held the position of treasurer. So, I had a solid grasp of the finances of the organization. I thought I could contribute to the governance structure. Yes, it was really an honour, humbling really, to have people say, “Yeah, we believe you can lead the organization in this way.”

Jacobsen: Do you think a separation economically in Canadian society in some places at some levels can prevent entrance into equestrianism, whether founding a facility, owning the horse, or getting lessons?

Bell: Most definitely. It is something that I think all the equestrian societies or federations should take a look at because involvement in equestrianism is declining. The barriers to becoming involved are part of that reason. What can we do about that? From my own personal circumstance, though as a girl with a passion of horses, I was on the wrong side of the tracks to do anything about it. I’m very sure. There are inner city kids who would love to connect with horses. You have to figure out ways to make that happen. It is a good thing. I don’t know if you have heard of the Urban Cowboys in Philadelphia.

Jacobsen: No, I haven’t.

Bell: Yes, it has been something that’s been part of inner city Philadelphia forever, sounds like. It is people who actually board or stable and ride their horses in inner city Philadelphia. They are giving back to the community by engaging youth that would never have an opportunity to be with a horse. It would be really neat to do something like that, like in Calgary or in Edmonton. Not sure how we’d do it. They have such a longstanding history of being there physically present in inner city Philadelphia. It’d be pretty hard to move them out. We would just need to find a space in inner city Calgary to set something up.

Jacobsen: Would you recommend any books, documentaries, or interviews for individuals who would want to get involved in equestrianism in Alberta?

Bell: I would recommend all the resources on the Alberta Equestrian Federation website and to follow our social media feeds. There’s lots of entry-level and little bit above information, programs, at Equine Guelph – University of Guelph’s equine program. Personally, I like to read about horses. So, anything I can get my hands on from a book about basic grooming to something that’s a little more nuanced like Zen Mind, Zen Horse by Allan Hamilton who is a neuroscientist. There are lots of different kinds of books out there. So, go visit your library and talk to your librarian about whatever your interests are, at whatever level, people who have horses or have a collection books are always to happy share or pass them on.

They could even be exercises to do with your horse if you have one of your own, or more about understanding your horse. So, the body language of horses and communication with horses, that sort of thing. Movies and things like that, there are some good ones out there. You will find horse people watching a Western movie and critiquing the riding [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Bell: Hidalgo is an interesting movie about someone who did a race across Africa and their experience. Of course, for all the younger people, all the oldie but goldy ones, like Black Beauty, The Black Stallion, The Black Stallion Returns.

Jacobsen: Any final thoughts on the interview today?

Bell: I want to thank you, Scott. It’s been fun. I’m really excited for your personal horse adventure. How you’re growing and exploring, and figuring out what fits for you.

Jacobsen: Thank you.

Bell: So, thank you for giving us a ring and allowing me the opportunity to talk about my personal experience and the Alberta Equestrian Federation, and just horse stuff in general.

Jacobsen: It’s been lovely, Sandy, thank you.


[1] President, Board of Directors, Alberta Equestrian Federation; Principal, Windhorse Retreat.

[2] Individual Publication Date: June 1, 2022:; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2022:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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