By Jon O'Connell The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Gina Yarrish is the founder of "Yarcort", an equine assisted learning center. At Yarcourt, she teaches business professionals, executives and entrepreneurs how to rein in stress, improve their effectiveness and live more fulfilled lives.
Some professional development coaches prefer their fees paid in apple slices.
Horses have helped people improve their health and emotional wellness for centuries. But research-backed methods for teaching stress management and leadership using the noble beasts only started hitting the mainstream within the last decade.
Gina Yarrish stumbled upon them accidentally.
In 2011 she started Yarcort, an equine assisted learning center on wide-open hills in Susquehanna County where she teaches business professionals, executives and entrepreneurs from around the world how to rein in stress, improve their effectiveness and live more fulfilled lives. The New Jersey native began her career in the family business, managing a successful real estate company.
But before she turned 40, she landed in the hospital to get her heart cauterized. The stress literally ruptured her heart.
She hadn't grown up around horses, but started hanging around them in a plight to reinvent herself.
"It was a personal journey at first, learning about horsemanship," she said. Then she discovered the growing movement around equine assisted learning.
"Western medicine treats the shoulders down. Eastern medicine treats the whole body. We treat the thinking," Yarrish said, explaining how activities tie concepts to experiential moments, which forge deeper memories.
"What happens in the arena, whatever your experience is, you don't forget it; it kind of sticks to you like glue," she said.
Horses make good coaches for a couple of reasons.
Unlike dogs, who crave affection and belonging, horses seek strong leadership, and it's quickly obvious when someone's posturing.
Like humans, they're wired for fight or flight, which gives them an uncanny ability to gauge subtle body language and nonverbal cues.
They'll get jumpy or put distance between themselves and someone who's anxious and comply with someone who's calm and confident.
Corporate leaders in particular get really good at projecting confidence, said Ginny Telego, president of the Collaboration Partners, an equine assisted learning program based in Ashland, Ohio.
She's a master trainer and past president of the Equine Experiential Education Association. She's also known Yarrish for years.
Activities involve simple interactions with the animals, for example walking them in circles or leading them together as a group.
That's where the horses reveal what's really going on, triggering a discussion and strategy to overcome barriers. Then they try again.
"When they have a genuine feeling of confidence, the horse is like, 'OK, I'll go with you,' " Telego said. "That's where it's so empowering for people."
Over the last five years or so, corporations increasingly seek out alternative leadership and organizational development programs.
Business leaders are "more open to things that don't involve a PowerPoint presentation," Telego said.
"Gina is a phenomenal coach, and that is really her gift," Telego said. "That's for sure why her program has been successful."
Yarcort's packages start at $2,500 for 12-sessions and top out at $20,000 for a 12-month VIP program, and her trademarked Focus Forward programs have drawn clients from around the globe.
On Tuesday, Rita Moore, an equine coach from Orlando was on day two of her three-day visit. Large posters covered the classroom walls with observations scrawled across them from earlier activities.
After honing her program for 11 years, Yarrish is ready to license it out but any franchisees have to take the training first.
That's what Moore was doing.
"When you want to be here, you're open to change, and it's very transforming," she said.
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