Carina Mack facilitates equine-assisted learning at Freedom Center Life Skills just outside Emo. This summer, she’s received two groups of kids aged 7-12 from the United Native Friendship Centre (UNFC).
The groups visit once a week, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings respectively for about an hour. There, kids get to learn about horses and themselves. In each class, Mack has three regular students who perform various learning exercises with her.
Though she leads Freedom Center Life Skills, Mack is a facilitator, not an instructor. The actual teacher at Freedom Center is a 22-year-old horse named Dee.
“Horses are teachers because they always react to stimulus,” says Mack. “They will react to how a person is around them. If they don’t have strong leadership, they will become the leader themselves. So they’re always teaching us to step up.”
Mack has three horses listed on her website, but says it was her bond with Dee that made her the perfect candidate for the job.
“I trust her,” says Mack. “We’ve been through a lot together.”
She says that Dee is calm, respectful, and understands boundaries around people. Mack says her horse is cautious about where her feet are placed, which makes working with kids much safer.
“She’s very level-headed and smart,” says Mack. “I could go on and on about Dee all day. I have so much respect for her. She’s just an amazing horse.”
Mack’s desire to have an equine-related career stems from her earlier years.
“Ever since I was a little girl and first got a horse, all I ever wanted to do was ride horses,” she says. “I used to ride through blizzards and rainstorms. All I could think about was riding and horses. They were just my entire life.
“My whole world has been about these incredible animals, and I’ve always wanted to work with them, but I just didn’t know what that would look like. How can I get paid to do something that I love?”
Given the rural area, Mack says she realized her dream of being a famous competitor may not be feasible, so she needed to find something else.
After beginning psychology studies, Mack says she realized that it was not for her.
“I want to help people,” she says. “But sitting there and listening to problems, that’s not my way of helping people. So how can I combine my passion for horses and my want to help people into one?”
While browsing online, Mack came across a quiz — “would you be a good equine-assisted learning facilitator?”
“And I took the quiz, and it said ‘you would be great!’ and I’m like ‘oh that’s fantastic,’ but there’s no way I can make this happen,” she says. “No one even knows what this is. Who would want this in Emo? So I dropped that dream.”
From there, Mack went back to school for physical therapy, but with the pandemic still carrying on, she says it was challenging.
“I was like ‘this is the worst thing ever,’” she says. “I cannot do online school.”
Then an email from the makers of her equine-assisted learning quiz recommended she take a course of theirs. For just a dollar, Mack couldn’t turn it down.
After the intro course, she took another course and eventually became certified as an equine-assisted learning facilitator, enabling her to run Freedom Center.
The way her program is laid out, each week builds on what was learned in the previous session. The building-block curriculum helps lay out information so that it’s easily processed, and isn’t too overwhelming.
This week will be the kids’ seventh session of eight.
“It’s kind of sad,” says Mack. “It’s been really fun seeing them grow and gain more confidence.”
When the program began at the end of June, Mack says one of her students didn’t want to touch the horse. Later on, while the kids were brushing Dee, the student said she used to be scared of horses, but not anymore.
“So I asked ‘what is it about Dee that makes you not afraid of horses?’ and she said ‘Dee’s just really kind.’”
That day, the student chose “kindness” for what she learned.
After each training session, Mack holds a board of words to help students reflect on certain characteristics they’ve learned or improved upon. Kindness, communication, confidence, problem solving, and perseverance are just some of the things the kids have been listing off.
“Each kid comes in with a different need,” she says. “Ultimately the goal is for each kid to get to the place of growth that they need.”
When Mack started Freedom Center, she says one of her target markets was children. After being an EA, Mack says she thought a program like hers could be beneficial to them.
“Kids are so young and vulnerable. Seeing some of the behavioural issues, I thought it would be really cool to give kids an opportunity to learn general life skills,” says Mack. “You can learn a lot from kids too.”
Mack says she wants to do programs for adults as well.
“Anyone can ultimately benefit from the program,” she says. “I’m hoping to take couples, or smaller groups of people … just anybody who wants to help me out to gain more experience.”
Though Mack doesn’t have any bookings for fall yet, she says she’s happy with how things have gone.
“This group from UNFC was more than what I was expecting for my first year,” she says. “I remember when I started, I was like, ‘if I get one person, one paying customer this whole year…’ to me, that would have been successful.”
She says this summer has helped give her experience for future clients.
“This was really beneficial for me to get my foot in the door and be comfortable with running these programs since it’s my first year ever,” says Mack. “I might just take this as a win and see what happens.”
To learn more about Freedom Center Life Skills, or to become a client, visit freedomcenterlifeskills.com.