The road leading up to Quiet Reach Farm doesn’t register very high on the decibel scale, either.
As far as noteworthy landmarks go, there are a few trees, a couple houses and a thin stretch of road. Only one out of three remains in play by the time a barn starts to loom on the horizon.
Before I even got out of the car, I was enthusiastically greeted by two small dogs and could hear a third one barking somewhere close by.
Bringing up the rear of the welcoming committee was Bobbi Dunlap Harpster, a woman who at the tender age of 56, decided that she wanted to become an equine specialist and life coach.
If you’re sad inside but acting like you’re angry, horses are going to pick up on you.
Bobbi Dunlap Harpster
Typically, our brief but pleasant introduction would have been followed by an assessment and intake process, questions about my family, my religion or the nature and severity of my addiction, if any.
Instead, I asked for a quick tally of the number of horses on the property, which comes back as an estimate of about two dozen or more.
“I’m going to have to recount because I just had a couple more come in,” Harpster said.
Maxine Lucci likes horses — and the trek up to Howard.
“The drive is good for me,” she told me over the phone.
Lucci is in recovery from an addiction to opiates and paying regular visits to a therapist is a part of the program. That this is possible without having to submit to the forced intimacy of four walls and a desk has come as no small relief.
She suspects that others trying to remain outside the grasp of addiction might feel the same way.
“We want some spontaneity. Not some, a lot,” Lucci said.
Instead of sitting in an office, she and Harpster are just as likely to take a walk around the farm or spend time grooming one of the horses.
All of it is intended to help facilitate, not avoid, conversation.
“I do what the people want to do,” Harpster said.
She talks about the horses as if they are a blank canvas — at one point literally showing me a photo of an abstract design one of her clients had doodled onto the side of one of the horses using washable paint. But 99 percent of the time, it’s a metaphor.
Those are big at Quiet Reach Farm.
It’s not uncommon for Harpster to ask a visitor to take an intuitive leap in guessing what one her horses might be thinking at any given moment. As with any good Rorschach test, the answer is rarely ever as simple as “oats.”
“If you’re sad inside but acting like you’re angry, horses are going to pick up on you,” Harpster said.
She is not there to teach horsemanship. I found this out the hard way when Harpster handed me a leash and indicated that I should attach it to the horse, of all places.
I’m trying to teach them how to take that peacefulness with them.
Bobbi Dunlap Harpster
After several moments of nervous fumbling and what I considered to be serious emotional growth (I got her to do it for me), I was leading my little pony toward three small hurdles lined up down the center of the barn.
Each of the hurdles had been christened after a goal: “self-acceptance,” “home ownership” and “paying bills.”
In due time, my horse and I skirted the first and stepped over the second and third.
As the layman in the room, I’m not sure that I was capable of drawing any conclusions from this exercise outside of the obvious. Any attempt to do so would have just been overcomplicating the metaphor.
It was simpler to just to see it for what it was — an excuse.
If this were a real session, Harpster could ask questions and I could attempt to give answers. Together, we could try address things that might not otherwise have an opportunity to be addressed and in doing so, hopefully attain a certain kind of peace.
This is what Harpster tries to achieve for all of her clients at Quiet Reach Farm.
“I’m trying to teach them how to take that peacefulness with them,” Harpster said.