Highly intuitive horses are experts at nonverbal communication and can sense chaos, conflict and other human emotions. They often mirror behaviors and, as herd animals, reveal the benefits of working in collaboration.
Red Horse Center for Collaborative Leadership aims to get people away from Zoom meetings and computer screens to experience the transformative power of a human-horse connection and facilitate positive change within organizations.
“There are a lot of groups out there — nonprofit groups fighting for social change — that would really benefit from restorative and collaborative workshops,” said Red Horse Executive Director Fred Bueltmann. “We want to help people who are helping people.”
A former brewery executive, Bueltmann has found a new calling among the horses on his 22-acre Red Horse Ranch in Fennville. He launched the Red Horse Center to share the wisdom of human-horse interaction through mindful experiential learning.
Bueltmann co-founded Red Horse with his wife, Ulla Frederiksen, who is also a psychologist and offers private practice therapy through The Sundance Center on the farm. They are certified facilitators of the Eagala Model. Eagala (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) is a distinctive experiential framework designed to hold space for clients to discover, learn and grow from a horse and human experience.
Red Horse Ranch has hosted Discovering Your Herd workshops around organizational leadership and team building since 2008. After leaving his full-time career in the beer business, Bueltmann shifted his focus as an independent consultant, podcaster and “herd manager.” He brings unique insights on collaboration, company culture and the craft marketplace after more than 20 years in the craft beer industry.
“Witnessing the power this work has and its ability to help groups see their own story with new insights was really inspiring to me,” he said. “Red Horse is a culmination of all of these things, us expanding what we offer here at the farm, and us committing ourselves to making this experience available to more people.”
Despite the pandemic, the organization constructed a covered arena and an indoor retreat center called The Tree House to host workshops, classes and other programs. The project was finished this fall, and Red Horse plans to welcome guests and participants once it is safe to gather indoors.
Meanwhile, Bueltmann is giving virtual presentations and starting to book workshops into spring and summer 2021. Bueltmann wants to serve organizations near and far, noting organizations from other states plan to visit the farm.
“We have enough space to gather outside, regardless of the COVID situation,” he said. “We can facilitate group workshops up to 25 people as long as there are reasonable temperatures.”
Bueltmann gathered a team and a board of directors and has applied for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. He hopes to receive the status by spring 2021, which will allow Red Horse to accept charitable contributions, apply for grants and offer scholarships to nonprofits.
“We want to collect support that creates scholarships for nonprofit organizations to participate in the workshops and write grants for the same,” he said.
Red Horse has a lofty mission: “Strengthening collaborations for the greater good by working with humans and horses, through mindful experiential learning and considerate leadership models, to discover and empower positive change in the world.”
Red Horse serves all sizes of businesses but was established with community-based nonprofits and social change organizations in mind. The workshops also benefit businesses that want to work on team development and improve company culture.
Day-long and multi-day workshops can be tailored to organizational, department-level or leadership teams. Clients help set the objectives for the day, including work around mission and vision, company culture, morale, diversity and inclusion, new projects and new employees.
Red Horse also offers one-on-one mentoring and workshops focused on professional development, leadership skills and horse and human collaborations. Private rentals are available for artists and educators who seek a tranquil setting to work on a project or space to host classes and workshops, as well as families and groups looking to host gatherings and celebrations.
As for the Eagala work itself, Bueltmann experienced a workshop as a client years ago. Now he spends his days on the farm running the center and Treehouse Productions. He regularly shares interviews and insights on cultural shifts through his This Craft Nation project and podcast, and Michigan’s Great Beer State Podcast, which he produces.
“I have been a witness to getting people out of the office and looking at things metaphorically,” he said. “It started by discovering the Eagala Model and what it did for the therapy world. I was beginning my career as a brewery executive in Michigan, and I was learning the challenges and opportunities in terms of managing groups of people. We just saw the opportunity and how powerful the work was.”
Bueltmann earned Eagala certification in 2001 and specializes in equine-assisted organizational development. He said no horse experience is necessary for the workshops. Participants don’t ride the horses, but they do get up close and personal with them. The horses act as “clients” or “customers” and react to what is going on.
Horses have a finely tuned communication structure, are sensitive and expressive, and understand group dynamics intuitively.
“The horses are loose. They have choices and they can decide where to move and how to move,” he said. “The people have choices on where to move and how to move. … They (the horses), by nature, have a way of bringing forward what’s going on underneath the surface and then supporting and helping the group decide what to do about that discovery.”
Frederiksen was Eagala advanced certified in 2010, when she began serving internationally as an Eagala trainer. Her private practice, The Sundance Center, specializes in equine-assisted individual and group therapy and trauma-informed therapy for Highly Sensitive People.
“Horses, by just being near them, actually exude a peaceful existence,” Frederiksen said. “They teach us about inner peace and being grounded and going with the flow and being in the moment, all of those elusive human goals. More than that, they become metaphors for who or what we are dealing with in our lives.”
Frederiksen has witnessed the growth and learning that takes place, resulting in insights that create positive, actionable change. Interacting with the horses in a peaceful and non-threatening outdoor environment provides participants with a safe place to explore and find their own solutions to questions and problems.
“When you’re interacting with a horse, with a 1,000-pound animal, you immediately become your authentic self,” she said. “We are involving our bodies, our minds, our hearts, and not just our intellect. When we experience it, we understand it, so the experiential part of this work means that people come away having felt something, having experienced something rather than just having been taught something by an expert.”
Despite the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, Bueltmann continues to spread the word about Red Horse’s work and the benefits of horse and human collaborations. Taking time for individual and organizational self-care and self-assessment is critical to prevent burnout. It can help strengthen a nonprofit’s ability to invite supporters into their cause and shift teams into a mode of discovery.
“We’re challenged, but we’re also inspired by it,” Bueltmann said. “It is a very important time for groups and organizations to work on how they work together and how that can help them pursue their mission.”
The work is even more relevant in light of social justice issues, changes in the way people work, and the stress and isolation of the ongoing pandemic.
“We know so many organizations are working to get us through this, and they are dealing with severe burnout,” Frederiksen said. “We’re really hoping to position ourselves in a place we can offer respite and retreat and profound insight into how change makers can keep moving forward with clarity.”
News coverage in the nonprofit section of MiBiz is made possible by advertising support from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. GRCF is a leader in funding, initiating and leading programs that benefit the greater Grand Rapids area in arts and social engagement, education, health, neighborhoods, economic prosperity and the environment. This advertisement has no effect on editorial consideration in MiBiz.