'Hearts, Horses and Leaders'

Abby with mini horse Fable participated in the
Abby with mini horse Fable participated in the 'Bold and Brilliant' program taught by Carla Webb of Empowered By Horses farm in West Abbotsford. Abby is now graduating from the 'Heart Centered Leadership Academy' program and her project is helping out a family whose house burned down last year.
— image credit: Submitted photo

Over the last few years there has been much media highlighting the problems facing girls. They are being bullied or are bullying others, have high anxiety and low self-esteem, are too-sexualized, not active enough or suffering from eating disorders.

Governments, both provincial and federal, have instituted programs, schools have created policies and everyone wears pink on anti-bullying day — but is it working? Are we seeing change?

Carla Webb of Empowered By Horses (EBH) has come up with her own solution. She connects girls to horses and, by extension, to their community by developing their inherent leadership skills — skills that successfully deal with many of the issues that girls face.

This spring, five graduates of EBH’s Heart Centered Leadership Academy (HCLA), Abigale, Emily, Molly, Emma, and Hailey, will showcase their strengths and inner courage through projects that give back to the community. From organizing donations for a family left homeless from a fire to rescuing horses destined for the slaughterhouse, these five girls are making a difference.

Carla Webb, the sole proprietor of Empowered By Horses and lead facilitator of the HCLA, is a former 13-year member of the Vancouver City Police. After working the beat in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and witnessing the devastating effects of drug addiction she was determined to find a solution that not only focussed on prevention and education but empowered youth to make healthier lifestyle choices.

“I do not want to focus on all the messages that tell girls what they cannot do," said Webb

"I want it so their eyes are not in the back of their head looking at all they’ve done wrong, but looking forward. It’s a perspective shift. Turn them around, 180 degrees, and have them do what they love. Find out what they are passionate about, what their strengths are and how they feel they can be of service to their community.”

HCLA’s graduates speak up

By age 13, Abigale was already a two-year veteran of being bullied. She credits Carla and the horses for helping her learn to stand up for herself.

"I now know there are people there for you and that a close knit of friends is like my own herd of horses,” said Abigale.

As a leader in her community Abigale looks to see what resources are needed and then finds them. Her project is helping out a family whose house burned down last year.

"The HCLA helped me see that I am not going to give up [because of bullying] … I am not going to let anybody stand in my way.”

Emily, age 12, says she “used to be afraid of messing up” and was too shy to speak in public.

You wouldn’t have guessed this after seeing her project’s initiation just outside Abbotsford’s tent city. Raising money for the ingredients, she baked over a 100 cookies and made an urn full of cocoa to give to the homeless.

“It’s hard to be homeless”, she said, “they need a treat.”

You’ll find her out there once a month with a warm smile and generous heart. In reflecting on these last six months at the HCLA she says, “[the training] helped me realize I can be who I am.”

The youngest is Molly. At 10 years of age she is taking her leadership skills to the local Sparks (the youngest members of the Girl Guides) to facilitate a craft program.

While Molly is no stranger to being active in her community — she dances, plays basketball and swims — she feels that one of the main themes of the HCLA is “how you do anything is how you do everything” has increased her sense of responsibility. She is more committed now to everything she does including, she says, her homework.

Emma is collecting monies and donations for the food bank. Not too long ago this seemingly shy young woman confessed she said little and just went along with the group. Now she “stands in her power” and can say no.

As for her leadership, this 13-year old finds she has become a role model. The more she says no and takes responsibility for who she is and how she feels, she sees her friends following her lead.

"The HCLA empowers you; encourages you to become a leader,” says Emma.

Hailey speaks with confidence when she describes her experiences with the HCLA.

“It teaches you to love who you are,” she says, “and to live your own life to the fullest."

This 14-year-old’s project was created out of her love for horses. In appreciation for these equine companions, Hailey is encouraging people to donate to horse rescue organizations.

“Horses taught me to just be myself. [They] don’t care what you look like or if you have the nicest hair or the coolest clothes … so why should I?”

When asked if there was one word to describe her experiences over the last six months she says: “empowering.”

The Heart Centered Leadership Academy supports young women in becoming thoughtful and committed citizens. It promotes teamwork, compassion, and heart centered leadership. For more information on how you can donate to these girl’s projects or become one of the volunteer mentors, call 604-809-3494 or follow the link at from Horse Programs to Heart Centered Leadership.

Participants and mentors at the Empowered By Horses farm during a recent Heart Centered Leadership Academy session. -submitted photo

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