These remarkably empathetic animals can help unlock feelings and insights—and Devon Combs wants to show you how.

Devon Combs in a Cowboy Hat with a Horse
Courtesy of Fearless Photography
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Denver native Devon Combs knows firsthand the healing power of horses. After struggling with depression and an eating disorder that she treated with equine gestalt therapy, the former competitive rider went on to study the practice before founding Unbridled Retreats, a company that leads inspirational workshops for women at ranches and resorts throughout the West.

We spoke with Combs about her own path to purpose and serenity, and how she’s using those skills to transform the lives of women like her.

Sunset: Your first significant experience in equine therapy came working with Jack, a horse at the Arizona retreat Miraval. What was it that made that first encounter profound for you?

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Combs: Strutting up toward Jack with my hand out, he turned his head away from me and began to walk other way. I was humiliated and confused. I was an experienced horsewoman and was used to being in control. Jack didn’t give a damn about any of that.

Being a prey animal, he instantly sensed my energy as a predator. Through reading my vibrational field, he also picked up on something I had mastered hiding over the years: being incongruent. I was skilled in acting like I was fine when on the inside I was a mess. Jack’s feedback about my energy and presence was invaluable. I realized I had a lot to learn from this horse.

What did working with this horse teach you about yourself that you had never known before?

When that horse put his face inches from my chest and stood still, a flood of suppressed emotions washed over me. There were no words, just a connection that I had been craving my whole life—with no agenda and no expectations.

As tears streamed down my face, I noticed that Jack remained present. I was astonished that the weight of my emotions had not scared him away. He stood with me in my pain. Slowly but surely, I also began to embrace the present without running for the hills—or the refrigerator.

Courtesy of Fearless Photography

What elements of human interaction assisted that first experience?

The equine therapist, Marla Kuhn, guided me through a series of breathing exercises. I could feel my body anchored to the dirt floor, the desert sun beating on my face, and my palms outstretched to the universe.

There was a melting feeling that washed over my brain. Something started to shift. My inner critic’s voice was nowhere to be heard, and I was aware of a connection to my body, which felt foreign. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t trying to change the way I felt, the way I looked, or wanting everyone to like me. I gave myself permission to just stand still and breathe.

Fast forward to today—you’re running retreats on ranches in Arizona, California, and Colorado. Do you find there to be a greater healing power in the wild places of the West?

The healing power of the West is tangible. Imagine sitting astride a beautiful horse, looking out as far as you can see, and taking the deepest breath you’ve taken in years. It’s heaven on earth.

You can’t stay stuck in the West—the wide-open spaces expand your heart, clear your mind, and set your soul free. It’s not just a change of scenery, it’s the perfect backdrop for transformation.

If you could offer a word of encouragement to those who are in a similar place as you once were, what would you say?

We so often fall into a rut while thinking what we should do. When we identify what we truly want through taking action and trying new things, not just by thinking about it, doors open and opportunities manifest.

If you feel stuck, keep trying new things and searching for your passion. Keep experimenting. Don’t settle until you discover what energizes you. Trust your intuition and keep following the trail of what you love—it will lead you to the right people and places (and horses!).