Petting a Horse, Looking for Bliss

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The last time that Caity Weaver reported in person, she spent much of her time trying to commune with a horse.

Ms. Weaver, a member of The New York Times’s Styles desk, ventured last March to Santa Fe, N.M., to try Equus, a horse experience there that is offered mainly through two- and four-hour sessions and that has with a long list of famous clients like Bette Midler and Jeff Bezos; the program’s website encourages clients to “imagine creating the life you really deserve.”

Her instructor told her the horses would reproduce “what’s true inside you” — if only she would be receptive to the signals they were sending.

“I heard mostly birds and wind,” Ms. Weaver said. “But I talked to clients who said it helped them a lot, so results may vary.”

The article, which published in the past week, was postponed for a time because Ms. Weaver was frequently pulled away on pandemic-related assignments. In a recent conversation, she reflected on how Equus crossed her radar and what her own experience was like.

How long has this story been in the works?

I visited last March. I was going to be in New Mexico anyway, and I was looking for something interesting to do, so I just tacked it on while I was in the area. It hasn’t been a year of work. It’s just that I just now got around to finishing it!

What was your experience with horses before this?

I got thrown off a horse at my friend’s 11th birthday party — it got stung by a bee or bitten by a bug — and I haven’t spent much time around them since. I was ready to rumble with the horses, but I was relieved to know I wouldn’t have to saddle up and get on. Horseback riding isn’t part of Equus.

What did you know about Equus before you arrived in Santa Fe?

Not much. They purposely don’t have a lot of photos on their website. The founders told me they don’t want people coming in with a specific idea of what their experience will be like, because then if it works out differently, clients could be disappointed.

So what elevated it to “I need to try this”?

One thing you always wonder with interesting experiences is, “Is anyone actually paying to do this?” And often, the answer is no. But the client list was so impressive — Margaret Atwood, Microsoft, a lot of other names I recognized. So I was curious to go and get out of it, presumably, whatever they were getting out of it. I’d love for my life to be as good as Bette Midler’s — I think.

What detail did you spend the most time trying to track down?

Figuring out how far back you have to go to find humans and horses sharing a common ancestor. I spent awhile researching that and ended up talking to multiple paleontologists about it.

Did you reach out to any of the celebrity clients?

I talked to people who work at recognizable companies like REI and Microsoft who brought in Equus to work with their teams. It’s not cheap, and I wanted to know if this was a hard expense to justify. They said no. They’re satisfied that it gets results.

What’s something fun or unexpected you learned?

Candace Croney, a professor of animal behavior and well-being at Purdue University, told me to think of horses the way you think of a cat — they’re not like a dog, who wants to be with you and wants attention. A horse doesn’t really want to be the main thing — maybe it wants to be petted and stroked, maybe it doesn’t. I didn’t learn that before I went, but if I ever meet another horse, I’ll just think of it like a big cat.

How did your impression of Equus change by the end of your experience?

I didn’t know what to expect coming in and didn’t have any clear idea to compare and contrast. So maybe the strategy of not having a lot of pictures on the website works.

How close are you to living the life you’ve always dreamed of?

My life is certainly not bad now. I guess it’s impossible to know how much of that to credit to Equus. It incorporated much more horse interaction than my life would have had otherwise.

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