Note: As a continuation of my series on “burnout” I spent some time speaking with Gina Yarrish, the owner and operator of Yarcort Acres, an equine therapy alternative. We met at Joe Polish’s Genius Network meeting in Arizona in April. I plan on taking my HeraldPR and Emerald.Digital teams to visit her in the late Summer, as we aim to put more focus on work-life balance and integration.
At just 31 years old, I experienced what I would later learn is commonly referred to as “burnout.” As the CEO of a Public Relations firm in New York, called HeraldPR, I admit that I should have seen it coming. But laying in a hospital bed with IV tubes piercing my skin made me realize something needed to change.
Only a few days after my hospital stay, I participated in Joe Polish’s “Genius Network” group of impressive CEOs and leaders in Phoenix, Arizona. Joe was recently featured in US News and World Report about addiction in the US, where he detailed his struggles and recovery, how we should focus on underlying causes and traumas, as well as his idea that “connection is the opposite of addiction.” (in this vein, Joe has recently established Genius Recovery, a non-profit aimed at helping others with addiction, mental health, or burnout issues).
While there, I heard a “10 minute talk” by a woman I didn’t know at the time named Gina Yarrish, who runs an equine therapy center in Pennsylvania, called Yarcort. Gina spoke about her experience with burnout at just 35 years of age, with 4 kids and a successful business. How she worked in real estate and property management, how she had to get a heart catherization, and how she left it all and moved with her family to rural Pennsylvania.
It almost seemed divine. I felt like this random stranger was describing me perfectly and when she told the audience that she found a way to focus on work-life integration and managed to be happier than ever, I felt a sense of relief I hadn’t felt in years.
Once the lecture ended, I walked right up to Gina and, it feels strange now typing it, showed her the bandages from my IV. I pointed at her and said “you were 35” then rolled up my sleeve and pointed at the cotton and tape and said “I am 31, and was there last week.” We instantly connected and I feel that, in that moment, she understood me.
Gina currently lives on a horse farm Pennsylvania where she leads “equine assisted learning” classes. In these classes, her students are paired with a horse and given tasks and challenges to complete with their horse.
“A lot can be accomplished in my classes, but the end result is regulating stress and anxiety. It’s called equine assisted learning, where we tap into the horse and use it to help us learn” said Gina Yarrish.
The way it works is business leaders, professionals or even stressed parents are given their horse and told to make it walk to an area, or turn around or complete some other objective.
“When working with and attempting to guide horses, they will react to every behavior. If my student doesn’t like the reaction, they are forced to think ‘What did I do to cause this?’ There is no verbal communication with horses. It is entirely body language, attitude and thinking” Yarrish said.
Gina’s level of introspection and self-awareness all comes from her initial burnout.
“I was a ‘super mom’ who bought into the belief that in order to be successful, you have to work really long hours,” Yarrish said.
“I thought I was invincible, bigger than God, and nothing could bring me down. Looking back I now see all of the signs. People used to reach out to me and tell me I’m doing too much, I need to slow down. But I didn’t listen. I truly feel that those were all signs by God,” she continued.
But she acknowledges that this realization is not easy to come by. As I’ve experienced in my own life, we often don’t realize what we’re doing to ourselves until it’s too late.
“Patterns and habits are really, really hard to break. The only way to break free from bad habits is by choice or by trauma, and unfortunately mine was by trauma. To go against the grain, to go against parents, teachers, mentors, is not something that is easy, but sometimes it is what you have to do,” said Yarrish.
“It’s not about working harder or longer – if your train is about to derail.”
This mentality ties back in to her “equine assisted learning” classes. They are built to help students break from their normal way of thinking. To reevaluate themselves rather than others. You can’t blame the horse for not doing what you ask. You can only blame yourself. And this mentality translates into business, family and relationships.
“Until you know there’s a different way of thinking and acting, it’s impossible for you to consider doing it. Through my classes I teach people to think in the direction that they want. To focus their minds on the goal that they have set, and then work towards achieving that goal. What’s the outcome that you want in any given situation – what is it you have to say or do in order for that outcome to happen? If you fail along the way, what could you do differently, what did you do wrong?” Yarrish said.
“When you ask your mind it can only go back to what it knows. So, in my classes, we conduct activities with horses and then question the new empowering right side of the brain so we can identify, analyze and repattern our thoughts so that we can repeat what we’ve learned in our lives,” she continued.
“I have learned to fully regulate my personal stress and anxiety. And, through this, I feel that I’ve mastered life.”