As you drive up Highway 61 towards Grand Marais, you pass a white house tucked back in the trees. An unassuming house at first glance, it is home to Nancy Gustafson, founder of Women, Horses, and Healing, a ministry dedicated to providing emotional healing to women by using horses.
Entering Gustafson’s house, I noticed the homey feel and scent of apple cider. Sitting down at her dining table with her and Women, Horses, and Healing volunteer Kelly Heller, I asked how Women, Horses, and Healing was started. Gustafson, a Christian, responded that back in 2009 she felt God leading her to start a ministry working Women, Horses, and Healing: Bringing Hope and Peace by Haley Searls with women who need emotional healing. She is certified in Faith-Based Equine Assisted Learning, and saw a need for a facility to focus on the emotional healing of women.
The heartbreaking statistic that one in four American women have been abused points to the reality that many women need healing emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Gustafson says, “In using the horses, they [the women] can begin to find a safe, confidential place to open up and share the hard things they are hiding inside. They can then experience the unconditional love that God has for them. [We use] the horses as a vessel to engage with gaining trust and confidence in loving themselves as God loves them.
” A chain of events that some may call serendipity, but Gustafson attributes to God, led to the start of Women, Horses, and Healing. Two to three retreats are offered each year, and retreat sizes are kept small; creating a setting that brings unity. Some retreats are located on Gustafson’s property; but Women, Horses, and Healing also travels to other locations around Minnesota to host retreats. Their most recent retreat, held September 9-11, 2022, took place in North Branch.
Each retreat has a theme, and the theme of their most recent retreat was “Finding Peace in the Pasture.” Retreats feature fellowship time with the other women in attendance, a guest speaker, lodging, live music, crafts, and food. Retreats have also been held for girls under eighteen. Gustafson can recall times women have come to a retreat with baggage from past trauma and left with new hope.
We left the dining room and headed out to see the rest of the property, crossing a little red footbridge over a pond. Gustafson first showed me a tiny house she uses for retreat lodging. It’s a cozy place, with four double-wide bunks and a little table. Inspirational signs and pictures decorate the walls.
Leaving the tiny house, we walk up to the barn, which is built from lumber taken from pines on Gustafson’s property that blew down during a storm. On the outside of the barn are three words: imagine, encourage, and inspire. Inside are Gustafson’s four quarter horses: Cricket, a blue roan mare; Faith, an adorable palomino; Prince, Gustafson’s gentle “lesson horse”; and Pearl, a one-yearold palomino with a sweet temperament. Out the back of the barn is a hill leading up to a riding arena with wooden bleachers and a pasture.
As I left, I noticed how peaceful the entire place felt, from Gustafson’s welcoming home, to the cozy tiny house, to the barn with four beautiful horses.
Gustafson states that Women, Horses, and Healing’s mission comes from the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament: “The Lord has sent me to preach the Good News to the poor, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
” You can learn more about Women, Horses, and Healing at https:// womenhorseshealing.com/.