Both an equestrian and spiritual retreat, the Thompson-Nicola area's Epona Rise ranch offers a truly unique escape

Epona ambienceEpona Rise Retreat CentreI’m gingerly walking in an open field towards a herd of 14 horses. The air is sweet with the smell of hay. I stand—motionless—as a 20-year-old sorrel quarter horse named Jack gazes at me with large, luminous, dark eyes. He takes a deep breath, expands his nostrils, then takes a step closer. I reach out and touch him tentatively, running my hand down his long neck. All my senses are on high alert—and yet I feel incredibly calm.

A day earlier, as I neared the gates of the gorgeous Epona Rise Retreat Centre just north of Kamloops, the clouds dissipated and the sun was high in the blue sky. The gentle hills of the Shuswap Highland mountain range stretched out like an undulated patchwork quilt of verdant meadows and rugged forest.

I was at the ranch to experience what leadership coach Hillary Schneider—author of the eBook The Manifestation & Journey to Success Through Purpose: One Woman's Story and founder of the ranch—does with the horses she has rescued over the years.

Meet the magical beings

Epona horsesEpona Rise Retreat CentreThroughout the year, Schneider hosts retreats to teach leadership development and personal growth. A large component of the events is comprised of teaching participants—ranging from entrepreneurs to high-level executives—how to connect with horses to build self-awareness, improve relationships and enhance leadership skills.

Much has been written about the intuitive nature of horses. Schneider explains it to me like this: “A horse picks up on the way people are feeling, mirroring their emotions and responding. As a herd animal attuned to stress and body language, they are constantly in a state of awareness of their environment.”

Equine-assisted therapy, as many call it, allows guests to be near a powerful animal and sense what real presence is. Schneider points out that some may find it spiritual and incredibly calming. But whether you believe a horse is a mystical being or a facilitator, it doesn’t matter; The idea is to simply let yourself feel and be.

For me, my time spent with the herd helped me let go of fear, particularly fears for my physical well-being. Despite falling off a horse years before, I felt surprisingly tranquil even when—at one point—half the herd surrounded me.
 

Hike the hills and more

Epona fieldEpona Rise Retreat CentreYou don’t have to interact with the horses to enjoy what the ranch has to offer. “Some people just like to come out here to be in nature, to enjoy the stillness of the countryside or to recharge from their busy lives,” says Schneider.

Sitting on a sprawling 80 acres, the ranch offers plenty of wooded trails for hiking or cross-country skiing. Both mornings, I laced up my hiking boots and—along with Schneider and three, happy, frisky dogs—headed out for an hour-long trek that took us past a waterfall and through stunning, rugged landscapes.

Rooms with a view

Epona interiorEpona Rise Retreat CentreThe main lodge is where meals are served and where you can curl up with a good book by the grand wood-burning fireplace. Built of spruce logs, the ranch house overlooks both mountains and valley and is surrounded by trees. Western artifacts, log furnishings and comfortable leather couches lend it warmth and charm. The delicious farm-to-table meals and B.C. wines are included in most of the packages.

Boasting locally handcrafted, custom wood furnishings, the eight cabins are ultra-cozy and rustic chic, offering views of forests and open space.

As Schneider noted about the intimate 16-guest ranch: “We work hard to create a memorable experience where you can get a glimpse into the majesty of the horses while enjoying the beautiful Thompson-Nicola region and all the peace and quiet one could hope for. We invite guests to be part of our ranch family.”

The Epona Rise Retreat Centre is truly a little slice of heaven where you can leave the stress of the city behind, even for just a few days.