Women’s Retreats: Empowering Women to Speak their Minds

In Vino Veritas

This weekend was the Portes Ouvertes de Madiran, when all the independent Madiran winemakers open their doors to the public. We have lived here for 7 years now and have very rarely missed one. Initially, we did not know anyone. Now we know most of the producers, most of them have become friends over the years, so it is with great pleasure that we visit to taste the wines of the new season and to support our friends by attending either their Saturday evening dinners or Sunday lunches…or both. Not only do we get to see our wine-making friends, but we also come across most of our other wine-loving friends during the two days, as we all wander from vineyard to vineyard, tasting wine, exploring cellars, admiring the latest machinery, the newly planted vines and so on and so forth – by the end of the day it becomes somewhat difficult to remember the details, spittoon or no spittoon.

Women’s Retreats

As is usual, we often end up at the same wine-producer at the end of the day, looking fairly desperately for somewhere to sit down (standing upright eventually becomes a bit of a challenge,) and since women tend to feel the effects sooner than men, we often retire to comfortable seating in a quiet corner while our menfolk rejoin the fray. So it was again this Sunday afternoon. We were an eclectic group: women of all ages, convictions, backgrounds and of various nationalities and cultures. We discuss all sorts of subjects when we meet like this, but Sunday’s hottest topic was the new women-only Know Yourself Women’s Retreat that I have launched in Autumn 2015. More than one of the women had already attended one of my retreats and all were familiar with my horse-inspired ways. It was the first time that I was doing a woman-only residential retreat here in the south of France and opinions about it were varied and mixed. Being an outspoken bunch, they did not hesitate to share their well-developed views.

Women Should Speak Their Minds

Some were in favour, others voiced doubts. My retreats are working very well as they are, attracting both men and women, and often couples – where one attends the retreat as an active participant and the other as a non-participant, spending his/her days lying in a hammock or sun bed by the lake while devouring a book or two from our library, or enthusiastically walking the surrounding countryside taking photographs or painting, or visiting the local markets, both food and flea, and coming back in the evening to proudly share the day’s treasured finds, or going wine tasting at local vineyards, often barely getting back in time for dinner.

Empowering and Supporting Women 

I had to marshal my thoughts, while all faces were turned to me expectantly. Yes, I am embarking on a new path here, but I will still be hosting mixed retreats, so it is neither a complete nor a permanent change. The whole idea for me is about bringing women together to empower and support each other. I have spent many hours watching in awe as our horses work with our female guests, dramatically boosting our guests’ self-confidence, showing them how to be assertive, how to communicate in a way that gets the desired results, demonstrating effective, practical and immediate ways of handling stress, enabling them to express their feelings, be themselves without excuses…and of course teaching them how to practice mindfulness meditation.

It is true that our horses can help women just as well whether there male guests present or not. The difference at a women’s retreat would be the way women would be able to share their experiences. When a non-participating husband asks his wife, having spent the afternoon wine-tasting, how her equine-assisted experiential learning session went, I have heard answers along the lines of “Yep, it was great, I learned a lot.” When another women participant, who had been watching the session asks, it is more along the lines of «That was amazing! I couldn’t BELIEVE I would ever be capable of doing that! Wasn’t it awesome ?»  followed closely by an in-depth discussion of each women’s experience and ending with the firm foundation of a new friendship have been laid.

Women on a women’s retreat, assuming the retreat location and set-up makes them feel safe and supported, find it easier to talk about things that matter to them, than when they are in the presence of their own and other menfolk. On women-only retreats, women meet other women, from different walks of life, with different convictions and of different  persuasions, different cultures, backgrounds and at different life stages. This offers them the opportunity to step out of their comfort-zone while feeling safe, to explore other options and ideas and make friends with women that they may never otherwise have come into contact with. At women-only retreats, women find it easier to share : their lives, their burdens, their frustrations, their fears…and for some reason, working with the horses, sharing the fear (of the horses, yes, but also of failing or looking ridiculous) and overcoming it together, binds women in a way that it does not bind participants of both sexes.

For some reason or other, many women are attracted to the mystical beauty of horses and many yearn to experience that mysterious connection that they have only read about in books or seen in films. I think it is easier for them to benefit from all the horses can offer in the presence of other women. Women and horses are a magical combination, with endless possibilities and opportunities for personal growth.

A small silence followed my impassioned discours, while my friends took their time to digest this. Yes, they can see where I want to go with this, but the details need more discussion, they have a few concerns. Maybe I could get the rather attractive son of the house to bring over some more wines for them to try first? I could not resist quoting Margaret Thatcher at them, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman !” and went off to find the daughter of the house, who would know much better what sort of wine other women would like.

My friends finally, just before the poor designated alcohol-free driver arrived to take us all home, ended up giving their blessing to my new project, my women’s retreats, but with one stipulation: that I hold an « open day» on one or both of the weekend days before or after the retreat, as a One Day Retreat » so that women who live nearby can also attend.

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7 Replies to “Women’s Retreats: Empowering Women to Speak their Minds”

    1. Good wine, good food and good company – everything the south of France is famous for! Once saw a facebook page called Women, Wine and Equine…

  1. Ooh wish I was there for the wine tasting. Great post, I think it’s a good idea to do both. Horses are expensive, but cheaper than a psychiatrist! When I got Lyme disease, riding each day was the only thing that made me feel human, even if I was just doing 20′ at a slow walk…

    1. I got Lyme’s disease last year too (we have a lot of deer in the woods surrounding us) and I thought I was going to die. The tick bit me on my head of all places! I agree with you though, the horses kept me sane (moderate wine consumption did no harm either). Hope you are completely recovered now.

      1. No, they didn’t diagnose me for a long time, and I acquired a dropped foot. You should have seen me going to shows with a loop around my boot! The comments I got from my friends! I’m better now, but still suffer from chronic fatigue.

        1. It is a very nasty disease that can have serious long term implications – I put myself on huge doses of amoxicillin hours after I was bitten, so I was only ill for 6 weeks, and no symptoms now. Must have been horrendous to have to cope with the paralysed foot, and chronic fatigue is no joke either.

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