Partnering with a 1200lb animal to help us learn how to be our authentic selves, Local Health Connect Podcast

LHC: Hello there and welcome to Let's Make a Health Connection, your local health connect podcast series in Vancouver, Washington. In this series, we interview and showcase the many healthcare providers and resources that are featured on our website, For those of you who don't know us yet, localhealthconnect is a hub where our community can easily search for local resources and connect with providers for mind, body, and spirit health. Thanks for listening today. I'm Jennifer Barber, a licensed clinical social worker in Washington and Oregon, and I'm happy to be part of our community of providers. Today I'm talking to Vonie Kalich. Vonie is on a mission to help women release the weight of the world by right-sizing their reality around health and wellness and understanding that stepping on a scale and meeting a number isn't the best way to achieve their goals. She's a long-time fitness professional with more than 30 years in the industry. She retired from running in 2018 and took up cycling when cancer in her knee took away her ability to run. Vonie is a horsewoman who in 2016 became a certified equine gestalt coach and developed Vonie Kalich coaching. When the pandemic hit, she created her signature program, one size fits none. Hello, Vonie, I'm so happy to be talking to you today.

VK: Hi, thank you. I am so happy to be here with you.

LHC: This is always fun to just kind of get to know people, and like I was telling you, this is just a meet and greet, so let's meet you. I am thinking that there may be some people out there who do not know what Gestalt Equine Therapy is. Can you explain that to us?

VK: Yeah, thank you. That's a good question. So gestalt is a German word for wholeness and is explained in very simplistic terms if you take a look. Remember those figures where you show the shadow and part of it is black and part of it is white and it looks like a face on one side and an hourglass in the middle? That's like two parts of a cell kind of thing, right, so it's like we have multiple parts of ourselves and gestalt and so on, like I said. In simplistic terms, it's like bringing all the parts together in a package. and that's very simplistic.

LHC: Yes, a very simplistic explanation So give us an idea of what a typical equine session involves?

VK: So a client will come out and we will sit outside of a round pen with a couple of chairs, and I typically don't ask the client what's going on before they come to see me because I just want to be able to shoot from the hip, so to speak. So when they come out, we sit down and start talking about what prompted you to call me. Maybe that's changed since you made that phone call. What was so on your drive here? " Did something else come up for you? And then they just started to tell me, "You know what's been transpiring." Then I look for information about what they're telling me and then what kind of a rabbit hole they're taking me down. You might want to go down with them. And then we just start doing some gestalt work, and when, if they're comfortable, I will either let them out or, if they're comfortable with horses, they'll go into the round pen at some point with me or without me, depending on what we're doing. And my horse, just like if somebody's in their body and they're present with themselves, he just totally steps in and starts to engage with them. Then when we're sitting on the outside of the round pen, oftentimes he will come over and just line himself up along the fence and start interacting with us as well. Very interesting.

LHC: Yes. Does your horse have a name?

VK: He does. His name is Cody.

LHC: Cody. How long has Cody been doing this kind of work with you?

VK: Since 2016. and all horses are capable of doing this work. It's just whether they choose to do it or not. So when I was down in Arizona last week for the Art of the Cowgirl, I was presenting on getting right with your body before you get right on your horse. I partnered with two different horses and two different women. Both of them showed up beautifully for the work, considering they'd never done it before. And there were a lot of distractions, like over in the big arena, they were doing mounted shooting and so gunshots were going off. This horse is like, "Okay, no big deal." I'm here with this person. It was pretty amazing.

LHC: That's awesome.

VK: Yes, it is, and it is truly amazing.

LHC: So there may be some people listening today who are aware of what therapy is. know what it's like to go to see a therapist but really have no idea if they would give you a call to schedule their first appointment. What do equine gestalt sessions look like and how might they be different from other approaches? It is different when working through grief, despair, anger, or any other healing. So how might you describe how it's different from seeing a therapist without an animal present?

VK: Okay. Well, one of the things that we would do. Let's say somebody is having some anger issues. They may have been sexually assaulted or have had some other issue that came up in their life. Maybe their dad never treated them very well and they're still angry about the way they were treated. So I have this opportunity to take him through what's called an anger release piece. I encourage them to start hitting an object. So I ordered this really nice, great, huge cube that's coming and then they take a tennis racket to it and I just get to keep hitting it and hitting it and hitting it. I'm encouraging them to keep releasing their rage onto that cube and get it out of their bodies. So if I've got somebody who's in deep grief, then if I've got some help with, say, an assistant who helps me, then we can take a person through a piece that is cradling. where they get an opportunity to be cradled. So not everybody's comfortable with that. But there's an opportunity to get that cradling that they've never gotten before. If I have somebody that is really filled with a lot of anxiety, then I will take them through some exercises that help them tap into what is creating that anxiety and they can step into the roles of those things that are happening. So there's a lot of tools that can be used, as you well know, in the cache. That's pretty fascinating. Let's say they have a specific client in mind. had two little brothers. Her parents were not available. She was left alone a lot, and so we put her two parents in a chair across from her, and she was able to tell her parents how it made her feel as a ten-year-old to be babysitting a three-year-old and a four-year-old. And then the parents do not come home at night. Just to be clear, Not the actual parents, but the visual of the parents in the chairs.

LHC: Yes, the visual.

VK: Thank you. Yes, the image of the parents. And so she gets an opportunity to tell them how she really feels about that and not have them come back at her with anger or shame or guilt or anything like that. So it's pretty fascinating work. I love what I do.

LHC: Yes, I can hear it in your voice. There's passion there. So just before I go to my next question, as you're describing that and all of those skills and tools that you're using and a pathway to move the client through, is Cody your horse present the entire time with the client?

VK: Yes, he is. He will stand in and offer support. One client had unfortunately lost a friend, and she felt a lot of guilt and shame because she had not answered the phone that day when the friend called, and she was struggling to find her voice. Cody stepped in beautifully and put his muzzle right near her throat, just breathed on her. It was so beautiful, and she was starting to talk. And it was all starting to pour out as she found her voice. He then moved around and gave her what we call the heart chakra. and then another client that I had. We had a metaphor of goo. She had this goo in her solar plexus. For those that don't know where that is, it's just right below the breast. So at the solar plexus, she's talking about this black, icky goo that just feels like it's holding her back and she's a hostage to it and it's creating anxiety. So we had a little conversation about it. So she's describing it all to me. We go into the round pen. Cody checks in with her and walks away from her. He gets on the ground and rolls and rolls and rolls and rolls, gets back up, shakes himself off, walks over to her and sticks his nose right in the goo. Right there, and he stood there for the longest time. When tears were rolling down her face, he dropped his head down to her feet, and when horses do that, they're in a very vulnerable position. But he's bowing down to her, and so he stays there for the longest time. Then he walks around her just enough and he wraps his neck around her like he was giving her a hug. It was so beautiful.

LHC: Hearing about this gives me chills.

VK: Right to this day, the goo has never returned.

LHC: Wow! Wow, thank you for sharing that example. That was beautiful. I had a hard time understanding what Cody's job was during these sessions, but that it painted an excellent picture.

VK: Yep, he really steps up. I'll give you one more. I had a woman who was. It's a polarity piece, so there's a pole across the round pen. And she's the good daughter on one hand and her words, the bad daughter on the other hand, But really, she's just not. She's an older woman who takes care of her mom. She's just not, doesn't want to do everything for her mom anymore, who's fully capable of doing it for herself but doesn't want to. So she's standing on what she calls the "good daughter side," and she's talking about how she wants to distance herself from this bad daughter idea. He walks over and he pushes the pole with his nose and keeps pushing it. He's pushing it and pushing it and she's standing there going, "Oh my god. He's telling me that I don't have to be that anymore." I adore it.

LHC: I love it. So I can see that this is such a passion for you and that it's just in your heart, but can you describe what initially made you choose to do this kind of work with horses?

VK: Well, when I was introduced to it, a friend of mine was traveling through Colorado when I lived there, and she was coming up for training. She was telling me about it, but I had no idea what she was doing. So she started to describe it a little bit more, and I was like, "Wow, that sounds really fascinating." "Oh my gosh, you'd be so good at it," she says, "Do you think that's something I could do?" I said, "Let me get you in touch with the woman who runs the program." Her name is Melissa Pierce. You can fill out an application if you want, and talk to her to find out more about it. And then I went to my first training and I was blown away. I'm like, "Okay, is this beyond my skill set?" Am I going to be able to do this? It's a two-year training program, and the more I watched, the more I learned, the more I knew it was what I wanted to do. Then, when I graduated in 2016, I had my first opportunity to work with a client. Because now I was certified, and when I got done, I was just jumping up and down, going "Oh my God, that was so much fun!" When you're working with a 1200 pound animal, that's like this big magnet that just really has no stake in the game. They're not full of opinions. They made us show up and they helped us. Through this authentic bridge to ourselves, we find ourselves. We get to see who we are truly when we're present with a horse. If you're not present, they'll get you there. They're to get you to be present, and they're not triggered by human behavior. When we are, it's like a horse walks out into a pasture and there's a mare out there that is really bossy and they don't go, "She's such a snob." I think I'll stay away from her today. " They have no opinion. They just go out and just enjoy themselves, and they want us to feel good too. So they're willing to do the work to help us feel better about ourselves. I can have people come out to the barn with no intentions of doing any coaching work because they're not sure. I'll just have them come out and just stand and groom my horse, and pretty soon they're like, "Okay, sign me up." This is awesome because their heart rates and their blood pressure goes down too. Of course, if they're scared of horses, then that's a different story, but if they're not, then I just talk to them on the other side of the fence. Cody's just present, and then they find this kind of peacefulness when they're standing there.

LHC: Yes, pretty cool stuff, it sounds like.

VK: Really cool stuff.

LHC: So I want to ask you about the one-size-fits-none program. Is the equine gestalt coaching method integrated into the one-size-fits-all program, or is it a separate program? What exactly are you doing?

VK: They are separate and they're together. So yeah, when I created one size fits none, it was just totally a beta test. I reached out to my database and six women immediately signed up. It was absolutely free. They had an opportunity to work with me for six weeks. I built the program while they were working with me. I got feedback on what worked and what didn't work, and then I just kept building it and building it and building it. I turned it into a 12-week program because everything I gave in six weeks was overwhelming, and at the end of it, we were at a place where the pandemic had opened up enough that we could get together in a small group. So we did. We met at a friend's house. We had two horses, and we just went to town, where we spent four hours. So one was not able to come and then the other five, so all six of us spent four hours together working with the horses and going over all the things that they had learned, and so it turned it into a really beautiful, four-hour retreat. My ultimate goal is to take this program and offer retreats at places like White Stallion Ranch in Arizona, so that at the very end of it, they will have an opportunity to work with the horses, kind of to lock in everything that they have learned in those 12 weeks. And then I'm looking at the idea of doing some coaching via Zoom with my horse so that person would have an opportunity to work with me because, interestingly enough, my horse will feed off of me as well. If I've got a client who's on the other end of a Zoom call, and I'm watching what they're doing, reading the somatics of the body, listening to the things that they're saying, then Cody can really react based on what he's hearing and feeling from me. So I'll be working on that for people who aren't in the area, so I'll be working on that. I have one client right now who lives in Texas.

LHC: Yes. Let's dive in just a little bit more to the one-size-fits-none program. Maybe if you could explain how it's different from other programs, we could talk. It doesn't sound like we're talking about a weight loss program.

VK: Most of the people that come into it do want to lose weight, but because they want to get healthy. They're either facing some diabetes in their family, they don't want to get it, or they've already got type 2 diabetes. As long as it's not something that they've had for years, there's the ability to reverse that. I have people that come in because they're tired of not being able to bend over and tie their shoes. I have people that want to really get back to exercising. Maybe they did before and they don't now. So a lot of the people that come in are health related, and most of them do want to lose weight. I had one person that wanted to lose 10 pounds, and I told her, you're not really one for the program, and she convinced me that she really wanted to do it because she had a low self-image of herself, and that is one of the things the program addresses, self-image. So what does the person really believe? So you know who they are and how they look, so the ultimate goal in the end is for them to really love who they are as they go through their typology. So, do you show up in the world as an extrovert or an introvert? I find it very valuable because a lot of people don't know. It's like myself. As the only extrovert in my family, I was criticized for being chaotic, loud, and obnoxious, because the rest of my family are all introverts. There's nothing wrong with me, it's just that we're 75 percent of the population. So they start out with their typology and then we go to their values, because a lot of people don't know what their values are. If you're living. If you live your life with your values, you're going to probably be a lot happier than if you're not. Then they go through limiting beliefs. We'll work on up to three of them during the next 12 weeks, and then they'll do a body mandala. So they're looking at their body as a whole and what is not functioning well in it. What about the body, what surgeries maybe they've had, and can you reverse whatever that thing is? It's like you've got a knee problem but don’t need a knee replacement. But what can you do to reverse that knee that is hurting? Like exercise or flexibility? You know, things like that or somebody that's got heartburn. How really bad is it? Is it due to food indigestion, or is it something else? We will work on that. Then they go through sugar, fat, and salt. So they pick their favorite. They weigh sugar, fat, and salt foods to determine how many grams are in them. Then they weigh it out and get a real shocker as to how much sugar is in that package of Girl Scout cookies. So they do a lot of that stuff, and then they videotape themselves going for a walk. You are aware. One lady. She's just finishing up her last program, and she's got this great video of her dog walking her.

LHC: Oh, I love it.

VK: Yes, yeah. She's walking and she's taking her dog for a walk, and she says the dog is actually me. I was walking her because the dog was so happy to be outside and no longer stuck in the house because the mom was taking her for walks.

LHC: So you're assisting people in discovering who their true selves are and how to present themselves as their true selves, accepting their bodies and their health. If they choose to make changes, it sounds like you're providing a platform to help them almost educate themselves.

VK: Yeah, they have a daily journal prompt. What did your mom teach you about nutrition? What did your family do for exercise? You know, things like that.

LHC: Yes.

VK: So those are the couple questions that they get asked, but there are 60 days' worth of journal prompts. That's a lot to write about.

LHC: I was just going to ask when your next program begins.

VK: The 7th of March.

LHC: Do you have that information on local health connect right now? If not, I'm going to help you get it on there because I think that we need to make it really easy for people to find.

VK: No, actually, I don't have it on the local health connect. I do myself on there okay, but I don't believe there's any information other than just possibly the website. But yeah, I have brochures for that and the landing page on the website's going to get a refresher. This is a nice video of one of my clients talking about her journey through the program. The landing page is going to get a refresher, so it just looks a little bit more crisp, clean, and great.

LHC: If people want to find you, what is your website? We'll make sure to add this to the show notes at the end.

VK: It’s

LHC: Great. Before we end today, do you want to tell us if you have anything new that you're working on or anything that's upcoming? It sounds like this program is going to start again in March. Is there anything else you want anybody to know about you or about what you're offering the community?

VK: Right now, well, it's just wrapping up, so it's almost done. I have a facebook page and a group that's doing a 31-day new year, new you challenge. It is absolutely free to anybody that wants to join it. Every day I just offer opportunities. Here are some things you can do for exercise. Here's my favorite podcast with Dr. Mark Hyman because I love him. I add little nuggets of gold every day to the Facebook page, so they're getting free content. Free stuff for me that they can dive into. So that's just coming to an end on the 31st. I don't have another one of those planned right now. But I do have a Facebook group that I'm just putting together called "One Size Fits Men". It'll be a public group. Then anybody that goes through the program is an alumni, and they have their own private hidden Facebook group.

LHC: Vonie It's been such a joy to talk to you today. I just want to say thank you so much for being part of the local health connect community and doing this meet and greet today so that the community can hear about who you are. It's a great place for people to find you and just get to learn a little bit more about you. This has been fun. Thank you so much, and we will talk again soon.

VK: Thank you.

LHC: Thank you again for listening. Let's make a Health Connection. Find us on the interwebs at You can also search for us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The links and show notes for this interview are available on our podcast page. I really enjoy putting these interviews together, and I hope you made a health connection. We'll talk again next time.
Let's make a Health Connection, copyright 2022, all rights reserved, is the exclusive property of MBS Therapy, LLC, a Washington-based company. Local health connect is inclusive and does not endorse any political or religious group. Thank you again for listening, and we'll see you next time on

Series #9 - Vonie Kalich

By Jennifer Barber, LICSW 2-1-2022