Dawn Lewis was inspired to create her women’s riding retreat to help women “work towards self-growth.” (From left) Jimmy Lewis, Kayla Simpson, Dawn Lewis. Photo by Pat McNamara

Patagonia’s Double Staple Ranch has been a great place for the Lewis family to raise horses and cattle since the 1930s. Now it’s also a great space for intimate groups of horsewomen to explore their relationships with their horses – and themselves – in a scenic, historic retreat setting. 

Started in April 2022, Wild Heart Women’s Intentional Horsemanship Retreat is the brainchild of Dawn Lewis, a lifelong horsewoman, who, along with her husband Jimmy, their daughter Kayla, son-in-law Bo Simpson and son Kasey Lewis, breeds, trains and competes with Double Staple’s homebred quarter horses. 

The concept for the four-day retreats came after what Dawn Lewis characterized as a “family breakdown,” where relationships with the people within her family came to a head. 

“We each had a lot of healing and growing to do,” she said. “My healing journey really helped me show up differently with my horses, which in turn helped me show up differently for my people. I started thinking how cool it would be to help others do the same, and to do it with retreats patterned after my [safari] experience in Africa.

“I also wanted to use as many Patagonia businesses as I could because Patagonia is my home, my community, my people. I knew it would work because God put the idea in my heart and showed me the path. All I had to do was walk forward.” 

For the retreat, participants bring their own horses, and stay at the Spirit Tree Ranch Inn bed and breakfast, where their horses are also boarded. They then haul their horses to the Double Staple Ranch where they are first evaluated by the clinicians as they work with their horses. Patagonia resident and licensed therapist Tempest Smith observes the participants as Dawn evaluates the horse’s reaction to the rider as they work through various maneuvers. Dawn calls these reactions “encounter” moments as the horses are sensitive to the emotions of the rider and can express that mood through their physical reactions. 

Kayla provides the “Chatty Cathy” aspect, getting acquainted with the participants and helping them relax as she asks questions about their lives and their reason for coming to the retreat. 

These exercises continue through the morning while Dawn looks for “dawn on me moments” that the horses provide to her. She can then relay any new perceptions from the horse to the riders. “Horses are a good indicator of how you are in the world,” said Dawn.

As the clinic progresses and the participants become more comfortable, Sonoita professional horsewoman Heather Irbinskas works with the participants on their horsemanship. These progressive steps help to open up the riders’ inner feelings as they dig deep, with the therapist’s help, and each other’s support, to work towards self- growth and inner peace. 

After exercises and lunch provided by local restaurants, Jimmy Lewis takes all the participants with their horses on a relaxing trail ride into the Coronado National Forest and Patagonia Mountains. Dinner is also provided by the retreat and included in the cost of participation. Each session is limited to four participants and at this time only offered in the spring and fall.

Dawn sees the retreats as a way to address deeper issues that horsewomen face. In a recent post on the Double Staples blog she gave a good example of such an issue – and a way to approach it. 

“A question that gets asked and talked about a lot in the world of horses is ‘How do I keep myself from getting so nervous that I, in turn, get my horse so nervous?’,” she wrote. “I have asked myself this question a lot as well, and I believe that the answer lies not so much in what we do at the competition, event, trail ride … but more in what we do every day. You must start off practicing controlling your emotions, your thoughts, and your energy as a daily practice. Then start practicing them when you are stressed at work, in an argument, or when life gets hard, so then when you enter the gate for competition, start on your trail ride, take a lesson … you will be prepared to control your energy, your emotions and your thoughts because that’s what you’ve practiced every day. 

“You don’t get good at something by only practicing when you need it.”

More information can be found at doublestapleranch.com