Horse sense

Misty Meadows Equine Learning Center offers much more than riding.

Misty Meadows Equine Learning Center is one of the Vineyard’s treasures, beloved by visitors and Islanders alike. Ten horses pasture on an bucolic property of 20 acres, which sports a spacious indoor arena, comfy barn, and a mindfulness sensory trail with different musical instruments and tactile objects to enjoy as you walk through.

Misty Meadows connects people of all ages and abilities to horses and the natural environment through unique, innovative, and inclusive offerings that provide an understanding of our emotional and physical needs, and how horses can enhance and improve one’s health and wellness.

Youth and adult horsemanship offerings include riding skills, unmounted partnership exercises, horse care skills, and the ability to understand, interpret, and adjust to how horses see the world. Misty Meadows’ renowned therapeutic horsemanship experiences are designed for people with special needs, ages four years and up, who may require additional support to participate safely and effectively in activities. No matter what draws you to Misty Meadows, though, the benefits of partnering with horses are far-reaching and include social and emotional development, physical gains, and cognitive improvements.

If you are only on the Vineyard for a short stay…or are on-Island and want a memorable experience, then Journey with the Herd is a perfect fit. Designed for young and old alike and groups of three to as many as 30 people, this unmounted experience is one of a kind, quite literally, as it is never the same.

Journey with the Herd is part of Misty Meadows’ Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) for a family or group of friends or colleagues that helps develop life skills through unmounted, horse-related, group-based skill-building activities and discussions. Horses are sensitive herd animals with their own social rules and group dynamics. We can gain confidence and personal insights by learning their language and establishing bonds with them.

Executive director Sarah McKay explains, “It is a super cool activity where people can come as a family or a group. We begin by letting three to four horses loose in the arena and give them some toys to play with such as hula hoops, pool noodles, balls, and the like. We then quietly observe how they communicate with one another. The follow-up conversation might, for instance, be about which horse was in the lead. What did you notice about how they moved together? How did they let each other know what they wanted? It’s fascinating even for those of us who are experienced horse people because it looks different every time.”

What is it that horses can teach us exactly? Well, just some include that a herd is necessary for survival and that there is safety in numbers; another member of the herd is always looking out for the good of each member. Likewise, the importance of being present and letting it go — horses aren’t concerned about the past or the future.

McKay explains that next is an experiential activity where they give participants a task such as going into the arena and working together in total silence to build a structure or “bridge” to represent their journey to the Island using the same toys that the horses interacted with. “The activity is a jumping-off point for a discussion about their interpretation of the structure as well as the group dynamics, and it’s fascinating because it’s never what you think. We then invite the horses to walk through the space with them. We have some horses that like to play and run around and have fun, so it’s always interesting.”

If the group is younger, the experiential portion might include grooming or leading the horses after the herd observation. Here, the children get to see what it is like to connect to the horses and how the horses react to them. McKay says about Journey with the Herd, ” It can vary depending on who shows up. Even people who have a lot of experience with horses really enjoy it.”

Misty Meadows also hosts a festive Easter Egg hunt coordinated by their active and dedicated Teen Advisory Board. All are welcome on March 30 from 10 am to 12 noon. In addition to the hunt, there will be face painting, an obstacle course for kids to run through, and, of course, horses will be there to meet and greet. “Last year,” McKay recounts, “We had estimated that we’d have 230-300 people show up and planned accordingly and instead had over 1,000 on the property. You would never have known other than where we were parking cars. You didn’t have a sense of how many people were actually here because they were able to spread out and do so many things.”

Misty Meadows welcomes folks to simply enjoy their picturesque horse farm, walk the property, explore the mindfulness sensory trail, and connect with their beautiful herd in a safe environment any time, Monday through Saturday, from 9 am to 5 pm. For more information, call 508-338-7198 or visit