If you know the body of work in art and music by vocalist and songwriter Kiki Ebsen, you also know that she is passionate about using her gifts and talents to help others. She is equally passionate in her love of horses and in her work using horses to help people heal from the emotional wounds and triggers of life’s unkinder moments, as well as simply how better to relate in workplace dynamics. It comes down to the ability to strengthening one’s ability to hear, listen, and then communicate with others—humans and horses alike. A trip to The Healing Equine Ranch in the beautiful Santa Monica mountains of California provided great insight as to how it is that equines can absorb, process, and share back with humans, and how seasoned, trained equine professionals help them interpret equine messages as they reflect our own behavior.
Unquestionably, nature’s most magnificent creatures possess an acute instinct that resonates at levels together with, and above, the humans’ abilities to share words, thoughts, and most importantly—feelings. It’s all about how you feel, and despite many humans’ abilities to mask their innermost hopes, dreams, fears, and sorrows, you simply cannot fool a horse. They will burst wide open your pretenses, should you have any, every single time. What’s more, they can reflect your love and trust back to you with such magnitude that it can be truly overwhelming—and most importantly—create your spirit’s healing.
As the youngest of Buddy and Nancy Ebsen’s daughters (Buddy had a total of six daughters and two sons), Kiki was born into a world that automatically came with spotlights and stardust all around her, a life she didn’t choose early but rather one that ultimately chose her. As card-carrying Baby Boomers, Kiki and younger brother, Dustin, were born during Buddy’s early television heyday, as he guest-starred on television westerns that followed his more recent success playing Georgie Russell, best friend to Fess Parker’s Davy Crockett for Disney television and movies.
Buddy was more at home riding a horse than he was ever comfortable riding in Tinseltown’s fancy limousines or walking on the requisite red carpets. Although he and Nancy attended television and movie award shows in black tie attire, there were times that Buddy chose to drive them there in his pickup truck, as TV Guide reported five decades ago, so he never got too overly absorbed in appearances for the sake of appearance.
An opportunity to purchase a ranch came about as simply as reading an ad in the Los Angeles Times. It was love at first sight for Buddy, as it likely provided some additional guarantees that his children could find respite among the beauty and simplicity of nature, far away from the allure of the city’s brightest lights. Three of the Ebsen girls, Cathy, Bonnie, and Kiki, fell in love with horses from the get-go. Kiki’s first pony guaranteed that part of her future would always include equine loved ones, all of her life.
Today, Cathy, Bonnie, and Kiki each have independent activities, but their lives remain intricately intertwined with horses even today—as both writers and riders. For several years Cathy edited horse publications, did equine-related web design and has specialized in American quarter horses. Cathy is also the one who lovingly shepherded Kiki’s early years of competitive riding and showing horses, for which she won a myriad of ribbons and trophies. While independent, all three women share that special bond of love still today.
Even though in the 1970s, Bonnie’s later teen and early adult years were spent acting in television roles, while Kiki was a touring musician, traveling and performing with Grammy-winning artists, both girls took time to combine their love of horses with extensive education and training in Eagala equine-assisted psychotherapy programs as part of their life’s journey. Today, Bonnie Ebsen Jackson operates T.H.E. Ranch, which stands for Teaching Humans with Equine, in Arizona, where she and her collaborators focus on equine-assisted learning and psychotherapy as well as natural horsemanship. That’s Arizona’s T.H.E. Ranch. Bonnie also wrote about horses extensively, even publishing a book, “Herdmates to Heartmates: The Art of Bonding with a New Horse.”
Now, Kiki’s independent ranch in Agoura, California, is The Healing Equine Ranch, also, with the same initials, but it is a separate and distinct nonprofit operation entirely. Kiki’s emphasis specifically is on women and men working in groups to understand the entire process of interpersonal communication through the eyes, ears, and body language of the horses. Some of her most popular upcoming courses include Liberty, Lightness and Feel, Introduction to Riding, De-Mystifiying Horses, Your Horse is Your Mirror, and The Language of the Herd. Each course is very affordable (but word to the wise, sign up early because the classes fill up fast).
Kiki’s writing is featured regularly in her Healing Equine Ranch blog, and she plans to write more when time allows. Her story of this amazing healing vista and environment is told, however, whenever she is asked to describe what brings her the greatest joy, and what she is most passionate about: Music (art) and horses.
Her own experiences with the herd she rescued are profound. Ebsen says, “In the time spent with them, they allowed me to get to know myself in a way that I’d never known before, and it’s all based around energy, intention and focus and how they move each other around in the herd. We have such an unspoken language going on as humans that we are not quite aware of, and the horses really reflect that. They’re really giant biofeedback machines. So, I developed these programs utilizing these rescued horses and I found a great need for that healing in the community.”
You can hear her tell her more about the story (click link) of her herd, as she relates it so beautifully during a recent concert produced by Clifford Bell and Tiffany Bailey in Bell’s Cabarabia concert series held in December 2015. The concert also featured elegant actress Lee Meriwether, who costarred with Buddy Ebsen in “Barnaby Jones” for eight seasons from 1973–1980.
The Healing Equine Ranch’s herd of beloveds features seven horses whom Kiki rescued from feedlots, economic distress and, frankly, from slaughter. These special creatures are Kiki’s team of equine educators, whose unique personalities allow them to be matched with individuals whose needs are specific to bring buried feelings to the surface, for processing, release, affirmation and most importantly—love.
You can find photos of the “magnificent seven” here: meet Rose, August, Cowboy, Wizard, Violet, Jack and Davy. Undisputed leader of the herd is Rose, whose status and stature presented the greatest challenge to Kiki, who studied her complexity and worked unceasingly to earn her trust. Rose was not given over to being led or conquered or to surrendering any level of control at first. But Rose had met her match in Ebsen. Interestingly, Kiki used her other toolkit, music and artistry, to find a path to communicate and build trust. She nicknamed Rose “Darling” and began making a list of things the human and horse had in common.
At first the list was perfunctory: they both liked carrots; they both breathed in the air around them; and so it went, Kiki put pen to paper making the list. Most special, the list turned into lyrics and this amazing melody flowed forth effortlessly from her as well. The song, “Darling,” is today one of Kiki’s signature original songs, and prominently a favorite from her CD, “The Beauty Inside.” She still laughs at her early attempts to master Rose even today, as seen in this classic video. To see Kiki and Rose together is a beautiful visual as well; there’s such trust.
Grammy-winning artist Christopher Cross, with whom Kiki toured and sang and played keyboards for many years, often featured Kiki’s CD, “The Beauty Inside” as the opening music playing in arena and theatre sound systems before concerts started, as he was particularly fond of “Darling,” noting it “has such wonderful surprises in the tempos with the melody that implore you to join in your story…”
So, from a beginning as simplistic and determined as Rose’s refusal to be submissive, or even halfway cooperative, came a glorious song that brings healing to untold numbers of others, simply by its inherent beauty and images that flow to mind while listening.
That’s emblematic of the kind of transformative healing that takes place at the Healing Equine Ranch, just one example of human and horse bridging any communication gap through mutual understanding, respect and trust. With the proper training in courses offered at the ranch, the magic happens and enhanced communications skills are just one of the takeaways.
Full access was granted into the operations of The Healing Equine Ranch, to see where and how the horses are cared for, to see how eagerly and fluidly the communication takes place. A chance to watch the horses at play, encouraged by Kiki and one of the ranch’s volunteers, Kim, was a most special day. Kim said that three years ago, she’d arrived at the ranch because she signed up for one of Ebsen’s four-week (Monday mornings for a month) courses, “Horse Mornings.”
The goal of this program is to build a relationship with a horse in different settings (herd observations, on line, and at liberty). What comes from that is better understanding of the triggers in a person’s life that are emotional barriers to clear communication.
Kim said, “The moment I arrived here, I knew I never wanted to leave,” and “at the end of the program, I immediately signed up to be a volunteer here. I actually told them, ‘I am not leaving here, ever!’” So, every week when it’s Kim’s day to come, she arrives stocked with special treats for the horses, and they know her well enough to encourage a second, or third, treat from her, much to her delight.
This is only a brief snippet of one observation as part of full lessons in understanding group dynamics, as led by equine teachers—taking turns, taking the lead, taking time for fun, and knowing when there’s work to do.
Every morning a new dance is initiated, motivated by age-old dominance games. Cowboy enters first, keeping an eye on mom Kiki, and another eye on Kim, yet his focus will be on Davey, his sparring partner. In the wild, young males in the herd vie for dominance in a playful manner on the outskirts until they are old enough to fight to the death for leadership of the herd or are cast out.
In this safe environment, Cowboy and Davey play these wild horse games in lighthearted fashion. Rearing, biting, kicking like two kids playing tag or “king of the mountain.” They were absolutely delightful at play, just like watching two children on a playground.
Davey came over to the fence and proceeded to show how he could undo a gently done knot in a rope with his teeth (at his own choosing). And as he kept one eye on the knot, it was almost as if he smiled as he kept the other eye on the person photographing him being up to mischief. He didn’t undo the knot completely before leaving, but he’d made his point perfectly clear, demonstrating clearly the inherent play drive in horses that is commonly overlooked.
These programs flourish because of Kiki’s ability to direct her nonprofit with intense focus on maintaining the mission. She serves as one of the greatest stewards of donations of all sizes that flow to the 501(c)3. The Healing Equine Ranch is a federally approved nonprofit, and all contributions are tax deductible. Every gift of any amount is treasured and directed toward her goals. It takes each contribution to keep this operation breaking even to fulfill its mission.
Kiki does as much around the ranch personally as she can to keep operational costs low. Feeding and caring for seven horses is a very expensive operation, and as can be seen in the related story regarding the peace.harmony concert day, her primary thoughts are for the safety, care, feeding, and love of her equine family, with love being the operative word. It’s all about human growth and learning, and there are truly no better teachers of getting in touch with your spirit than these equine teachers.
In addition to the courses on TheHealingEquineRanch.com site, corporate groups have booked time at the ranch to bring out employees for team-building exercises. And there are one-on-one learning programs of natural horsemanship also available.
When asked to describe what learning at The Healing Equine Ranch could do for those who’d never even been on a horse before, Kiki was forthright in responding. She said, “So many of the baby boomers, to which many of us belong, are giving serious consideration to what we want the next 30 and 40 years of our lives to be. We can remain vital if we focus on maintaining and restoring good health to gain longevity based on four elements: spirit, harmony, peace, and joy.
“We want to feel good about and with our bodies, especially as we get older, said Ebsen. “Yes, things will start to break down eventually, but we can do the best with what we have, put our best foot forward, and then prepare our minds, spirits and bodies for healing, energy, and peace in moving ahead.”
Kiki also added, “So often, life transitions happen around us. Perhaps we view ourselves as victims of circumstances we can’t control. It’s not until we consider how our own energy affects others around us that we see that we hold the key to healing. Focusing on others’ needs helps us forget what was bothering us in the first place.” Ebsen said, “No one person is as strong as all of us. Working together we can look at life with hope and faith, renew our positivity, and see spirits lifted.”
The music Kiki performs, particularly with one of her artistic emphases tailored toward honoring the music of Joni Mitchell, is part of her plan as well. “In our minds and hearts, we work to remember when and how we felt good in the very best moments of our lives. That’s why tribute bands are so popular right now. As a society, many of us are moving into our 50s, and we can see it in all the population demographics. Baby Boomers are facing decisions about health, health care, and we’re searching for a sense of purpose and happiness, and hopefully to feel better.” Enjoying music is a great place to start.
For more information, visit www.thehealingequineranch.com, and the next time you see a concert advertised on the ranch’s Facebook page, get your tickets early because they always sell out. For more information on the peace.harmony concert series, that Facebook page is here.
Clearly, Kiki Ebsen is a woman on a mission, and she’s devoting her time and myriad talents to communicating through and with horses, and through her gifts of music, to bring joy, peace, and healing into the lives of others.
Note: This article is first in a five-part series about Kiki Ebsen’s nonprofit, The Healing Equine Ranch, her new peace.harmony concert series, plus Kiki’s new collaboration with Gigi Worth and other talented musicians in a marvelous tribute to the music of Joni Mitchell.