Heartshore Founder, Dawn Oakley-Smith
Dawn always had a very strong connection with horses. As soon as she knew what they were, she began drawing them everywhere – in these early artistic efforts the horses had 5 legs ! At age 9 she became half-owner of a small, Exmoor pony called Flash and since then Dawn has never been without horses.
Equal to her passion for equines was Dawn’s fascination for the subject of Theology, which she studied at Lampeter University in Wales, and where she explored many different religious belief systems, curious about humanity’s relationship and definition of the divine.
Dawn has always had a strong sense of the workings of the human soul and its relationship with the universe. At age 15, she met a woman who came to be her mentor, and who introduced Dawn to the I Ching and taught her Astrology. These two ancient and sacred guides to wisdom have formed the essence of her path.
Heartshore was founded when Dawn realised that traditional horsemanship methods did not sit comfortably with her and she began searching for other ways of being with horses. This was during a time when Dawn worked as yard manager at a traditional riding stable. Whilst there she observed that the horses had to dissociate from their situation because so many of their natural processes and behaviours were being repressed, and they were often in distress and sometimes pain that was not noticed.
This ignorance was not intended but, without taking the time to understand the language of horses, we cannot read them accurately and they will continue to suffer.
Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
At that time, the now-famous Monty Roberts and Pat Parelli were visiting the UK. Monty Roberts had worked with the Queen’s thoroughbreds and he was quickly gaining recognition for his natural horsemanship methods.
Dawn saw both men demonstrate their undeniable skill, but it was the methodology of Monty Roberts she found to be most authentic and she chose to study his Intelligent Horsemanship Programme.
As that training finished, Dawn had an experience she refers to as her university education in the language of the horse. She was asked to put her training into practice with three untouched Hanoverian horses. She describes this experience as being,“ …three months, three hours a day, total immersion, pure, unadulterated language of the horse. All they had seen from humanity was brutality.”
Dawn giving a natural Horsemanship lesson at Heartshore
Dawn began teaching Natural Horsemanship methods to children and these lessons became extremely popular. Still based in a traditional yard at the time, it became clear that she would need to find her own place to continue. For Dawn, keeping horses in a traditional way was no longer an option and so came her first herd, including the once wild Hanoverian horse named Taz.
Along with teaching Natural Horsemanship, Dawn began to work with Autists and their families which she has done now for close to 20 years. Dawn’s experience and level of understanding is humbling and awe-inspiring. You can read more about her life’s work with Autists and horses here.
She says of the work: “I am not a medical expert or a scientist, I do not rely on research or statistics. Instead, I am mindful of what I see and how my heart and body respond. I listen to what my soul tells me, and what the souls of others tell me.”
Dawn continued to work with people and horses therapeutically and out of all this came a strong relationship with Somerset based charity, Key4Life. Key4Life’s mission is to reduce youth re-offending by delivering a programme to those in prison and those at risk of going to prison. You can see a short film about this work here.
Alongside this work is Dawn’s more shamanic, spiritual experience, such as Horse Dance, The Medicine Journey and The Equine-assisted Soul Experience, developed out of an association with Soul Support Systems, an organisation created by Flo Magdalena, author of ‘I Remember Union.’
In 2011 Dawn qualified as a facilitator with IFEEL (International Federation of Equine and Experiential Learning), and is now a senior member of the teaching faculty. IFEEL developed in the UK out of the work of Linda Kohanov and Kathleen Barry Ingram in Arizona. See more about IFEEL here.
The next chapter in Dawn’s work will be with children and adults who suffer from anxiety, with a London-based charity called The Garden School who are proposing a Programme in 2021 on the Isle of Wight.
Also In 2021, Dawn will be involved in some Programmes with DareToLive, a charity working with veterans.
Dawn has written a book – The Empowered Herd – and is currently researching publishers. This work encapsulates Dawn’s journey with the horse in his role as medicine-bringer.
Inner City children at a Heartshore & Key4Life workshop, and young adults who have been on the Key4Life programme during a fashion shoot for I.D magazine.
Dawn (on the right) with her horse Lakota, and a participant during a Horse Dance Ceremony.