Horses helping humans

Unexpected medical diagnosis prompts Andrea M. Hall, ’96, ’04, to take the reins on a new career

Andrea M. Hall

Before becoming a Certified Equine Gestalt Coach, Andrea M. Hall was a successful, high-profile criminal defense attorney. A native of Minot, North Dakota, she earned a criminal justice degree from UND in 1996 and law degree from the University in 2004. Image courtesy of Andrea M. Hall.

Let’s begin by sharing the true story of a woman whom, for privacy reasons, we will call Barb.

Barb’s son had recently committed suicide and Barb was feeling broken, depressed and not sure where to turn. She and a friend decided to attend an equine coaching session in LaPorte, Colo., hosted by Certified Equine Gestalt Coach Andrea M. Hall, ’96, ’04, and one of her horses, Justice. Andrea explained the Equine Gestalt Coaching Method (EGCM) to Barb and the group, telling them the German word for Gestalt means “to make whole.” This was a feeling Barb and many others in attendance ached for.

Hoping to find some peace, Barb entered the round pen and stood next to Justice. Instantly, the horse became uneasy and began repeatedly biting at Barb. This behavior was not normal for this horse, signaling a red flag to Andrea.

“Justice was trying to show me something that was going on in Barb’s life. We knew Barb’s son had taken his life, but the habitual and repetitive behavior Justice was displaying didn’t make sense. My training taught me there was more to it, so I kept asking questions,” explained Andrea. “Finally, Barb’s good friend and business partner who was nearby stood up and said, ‘This is what your son used to do to you -pick and pick and pick just like the horse is biting at you until you gave in and gave him money.'” Barb began to cry as the truth hurt. Her son had repeatedly asked for money to pay the rent or for groceries, which were lies to his mother. Andrea explains that deep down Barb realized her son was using the money to buy drugs, which in turn enabled him down the dangerous path that ultimately caused him to take his own life.

“Once Barb recognized this truth, it allowed us to start the process of healing. We opened the wound, got to the root of it and bandaged it back up,” she said.

“Justice and all my horses are attracted to energy. If the energy is not in alignment, the horse will not want to join up with you. If you are speaking the truth, the horse will want to join up with you. I call them all my big lie detectors. They alert me if someone is not telling the truth” Andrea said.

Andrea has many more personal and client stories of how horses have helped people through the EGCM. These include her own healing process with fertility challenges and her dream to one day become a mother, couples on the brink of divorce, troubled teens, and practicing attorneys, which also resonate especially close to her heart.

Life before horses

Andrea M. Hall

Andrea M. Hall, certified equine Gestalt coach, with one of her horses. “Gestalt” is a German word that means “to make whole.” Image courtesy of Andrea M. Hall.

Before becoming a Certified Equine Gestalt Coach, Andrea was a successful, high-profile criminal defense attorney. A native of Minot, N.D., she earned a criminal justice degree from UND in 1996 and law degree from the University in 2004. After graduation, she moved to Colorado to jumpstart her career as a criminal defense attorney, soon only to realize it wasn’t that simple. “I wanted to focus strictly on criminal defense and wasn’t able to do that at any of the firms. I would have needed to practice other types of law as well, so I did what any 20-something, just-out-of-college, newly-licensed attorney would do, I opened my own law practice,” she laughed.

Andrea waitressed at night and practiced law by day for a year before she made enough money to make a living as an attorney. Though she finally had the successful career she had been yearning, something was still missing. “I was constantly stressed. My body was stuck in high-stress mode. I didn’t even know what it felt like to be relaxed,” Andrea recalled.

“Then, during one of my big trials, my 18-month-old puppy died unexpectedly, and the judge gave me no sympathy at all,” Andrea said. “I was a mess and she wouldn’t let me delay the trial or give me any time to pull myself together. It was the first time I experienced what my clients go through every day in the judicial system. My clients don’t care about me as a person. At the end of the day, they just want me to keep them out of jail.

“I needed to analyze if this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”

Unexpected illness

Fortunate to be able to take some time to reflect on her purpose, Andrea spent that summer re-discovering her childhood love for horses. She was introduced to her now mentor, master and developer of the Certified Equine Gestalt Coach Method, Melissa Pearce, and spent time healing mentally and emotionally through her gestalt and equine­-assisted coaching program. Andrea says it was the first time in years she felt relaxed and at peace. But the bills needed to be paid, so she returned to her law practice that fall.

Andrea continued not to feel well and blamed it on her stressful career. She said, “I didn’t really know what it was like to feel good.”

In July 2014, however, the pain became too much to bear and Andrea knew something was very wrong. “It felt like the circulation in my head was being cut off. I was in so much pain I was passing out with just simple tasks like tying my shoes. Doctors kept telling me there was nothing wrong with me. About six weeks later, the doctor finally did an MRI and called me within 20 minutes of leaving the facility to tell me I needed to come in right away. I already knew what he was going to say,” Andrea said.

The next few weeks were a blur. Andrea’s MRI had detected a brain tumor the size of a fifty-cent piece on her cerebellum. She was immediately scheduled for emergency surgery. “I thought to myself, ‘this may be cancer and it may not. If it isn’t, I am going to do life differently,”‘ she said.

New beginning

On Sept. 16, 2014, Andrea had emergency brain surgery and shortly after received the best news possible. The tumor removed from her brain was not cancer. She calls this turning point, “her second chance.” She has followed through on her promise to herself and has taken the reins on a new life.

“When I am with the horses is when I am most centered and grounded and whole. This is what I am suppose to be doing,” she said.

Andrea is currently in the process of closing out her law practice to focus solely on building the equine gestalt coaching business she loves. She has completed an intense two-year certification training program to become an expert in the field and, with her three four-legged business partners, Bugsy, Dash and Justice, is focusing on helping lawyers and couples to heal past trauma. “We help lawyers create balance and reduce stress, which lets them live the life of their dreams without sacrificing their mental and emotional health,” she explained.

Andrea and her husband, Jonathon, are currently building their dream home on a 48-acre ranch in Eaton, Colo., which will be the new headquarters of Andrea’s gestalt equine coaching program, Withers Whisper. “The wither is the first place a mama horse grabs her baby. This is a place of nurturing,” she said.

“I get to combine my love for coaching, healing and helping people with my love for horses. Watching my clients with the horses and seeing them transform is the most rewarding life I could live.”

About the Author:Leanna Ihry

Leann Ihry, ’02, is an Impact Writer at the University of North Dakota Alumni Association and Foundation. Since graduating from UND with a degree in communication in 2002, Ihry, a native of Leeds, N.D., has had an extensive career in public/community affairs and local television media in Grand Forks.