Carla Genevieve Webb is a former 13 year member of the Vancouver City Police. After working the beat in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and witnessing the devastating effects of drug addiction she was determined to find a solution that not only focussed on prevention and education but empowered youth and adults to make healthy lifestyle choices. With this goal in mind she co-founded Empowered by Horses. As lead facilitator, Carla uses the herd dynamics of horses as an effective model for building upon and developing inner courage and respectful leadership skills. Her passion is to empower girls and women to live heart centred lives by developing the horse-human connection.
Carla has partnered with horses for over forty years. She has extensive knowledge and showing experience in reining (traditional and freestyle) and both western and english disciplines. She is influenced by the work of Linda Kohanov (The Way of the Horse), Carolyn Resnick (Water Hole Rituals), and Mark Rashid (Passive Leadership), is an Equine Guided Development Facilitator (Chiron’s Way) is a Life Coach (Erickson College) and has a BA in psychology (SFU). Carla is a professional horse coach and trainer, and is the founder of Unbridled Potential, an academy dedicated to forging safe, respectful and trusting bonds between horses and people. Her work is about empowering heart centred leadership at home, at work and in the arena.
Carla lives in Abbotsford at Anam Cara Farm and Learning Centre with her life partner, Steve, seven horses (including two rescued minis); five sheep, four dogs, and four cats.________________________________________________________________________________
The Horse Connection:
Horses have and will always be a large part of my life. Since as early as I can remember, I have always been drawn to, and fascinated by, horses. When I was very young, I would take the footstool from the family room and lift it up on top of the coffee table. Then, I would take string to make reins and tie loops at either end of another piece of string to make stirrups to create a likeness of a horse. I would wait patiently with my eyes glued to the old television set until the exact moment when Black Beauty would appear. I would sit tall upon my own ‘horse’ as I was drawn into the story as if I were there myself. It wasn’t long before my sisters and I became persistent in making it known to our parents that we HAD TO HAVE a horse. Finally, our dreams came true.
Following high school graduation, I moved to Vancouver to embark on a new life. Initially entering the workforce then carrying on to complete a degree in Psychology and Criminology, it wasn’t feasible to have a horse. It wasn’t until 2001 that I was in a position to eagerly welcome horses back into my life. By that time, I had been a Vancouver police officer for 5 years.
My experience as a teenager was not unlike that of many girls. I often felt like I didn’t fit in, I was very shy and insecure. Any emotional experience felt dramatic and exacerbated. My saving grace was being with my horse. No matter how bad I felt, I knew in his presence, that I would not be judged. I did not have to act differently to be liked, and I didn’t have to explain anything. I could simply sense his acceptance, warmth and unconditional love.
More recently, stressful experiences as a woman in the demanding career of policing: being exposed to consistent negativity, being subjected to bullying and harassment from two fellow officers, feeling a lack of organizational support, and the exhaustion I felt as my body received regular hits of adrenaline, were alleviated by the presence of horses in my life. I know now that had I not had my horses during this time, I would have left the policing life far earlier than I did.
Looking back on my life, I inherently knew the healing effect of horses on humans, but now I understand consciously how powerful horses are teaching humans many powerful lessons.
The Police Connection:
I joined the Vancouver City Police in April 1996 and began to become familiar with my new career. In 1999 I began to volunteer with a group of Vancouver Police officers known as the Odd Squad. The Odd Squad created a gripping documentary chronicling the lives of a few hard core drug addicts in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, “Through A Blue Lens.”
I remember the first day of filming as we drove through the south lane of the 100 East Hastings. There was a 30 -year old male, seated on the concrete in an alcove, blue face, mouth open and eyes closed. My first thought was that he was dead. We jumped out of the car to investigate and found that Curtis was still alive, barely. He had overdosed on heroin. He had stopped breathing. His pulse was weak. Paramedics arrived just as Curtis stopped breathing. He was given a shot of Narcan, a drug used to counter the effects of opiates. Paramedics helped him to breathe and within a few minutes, the Narcan had worked and Curtis sat up curious as to why there was a group of people around him. He had come back from the brink of death.
Through the days and nights of filming, I began to learn more about each addict- their family lives, their hopes, dreams, and who they were before they became drug addicts. I was aghast at how they lived: in decrepit rooming houses littered with needles, with disease and infection, using prostitution to support their drug habits, sitting or sleeping in laneways for days on end with rats running by and the stench of rotting garbage fouling the air. I couldn’t imagine how each life had come to this and how society was really okay with it (or so it seemed). I found myself becoming offended when I would hear people and other police officers refer to addicts as maggots, toads, or bums. They are human! They were not born there and they did not dream of becoming drug addicts when they were 8-years old. It just happened: “I just came down here to party”, “I wanted to try it to see what it was like – I had no idea I would be addicted after the first time:” “I had surgery and my doctor had me on morphine I became addicted – I was a school teacher you know,” “I made a bad choice……)” When I asked addicts what advice they would give to young people, they would overwhelming say “Don’t ever try it – not even once!” No matter how much drive or motivation each addict possessed to get clean and start a new life, their bodies told them otherwise. The result is that many have died from overdosing on drugs and some have been murdered. The other ‘lucky’ ones shuffle about while infected with one disease or another, look to crime to get their next fix or laze about in jail. Few, very very few, can find the resources in a timely fashion to get clean and recover. Drug abuse is all about the loss of human potential.
It was particularly difficult when I learned on Christmas Day that a body had been found carefully placed in a small duffle bag within a garbage bag and placed near a dumpster in a rooming house. The suspicion was that it was April, as she had not been seen for a few days. After further investigation at the morgue, there was final confirmation that it was indeed April’s body that lay upon the slab; the suspicion was that she had been murdered.
I was at my mom’s house for Christmas when I heard the news. I felt compelled to get back to Vancouver. I wanted to create a memorial video for April’s service which was to be held on January 1st, 2000. I spent hours pouring over video footage of her that had been taken over the years of filming. I located some footage of April in a recovery home. She was talking to her father on the phone, bubbly and excited that she had made it into recovery. She wore the biggest smile as she danced about in the small area that she was tethered to by the phone cord. It was the last time her dad ever spoke to her. I found myself bawling for hours viewing this scene, and others like it, over and over again. Here is the video.
It wasn’t long after that when I chose to work the beat in the Downtown Eastside. I thought that perhaps there was a way that I could make a difference. But day after day of experiencing their collective pain and suffering, my spirit began to wear down.
The Heart Connection:
While working with the Odd Squad, I had the privilege of meeting a group of at-risk girls enrolled in a program known as the Horse Resource Program. I began to volunteer with the group and accompany them to one of two farms they visited. Their duties were to assist in the clean up and care of horses followed by the occasional riding lesson. The feedback on the program was very positive but not so much so that it would survive government budget cuts. It did however, spark an idea that I had to create a program for girls that would not only prevent them from ever making a life-altering decision that could lead down a path of drug addiction, but it would provide the skills, tools, resources and inspiration, to flourish into amazing young women. After a failed attempt to offer a program such as this within my capacity as a Vancouver Police Officer through VPD, I made the difficult decision to resign from my 13 year career in order to pursue this dream.
I continued to study and gather information in the emerging field of Equine Facilitated Wellness, I was first inspired by this work in 2007 after having met and participated in a workshop by Linda Kohanov, a visionary in this field. Through Linda’s connection I was fortunate to meet the graceful and wise Sandra Wallin to study Dances with Equus at Chiron’s Way in Maple Ridge, BC. The birth of Empowered By Horses occurred here with passionate discussions and brain storming sessions with Empowered By Horses co-creator Sharolyn Wandzura. We have created a great herd!!!
While I continue my passion of working with and empowering young girls and boys, I also am deeply connected to working with women and horses. In 2008 I attended Erickson College to study the Art and Science of Coaching which was yet another step in my personal development journey. Bringing all these skills together along with my horse experience has given me a wonderful opportunity to create amazing life changing programs.