Spotlight: Instead of talk therapy, hang out with a Preston Hollow horse

Jane Nicolais and her horse, Sheena (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Jane Nicolais and her horse, Sheena (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Serenity in the stables

Most Walnut Hill Lane residents didn’t think their new neighbors would be four horses when Jane Nicolais opened Serendipity Farms in April.

The massive mammals have surprised nearby homeowners with how quiet they are. Nicolais hasn’t received many complaints since they moved into their new home. Belle, Alex, Sheena and Clover spend their days grazing with a donkey named Ed and solving people’s problems.

Visitors come to Nicolais’ 2-acre property when they’re anxious and overwhelmed. They don’t stay long — usually only an hour — but they leave feeling more clearheaded.

Nicolais converted a ranch house into a stable and office for equine-assisted coaching. Horses are used as a tool to practice being calm and self-aware in stressful situations.

Since they’re prey animals and more adept at detecting others’ agitation, the mammals are like a “1,000-pound biofeedback machine,” Nicolais says.

Jane Nicolais owns four horses in Preston Hollow. (Photos by Danny Fulgencio)
Jane Nicolais owns four horses in Preston Hollow. (Photos by Danny Fulgencio)

Her clients choose one horse to work with in a round pen. They practice having the horses follow commands, like running or trotting. If the person loses focus, the animals become alarmed and back away.

Equine-assisted therapy is beneficial to people who struggle with open communication, Nicolais says. It’s typically less mentally taxing than cognitive therapy, which relies on conversation.

“This is more teaching you the relationship with yourself and getting familiar with your mind,” she says.

It’s particularly effective for people who have anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, teaching mindfulness when the brain starts to spiral. Without saying a word, the horse provides a visual representation of a client’s rising stress. When they understand the triggers, clients can better learn how to manage anxiety.

Nicolais was introduced to the field after participating herself. She gave up her corporate accounting career and couldn’t figure out what to do next, so she hired a coach to help her.

“I love animals. I love being outside. I love working with people, so this was the perfect fit.”


WILD RIDE

In the center of an urban city, Preston Hollow is home to an unusually large number of horses.

The City of Dallas has few requirements to construct a private stable, including that the lot must be at least 15,000 square feet, and a pen or corral must be 20 feet away from the property line.

Dominique Miller and her husband built the Royal House stables after she retired from teaching horseback riding lessons. At least, that’s what she hoped to do.

A few of her former students, who named themselves Royal House Saddle Club, begged her to continue her classes. So now Miller holds informal lessons, summer camps and impromptu events on the property, which also houses several dogs, cats, chickens, goats and a rabbit.

Her house is always open, and people traipse in throughout the day to help Miller clean the stalls or feed the animals.

“I’m more like a crazy aunt or grandmother,” she says. “It’s controlled chaos.”


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