Started during a “COVID-driven brainstorm,” Melissa Rafano’s EQ Retreats is taking on a life of its own.
Described as “an equestrian-focused weekend getaway where we celebrate our common love of horses with like-minded people in a supportive, non-competitive environment,” the concept for EQ Retreats was born when Rafano and a friend asked themselves, what would we like to do if showing was not an option?
Their first thought was riding with more clinicians. “But,” Rafano elaborated, “often at clinics, as well as horse shows, there isn’t time to connect with fellow riders,” prompting the pair to think what they could add to create more connection—such as a spa-like “retreat.”
At EQ Retreats, held at Rafano’s Promise Farm, Hunterdon County, NJ, guests have structured downtime to talk horses, get a massage, do yoga, request a reading from an animal communicator, and enjoy good food and wine. The goal is to achieve what Rafano described as “our weekend goals of learning, camaraderie, decompression and relaxation.”
The retreats host small groups of six to eight people. Precautions are taken against COVID-19, including daily temperature checks before entering the barns, required masks when not mounted and chairs, and yoga mats, etc. that are spaced a minimum of six feet apart.
In addition, hand sanitizing stations are placed around the property and disinfectant sprays are located at every grooming station. Food is served gloved and masked with no common utensils used.
So far, Rafano has hosted three retreats. Highlights have included photo sessions with photographer Susan Kozlowski and book readings by Horse Crazy author Sarah Maslin Nir.
Rafano said her favorite part of the retreats is “finding other horse crazy people and to just do ‘horses’ for days—relax, learn and have fun. Many of our guests have become dear friends. But, also, with this type of retreat, you can’t help but form a stronger bond with your equine partner.”
She’s also loved meeting and working with a variety of trainers, clinicians and experts, adding, “and there are so many more we have to meet! We’re so excited for EQ Retreats future, the ideas and opportunities are endless!”
Rafano currently plans to hold three more retreats this year with a break for the winter, then will launch one retreat a month beginning spring 2021. Potential themes for upcoming retreats include Judge My Ride, Hunter Derby, Course Building and Theory, a “Big Stix” jumper clinic or equestrian fashion show.