Editor’s note: Charlie McGuire, RN, MA, HNP, (1941-2008) died of cancer on May 15, 2008, at Buffalo Woman Ranch surrounded by the people and animals with which she shared her life.
At a meeting in 1980 in Wisconsin, Norm Shealy, MD, founder of the American Holistic Medical Association, recognized Charlie McGuire, RN, MA, HNP, as a visionary, yet someone grounded in practice.
So he challenged McGuire to start a similar holistic nursing organization, which she did later that year — the American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA).
“When I began the AHNA, one dream I held is that someday nurses will be advocates for each other. We must care for and treat one another with respect,” McGuire said in the November/December 1999 issue of Beginnings, an AHNA magazine.
Starting in the early 1970s, McGuire worked as a hospital staff nurse, manager, teacher, corporate nurse, and holistic nurse.
“I think she was the perfect person to start a national organization,” says Margaret Hatcher, EdD, a retired educator, who helped McGuire develop the AHNA. “She knew all aspects of it because she lived it.”Robbie Nelson, OTR, works with a horse in the round pen at Buffalo Woman Ranch in Colorado.
Her love of the land and the creatures on this earth brought forth her caring nature. McGuire always said no matter where your path takes you, you are always a nurse. Her acute observational skills were grounded in nursing, and she had an appreciation for holistic healing.
In 2006, the American Nurses Association gave holistic nursing official nursing specialty status — McGuire’s longtime dream.
“I felt that as a result of her own life she was encouraged to look for and to be open to other ways of looking at human health, what determines health, and what helps people feel as though they have more meaning in their lives,” says Chardy Shealy, RN, PhD, the director of Brindabella Farms in Fair Grove, Mo., where she teaches Success Centered Riding Techniques.
McGuire had always dreamed of a horse ranch where she could help nurses and others learn about themselves while working with equine partners. In 1998, she lived on the outskirts of Flagstaff, and her neighbor, Crissi McDonald, trained horses. With McDonald’s help, McGuire began her work with horses.
When she met Robbie Nelson, OTR, whose own love for horses started as a young child, she began her final adventure. In 1999, they bought 50 acres of land in Dove Creek, nestled in the southwest corner of Colorado. The pair decided to call it Buffalo Woman Ranch in honor of White Buffalo Calf Woman, a great spiritual teacher of the Lakota tribe.
“We didn’t know exactly what we were creating. We knew that we were going to do some type of work, helping human consciousness evolve,” says Nelson.
The duo planted vegetable, herb, and flower gardens, added many trees to the land, and trusted that whatever happened would be beautiful. For retreat space, they also built several yurt-style buildings.
McGuire and Nelson independently learned about American Indian culture from many readings, and directly from Grandmother Carolyn Tawangyama, a distinguished Hopi elder, with whom they spent many days. As a result, Hopi traditions were established on the ranch.The pets of Charlie McGuire, RN, MN, MA, HNP, loved being close to her at Buffalo Woman Ranch in Colorado.
McGuire brought the American Indian concept of communicating by council to AHNA and Buffalo Woman’s Ranch. During council the community gathers in a circle to embrace listening and speaking from the heart in front of one another.
“She wanted everything out in the open with clear talk,” says Sue Collins, RN, FNP, MA, a family nurse practitioner for North Country Health Care in Flagstaff, Ariz. “She believed in honoring each individual.”
After reading Linda Kohanov’s book, The Tao of Equus, McGuire and Nelson knew working with horses and people would be their work. They apprenticed with Kohanov for four years to learn the concepts of Equine Facilitated Integrated Healing (EFIH), which they began to teach at Buffalo Woman Ranch.
The program begins every morning with tai chi, breath work, and movement. Throughout the day, participants listen to didactic lectures, which explain how the equine world resonates with humans. Participants then practice experiential exercises to learn to identify one’s authentic self, which helps individuals become more aware of who they are.
Each day includes direct work with the horses — meeting the herd, choosing an equine partner, and working one-on-one in the round pen with their chosen partner. Staff ensures the safety of the people and the horses at all times.
Rumi Hashimoto, RN, MSN, GNP, CHTP/I, a teacher at Golden West Community College in Huntington Beach, Calif., had little experience with horses before the program at the ranch. Once she completed the first module, she says her life changed.
“The horses are dependable and kind. They have this enormous power, yet gentleness,” she says. “The horse knows how to meet you wherever you are.”
The other healing partners found at the ranch include dogs, cats, and chickens. McGuire loved animals and was always a magnet for them. She saw animals as part of the healing process people would experience at the ranch.
Hashimoto witnessed Nelson, McGuire, and the animals embrace people who came to the ranch. “Everything is so inclusive,” says Hashimoto, also part of the ranch staff.
Nurses who have attended the programs at the ranch have diverse backgrounds in hospice, emergency room, geriatrics, education, and clinics.
“Charlie looked at this work as a way of developing wholeness in the holistic nurse,” Nelson says.
At the ranch, McGuire hoped to open doors for people the way she did at AHNA. She wanted nurses to see a different side of life and how it could be a more cooperative community. The philosophy of Nelson and McGuire resonated with trust.
“We have in this program, a grand opportunity for personal and professional growth,” says Judy Kay, RN, BSN, HN-BC, who works with Pathways Home Health and Hospice in Sunnyvale, Calif.
For example, Sharon Murname, RN, HN-BC, CHTP, says she wanted to learn about McGuire’s EFIH program, but she had traumatic experiences with horses as a child and wasn’t sure what to expect.
When it was her turn to go into the large, round, enclosed pen with a huge stallion, Murname says, “At first, he was too close.”
Then Nelson and McGuire coached her to slowly walk ahead of the horse. “I was able to walk at a beautiful pace and he just stayed with me,” says Murname, a holistic senior care manager in La Jolla, Calif.
Following about 10 inches behind her walked this big animal that she couldn’t see, but she felt his breath on her back. “I walked in my power. He respected that. If you walk in your power, people will respect you,” she says.
Shealy teaches her equine program at Brindabella Farms. “There is no such thing as being an artificial self in front of a horse, trying to be somebody that you are not,” Shealy says. “The horse will strip your mask off.”
Nelson says McGuire hoped the ranch program would continue on after she died.
“The program helps with one’s own personal growth, which in turn helps their patients,” says Teri Cappozola, RN, BSN, CEN, CCRN, a licensed acupuncturist, part of the ranch staff, and a nurse at Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez, Colo. “One of the things that most nurses share is about opening up their hearts. I think that’s a big legacy from Charlie. She opened her heart, was very compassionate, and loved without judgment.”