Susan Nastasi: “Horsing Around” is Good for You
Sharing the unconditional love of miniature horses promotes peace, joy, comfort, and healing.
Humans and animals have shared a bond since prehistoric times, one helping the other for mutual benefit. Our lives are enriched by an animal’s unconditional love and ability to sooth the wounds of our body and soul. A cuddle, a snuggle, a wagging tail acts like a balm for our emotional, psychological, and physical well-being. Just interacting with animals uplifts our spirit, and the feeling is mutual.
What place better for this friendly bond to be experienced than at SOUL Haven Ranch in Winter Garden, Florida. It’s the perfect place to immerse in peace, tranquility, and nature, yet only a half-hour’s drive from mega-parks Disney World, Universal Studios, and Sea World.
Guests are welcomed to a charming Victorian-style house with a wrap-around porch complete with rocking chairs. Upscale accommodations await the tired traveler as do friendly dogs, cats, and goats. Relax and unwind in the gazebo, hammocks, and swings beneath the large shady oak trees. There’s even a horse-drawn carriage service available for tours, weddings, birthdays, and parties.
Pairing People with Nature
But the biggest draw is SOUL Haven Ranch’s miniature horses, adorable creatures possessing a sweet disposition. Their task is to just be themselves sharing love, understanding, and all-around cuteness. But there’s something unique about these miniature horses, they are highly trained, intuitive, and have an innate ability to transform lives. They are registered miniature therapy horses named Mariah, Shelton, Ellie, and Hawkeye. A day’s work could include sharing their generous comfort, joy, and love with special needs children, the elderly, and those in hospice care.
Guests can partake in the Life Enhancement Experience that combines transformational learning and partnering with one of these clever little horses. Many have gone through the experience and found their lives improved having shared their time with a non-judgmental four-legged partner.
SOUL Haven also offers animal assisted interactions and activities such as field trips and “My time with a Mini,” a unique walking tour with a miniature horse on the property’s lush grounds and the scenic West Orange Trail. Through sharing leisure time with an animal, the guest enjoys emotional and physical benefits including reduced stress and anxiety as well as increased joy and inner peace.
From Passion to Proprietorship
As you drive up to SOUL Haven Ranch, you may see Susan Nastasi driving a horse-drawn carriage pulled by Libby and Lizzy, two magnificent white horses —it’s her favorite activity. “I am grateful to serve others with kindness, hospitality and joy as the founder and owner of SOUL Haven Ranch,” she says.
Nastasi formerly served as a financial services executive counselling financial advisors, individuals and small businesses. She helped them achieve personal and professional goals, financial independence, and asset protection. After 25 years in the business she was caught up in a layoff.
She already owned the sprawling Victorian home and imagined making a living out of the peaceful natural setting instead of returning to the rat race of the corporate world. She transferred her business skills from high finance to helping people on a deeper, more SOULful level through her retreat and the unconditional love of her critters.
As to why she is so passionate about SOUL Haven Ranch, she explains in an interview with Aura Lux Photography, “I relish in sharing joy, peace, compassion, laughter, fun, and unconditional love with all humans and animals, mostly horses!”
Not every equine can be a therapy animal. The miniature horses and their handlers undergo months of comprehensive training and are evaluated to ensure they are suited for interaction in a therapy environment. When on a therapy visit, the miniature horses wear custom-made sneakers. They welcome kisses and hugs and gently nudge for a stroke.
Nastasi has long realized what scientific research backs up – the human-animal bond is natural and beneficial. Numerous studies indicate real health and well-being improvements when interacting with animals, here are just a few:
- Pediatric cancer studies showed therapy animals improved motivation to take part in treatment protocol, maintain their motivation over time, and desire to “get better” or stay optimistic, according to a review by the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education.
- An equine-assisted therapy program for wounded, injured, or ill veterans and their partners reduced depression, stress, and PTSD symptoms.
- A study published in PLOS One, shows social behaviors among children with autism spectrum disorder improved significantly with the presence of an animal.
- Sedentary adults were matched with therapy animals in a walking program resulting in increased mobility over a 52-week period.
Transforming her passion into a life’s work, Nastasi enjoys helping people get in touch with nature and themselves. She describes SOUL Haven Ranch as “a place to experience and become more of who you are meant to be!” Want to put a little “whoa” into your life? Learn more about SOUL Haven Ranch, at soulhavenranch.com.