Stacey Bean offers healing with a horse sense
By Emily Leas | Photographed by Kaia Calhoun
Dark red barns ramble across the property at Indigo Trails, set against a backdrop of rolling hills. A gentle breeze carries the sound of a horse neighing from a nearby pasture, while Kabuki, an English retriever, lounges in the sun on the cool concrete. Stacey Bean settles in to share the story of founding Indigo Trails, a holistic wellness center, and of her own journey of grief and self-discovery.
Bean knows she’s always been a healer. Even before she went to medical school to become an emergency medicine doctor, she loved educating and inspiring others to lead their best lives through health and wellness. In her first year of med school at the University of Vermont, she met her match in Darren Bean. They married and moved to Madison to start their careers in the emergency room—he at UW Hospital and she at St. Mary’s Hospital.
“Through medical school and beyond, we were known as Dr. He Bean and Dr. She Bean,” she remembers, smiling. “People would call and ask for Dr. Bean and we’d say which one…the He Bean or the She Bean. Then there’d be a silence and then laughter.”
But through their 10 years in medicine, Bean recalls a sense of something missing—something about Western medicine that just didn’t make her feel complete. And then on Mother’s Day of 2008, Bean got the call that changed her journey.
“I didn’t realize that my last day of medicine was the day before” the call, she says.
Darren’s Med Flight helicopter went down near La Crosse, leaving Bean with two small children and a lifetime ahead of her without her soulmate.
“Life stopped for me…The idea of going back to emergency medicine without him…it had always been Dr. He Bean and Dr. She Bean,” she says with tears in her eyes.
She decided that when the time felt right, she would go back. But that time never came. She went on her own healing journey over the next five years, peeling back the layers of grief through meditation, exploring Eastern medicine techniques that had always interested her, and, as she says, getting back into her own truth.
“Some people say that I reinvented myself. No, I found myself,” she says with a hand to her heart.
As part of that healing journey, horses re-entered Bean’s life. Having grown up with them, Bean thought at the time in 2012 that horses would be entertainment for her young family. The horses let her know that wasn’t going to be the case. She explains that they solidified for her how to be in the present, how to be vulnerable. She found that her grief and pain didn’t bother them, it didn’t scare them, they didn’t try to fix it.
As Abbie Franke, one of Bean’s closest friends, explains, “Her philosophy is about living each day to the fullest and that each day is a choice. Not to live in the past, not to live in the future, but to live awake, alert and aware in the present.”
This philosophy propelled Bean through the next part of her journey. After purchasing two horses, she found the Verona property and knew that the serenity of the place could help awaken and heal others. She also knew from her journey following Darren’s accident that while her decade practicing medicine gave her expertise in the physical body, healing needed to focus on the emotional, spiritual and nutritional aspects as well—the whole body.
So, she spent the next four years gaining expertise in these other pillars and began building Indigo Trails, which offers mindfulness retreats, wellness nights, personal coaching and yoga (in a barn!).
Bean received her Equine Gestalt Coaching Method certification through the Touched by a Horse program in 2016. Equine coaching is a method of coaching that uses horses to tap into our own awareness and instincts.
Cassie Johnson, one of Bean’s one-onone coaching clients, had no expectations of how Bean would use the horses during their sessions when she started last year.
“I choose my words very carefully and always have,” Johnson explains. “In my sessions if I wasn’t being very open or as communicative, the horse would sometimes come and almost hit me on the top of the head with his head. [Bean] would say, ‘What does that mean to you?’ Well, he’s telling me to say it how it is, or be more authentic, at least that’s how I took it.”
Through this introspection, Bean weaves in lessons on gratitude and the uniqueness of each of our journeys. Lois Feiner, a teacher with Verona Area Schools, attended one of Bean’s recent mindfulness workshops and came away with this lesson as a springboard for her own work.
“For me as a teacher, one of the most valuable pieces was how I can take what I’ve learned and continue to practice those ideas…How I can approach my students in a healthier, more accepting, non-judgmental way,” she says. “I’m deeply in debt to Stacey for that. She’s a truly unique woman who has gifts that are vast, varied and deep.”
Feiner recalls the lessons Bean shared about horses as prey animals, grazing peacefully until they are attacked by a predator. They run. They do what they need to and once the danger is gone, they go back to grazing and being calm and relaxed.
“Humans don’t do that very well. Being in a prolonged state of stress is very detrimental both physically and emotionally. Stacey talked about that from her medical background, from her mindfulness back ground and from her equestrian background. It makes perfect sense now,” says Feiner.
As part of her personal coaching, Bean also plays the role of cheerleader.
“There were times when I was missing running because I had two hip surgeries,” says Johnson. “So, when I put running on my calendar she remembered that and sent me a text to encourage me.”
Bean still struggles with the fact that in her decade working as a physician she would hand patients discharge instructions and a prescription, but not provide a path to accountability and healing.
“When a person creates their own prescription and when they find their own answers, that’s when transformation happens,” she says. “The whole time I was in Western medicine, I can’t say I transformed any of my patients. I helped them, absolutely. But as a coach, I’ve seen them transform themselves with my guidance. That’s what’s powerful.”
Bean built Indigo Trails on a foundation of helping women transform themselves, but through the years as she trained with Touched by a Horse and the Institute for Integrated Nutrition, she felt a tug to help healthcare workers and address the rising suicide rates among medical students and residents in her former field. And she knows exactly where that push is coming from: Darren, she says.
So she started down the path of creating a course for medical students called Medicine and Horsemanship.
“It’s kind of a barnyard to bedside thing,” she says. “Horses are really good at teaching emotional intelligence. You have a 1,000-pound patient that does not care that you’re wearing a white coat or that your title says doctor. They’re going to tell you the body language that’s coming across from you.”
Using her array of expertise, she submitted a proposal to the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine in late 2016. In early 2018, Medicine and Horsemanship was approved as a course for second-year medical students. She explains that there is still funding to secure, but her vision is becoming real.
Bean remembers being asked after Darren’s death if she knew what she knows now, would she live this life again?
“Without any hesitation, I said absolutely,” she recalls. “I lived a lifetime with Darren. Thirteen years. I am the person I am today because of being with him, because of the experiences we had and the person he was.”
That gratitude is what drives her to help others find their own gratitude and most authentic selves.
“Seeing my clients be able to drop some of that unfinished business…I love seeing that. I love the impact. It’s freeing. You see a radiance to them. And people start realizing that their life is precious. That they are precious. When they start to see that, it’s truly rewarding. That’s why I do what I do.”
Bean says she doesn’t have the whole picture of what Indigo Trails will become, but she is open to the journey that she has started and will continue to find gratitude in helping others create their own trail.