I’m starting a new series on my blog. Interviews with people who start over and begin again. People who started over in a new career, a new city, a new country, etc. We all have so many different reasons for why we want to try something new or start over. We also have a lot of automatic fear built in, starting with the big one: What if I fail? I hope these interviews will help by first showing you why and how someone started over. We’ll also look at any challenges along the way and any advice they have for someone who wants to begin again. We kick off this series with the lovely Margaretha Montagu. She started out as an MD and now runs retreats on a beautiful farm with six horses. With too much stress exacerbating a debilitating eye condition, she found stress reduction by finding a new career in the South of France. Who didn’t dream of owning horses in a beautiful country setting as a child…maybe an adult too?
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Can you please introduce yourself, tell us what you do and where you do it?
My name is Margaretha Montagu. I am a medical doctor, although I no longer practice medicine. Nearly 10 years ago I retrained as an equine-assisted psychotherapist and I now work in the field of personal development in the south of France, where I host equine-facilitated residential and non-residential retreats.
Your first career was as a medical doctor, was that something you always wanted to do as a child? If not, how did you decide on the medical field?
I wanted to be a vet when I was a little girl. I especially wanted to work with horses. As a teenager, I did a couple of work placements at veterinary surgeries as well as at medical practices. During the latter, I became fascinated by the workings of the human mind and decided to become a medical doctor instead.
In my blog, I write a lot about trying new things and people who start over. First, why did you change your career and second, how did you decide on Equine Assisted Therapy? Were there other things that you thought about first?
I changed my career for two reasons. Firstly, because I developed a debilitating eye disease, partly stress-induced by the demands of my work, that limited my ability to work in the medical field. Secondly, because I developed an interest in the prevention of stress-induced conditions. At the time, the medical profession was focused more on the management of stress-induced disease than on prevention of said conditions. I looked at a variety of career options that would enable me to help my patients manage stress – I trained in hypnotherapy and NLP – but eventually settled on equine-assisted psychotherapy as it enabled me to combine my medical knowledge and experience with my love for horses.
Did you previously own horses before you made your decision?
No. Regretfully, there was never any time for horses, neither during my studies nor during my medical career. I had no idea how time, money, and energy consuming horse ownership would be. It was a steep learning curve during which I learned as much about myself, my strengths and my weaknesses, as I learned about horses. Now, with a herd of six, I cannot envision a life without horses.
I see that you have other types of retreats at your farm, like Meditation retreats. Did you envision all of this from the start or did you start with the Equine Assisted Therapy first?
I started with equine-assisted psychotherapy, but I soon realized that I was once again working in a field that focused on cure rather than on prevention. So I switched equine-assisted experiential learning, teaching people how to manage stress and so prevent diseases like heart attacks, strokes, stomach ulcers etc. with the help of horses. Right from the start, the plan was to host retreats. Our most popular retreats today are the equine-guided meditation retreats that enable participants to practice stress management strategies, aided by our horses, in a relaxed setting, but we also host Camino de Santiago de Compostella walking and wine tasting weekends.
Just to clarify it sounds like you’ve moved away from Equine Assisted Therapy into your current workshops. Or do you still do the Therapy, but the other workshops are more popular?
Equine-assisted psychotherapy (for people with mental health problems) felt too much like working to cure patients instead of preventing disease in the first place. So what I do now, is equine-assisted experiential learning (for personal empowerment) and equine-guided meditation (for stress management.) I still do the odd equine-assisted psychotherapy session, but I more or less gave it up a good while ago.
Can you tell me what the equine-guided meditation retreats entail? What do participants do and how do the horses assist and how long is the class?
During the retreats, we focus on stress management strategies like mindfulness and a variety of different meditation methods, like walking, working, writing and equine-guided meditation. The horses are involved in most of the classes, for example, when we introduce participants to working meditation, they do it by grooming the horses and when we do walking meditation, the participants walk with the horses. Equine-guided meditation is basically meditation in the presence of the horses.
I’ve been seeing and reading a lot about the Camino de Santiago lately. What’s involved in your retreat? We live a few hundred meters from the Camino, it literally passes not far from our back door. We wanted to offer people the opportunity to walk part of the Camino while at the same time showcasing one of the products of our region, our exceptional wines, so the idea of a walking and wine tasting weekend was born. This short break – Friday evening to Monday morning – has been very popular. Guests walk from Eauze to Nogaro on Saturday, attend a tutored wine tasting at the Saint Mont cellars on Saturday afternoon and walk from Nogaro to Aire-sur-Adour on Sunday. (See below for more information on workshops and retreats.)
What do you love most about your new career and lifestyle and what do you miss about your old career?
I love everything about my new career. I love living here in the south of France, I love working daily with people and with horses and I love the feeling that I am making a difference in people’s lives. I am convinced that I made the right decision because our current low-stress lifestyle has arrested the progression of my eye disease. What I miss most about my old career is the regular interaction and exchange of information with colleagues. If it wasn’t for the Internet I would have felt professionally very isolated here in deepest rural France.
On top of everything else that you already do, you’ve also written several books. This includes You ARE Good Enough and French Women’s Confidence Secrets. My question is, which do you prefer? Running retreats or writing the books?
The two go hand in hand. During the summer months, I host retreats and during the winter months, I write. Each book has been inspired by problems that retreat participants struggled with. For example, You ARE Good Enough was inspired by the impostor syndrome and Secure Your Promising, Purposeful and Prosperous Future (this book will be available soon,) was inspired by the insecurity generated by the recent terrorist attacks and presidential elections. Mindfulness and Meditation in the South of France I wrote as a companion workbook for our Connect with Horses meditation retreats. I couldn’t choose between writing and hosting the retreats, I love doing both in equal measure.
Looking back to when you made the career transition, is there anything that you wish you’d done differently? Or anything that you felt wasn’t working out and you dropped or changed along the way?
I wish that I had listened to my heart more and less to my head. Both my heart and my head lead me to the same outcome, but if I had listened to my heart more, I would have gotten there sooner. As for making changes, the content of the retreats evolves over time according to participants’ needs and to a certain extent, the content of each retreat is tailored to suit the individual participants.
Did you get any advice or help from others while embarking on your new career? What is the best advice or assistance that you got along the way?
I received a lot of advice and support from my friends, family and funnily enough, from my retreat participants. In the early days, nearly 10 years ago now, I was very much feeling my way with the retreats, not sure what would work best, what participants needed most and how to use the location to its full potential. It was the retreat participants themselves who time and again pointed me in the right direction and in fact, continue to do so.
What advice do you have for someone looking to make a career change during midlife or later?
Just do it, but do your research thoroughly and make your preparations carefully before you take the plunge. Listen to your head, by all means as it will keep you safe, but do not ignore your heart. At the start of my career, I chose my career with my head. In midlife, I chose my new career with my heart. I have never regretted either choice, but my heart’s choice has made me much happier.
I hope you found this interview interesting and perhaps a bit inspiring? Below are links for all of Margaretha’s information and workshops. I encourage you to please check everything out. A meditation workshop with horses sounds heavenly right now.
Links for Margaretha:
(All Pictures used in this post were provided by Margaretha’ Montagu and used with her permission.)