An Interview with Sandra Jelly
We live in a city where pharmacies are popping out on every street corner and the impulse to seek alternative healing practices seems natural — and yet, rather than explore the possibilities of health care and holistic healing, we often do the opposite and prey on pharmacies, where over-the-counter pills await. But what If there were better cures to our headaches, heartaches, and existential pangs?
Sandra Jelly was leading a sunrise yoga session in Wadi Araba when I first met her. Exchanging life stories around a fire at night, she told me about her Pink Spirit Horse Therapy retreat in Petra and I grew curious about the healing methods she exercised, and the journey that led her to living independently in the harsh southern deserts of Jordan.
Sandra came to Jordan with a plan to participate in the Wadi Rum Endurance Race then return to Amsterdam — but the plan went wrong when Gamar, her horse, got pregnant. “The idea was I get myself a horse, train her, and after the race, I sell her again and return to Holland,” she explains, sipping her iced citrus tea during our brunch at Shams El Balad. It is 1pm on a Saturday, and the place Is packed.
“Why did you stay so long? What happened?” I ask her, intrigued. Sandra’s answer is immediate: “Falling in love,” she says, with a spark in her eyes.
In Jordan, she started searching for the perfect horse, and had almost lost hope, until she arrived in Wadi Musa’s horse valley. “I saw Gamar and that was it,” Sandra says, remembering that first encounter with Gamar, a brown mare with a black mane and legs.
Gamar is now 14 years old and the mother of three: Nour, Remaz, and Zahir. During a full moon, a stallion broke into her stable and they created Nour, whose name translates to “light.”
After that, there was no question Sandra had to keep Gamar. She could no longer follow her plan, sell the horse, and return to an outdated life.
When Sandra first considered buying the mare, Gamar had an injury that prevented her bedouin owners from putting a saddle on her, but, a wild spirit, Sandra was able to ride her, learning how fast she was — and how free she made her feel. “We were on the mountain, and it felt so natural, so easy…”
And yet, the work Sandra does with the horses and therapy has nothing to do with speed. In stillness and standing calm within the paddock, the horses serve as a reflection of the clients, who come to experience a soulful encounter. Sometimes, they come in groups and Sandra facilitates what she calls “Family Constellations.”
“Horses have been on earth 65 million years,” Sandra explains, “and they have not evolved much from their original form and being. And so they have an intuitive knowing and senses that are beyond what we can imagine.” Telling me more about the nature of this amazing creature, Sandra says that horses can sense a heart beat from across the rink. They are so sensitive that they are able to reflect the most subtle qualities of the person they are working with. If one comes into their proximity with fear, the horse will reflect alarm. If one comes with love, the horse offers her own trust. “It’s like looking in a mirror,” Sandra gently explains.
This healing work does not offer capsules, it reflects the truth; issues, self, and purpose in their deepest sense. With this system, the symptoms of ill-tuned behaviors and impulses are cured by reflection — by being connected. Finding the root of the dis-ease, we can finally pull it out. Acceptance is the main ingredient to this alternative healing approach; whatever is revealed, the visitor must accept and face rather than deny or numb. Sandra says many people with deep traumas have left with a new and greater sense of understanding about their self following this encounter.
The desert can be intimidating in its vastness and emptiness — for miles, there’s not much to pay attention to but ourselves. This forces the “patient” to slow down, feel, and listen to what comes up, as well as recognize a deep intuitive wisdom carried within.
While in many parts of the world alternative and integrated healing has come to make up a large percentage of a country’s health and wellness sectors, in Jordan it is still close to non-existent, although a growing interest in the holistic approach suggests the potential for growth in this field.
And while Yoga, probiotics, plant medicine, and acupuncture are among the trends we see surging to treat pains and chronic disease, the possibilities are endless. In Sandra’s practice, as with other healing modules like yoga and Chinese medicine, the focus is on “the whole self” and its dynamics on a physical, mental, and emotional plane.
“In this process, we come to that place of full being, I believe,” Sandra suggests as our food finally arrives. Playing it safe, I ordered a fresh zaatar man’oushe while Sandra succumbed to the assorted eggplant, cheese, and olives man’oushe the waiter had pointed out on the table behind us. “Good choice,” I say, admiring the risk she takes, even with a menu.
Contrary to expectations, taming wild horses is not a part of the therapeutic process. Rather, “the horse is all about connecting you to your wildness,” I am reminded by Sandra.
Also trained as an artist, her new life saw her painting her surroundings in the mornings and riding in the second half of the day. Both practices allow her to feed her unquenchable need for freedom and expression — though in different ways. She paints portraits and the rockscapes of Petra into melting images that recall the softening of nature’s hardest element. And with horses, she finds strength, endurance, and movement — a playful challenge in the wilderness. It is a balance of opposites.
“We all search to be in harmony,” Sandra says, checking her clock to make sure she’s not late for her appointment with a local partner selling some of the carpets she’s created with the craftwomen of Petra. If healing is about finding balance in our physical, mental, and emotional chemistry, then the challenge is to find middle points between the polar forces within us and weave a steady landing space.
Still, as the horses (and all effective healing systems) hold a mirror to show us who we are and where we are in need of fine tuning, we might not always find what we expect, or want to see.
Growing up, Sandra was always more comfortable with boys than with girls, played soccer with the guys, and spent her time outdoors. The girls would sit and chat and she simply found that boring. She studied Business and Economics, and only began exploring her more artistic side later on in her path. This pendulum between a male-dominated world of action and control, and a more feminine creative side that thirsted to pour out of her, continued to swing throughout Sandra’s life, and as she sought to find balance and the places within her that needed healing and connection, she began to inspire those around her to follow suit — and soon, this new way of living was born, reflecting the contrasts within her, and inviting others to explore their own.
“I believe we all have our feminine and masculine sides and choosing Wadi Musa and the horses allowed me to explore that,” Sandra adds to the table as we finish up the last bites of our man’ouches.
Three hours into our conversation it is after 4pm. Around us, everyone had finished and gone.
Before ending our talk, we rewind to where she started, a long way back in the corporate world, where her journey began over ten years ago. “When you live in a city or a corporate environment, you’re just expected to behave in certain ways…and horses gave me a path to reconnect with my higher self,” is the conclusion Sandra returns to. While she enjoyed the creative aspects of the Advertising world she belonged to in Amsterdam, Sandra wanted to connect more deeply with herself, and with nature, and so welcomed the invitation when it presented itself. Foiling through a magazine in a bookstore in Amsterdam, the ad for a trip “To Petra on Horseback” with a bedouin sitting on top of the Monastery caught her eyes, and her heart. “I saw desert and colors and horses and came right away,” she tells me.
She could have done anything she wanted, stayed in Amsterdam, gone to Sydney where a job offer was waiting — but even in the midst of a successful career, her soul was calling.
In that world, “What did my soul need? What did I need to do to grow closer to myself?” Sandra found herself asking more of these questions, recognizing a need to go beyond the surface — to soften the rocks with a new vision. So she set off on the adventure of a lifetime.
Outside, we make our way up the hill as a flock of white birds dance against the blue, pulsating in rhythms. They catch light from the setting sun and grant us the spectacular gift of silver mirrors in the sky.
*If you want to learn more about Sandra’s soul work, check out her site: