By Laura Scaletti
Portraits by Lori Ovanessian
If you’ve ever seen the sitcom “2 Broke Girls,” you know Beth Behrs was living the ultimate horse-girl fantasy as her character, Caroline Channing, had a horse, Chestnut, that lived in the apartment’s backyard and oftentimes found his way into the kitchen. A horse girl to the core, Beth aspires to turn this fantasy into reality and have her own horses join her and her daughter, Emma George, for breakfast someday.
Beth believes a horse girl is someone committed to a lifelong connection and passion for horses, however that may manifest itself. “Recently, I’ve seen a lot of memes and posts on social media about what a horse girl is. If being a horse girl makes you weird, because you have a passion that overtakes everything, I’m all for being weird,” Beth said. “It’s funny; before horses, I feel like my passion was entertainment. But once your passion becomes your job, it’s hard to have that same love just for the love of it. So, horses really became something that’s just for me.”
Growing up in rural Virginia, Beth was surrounded by neighbors who had horses. “My parents never could afford riding lessons, so the extent of horses for me growing up was popping on my neighbors’ horses, reading all the horse books I could—“Saddle Club,” “Black Beauty,” anything by Marguerite Henry—and visiting the wild horses on Assateague and Chincoteague Island when I visited my grandparents,” Beth said.
It wasn’t just horses that captivated Beth from a young age. “I don’t remember a time in my life that I didn’t want to be an actress. My parents said that when I was little, I’d act out the “Sound of Music.” At 3 or 4 years old, my parents were like, Well, this kid is kind of weird, we should probably put her in theatre or something because she seems to love this,” Beth said.
Her parents’ intuition paid off. After starting acting classes as a child, Beth never deterred from the path, which eventually took her to UCLA to study theater. A few years after college, she landed the job on “2 Broke Girls”for the entirety of its six seasons, and then moved on to “The Neighborhood.”
Beth may have moved to Hollywood to follow her passion, but her rural roots didn’t leave her. “I’ve been rocking the coastal cowgirl look, with cowboy boots and boho dresses for 13 years. I’m really glad fashion has finally caught up to me because I finally fit in,” she chuckled.
Healing With Horses
Beth rekindled her passion for horses in the unlikeliest of places: a Hollywood soundstage. After moving away from Virginia at age 15, Beth had gone more than a decade without being around horses on a regular basis. “It had been so long since I had been around them, I forgot how big they were. I was definitely a little nervous coming back to it, but that went away real quick as I started riding on my lunch break,” Beth said. “The buzz of riding hits you again and the fear goes away.”
With her “2 Broke Girls” character, Caroline, being a horse owner herself, Beth had ample opportunity to finally go full horse girl. She and her husband, Michael, became close friends with the show’s horse trainer, Scott. “He’d let me and Kat Dennings ride around the lot on the horses, which was so much fun. Then on the weekends, my husband and I were going and riding at Scott’s ranch and I fell in love with it,” Beth said.
Beth wasn’t just having fun while in the saddle; she noticed that being around horses had a huge impact on her anxiety and panic attacks. While she had struggled with anxiety since she was a teenager, her anxiety and panic attacks came out in full force when she entered the Hollywood spotlight.
“I noticed how calm and grounded I felt when I was around Chestnut and other horses, so I mentioned this to my friend Whitney Cummings and she told me she had a friend, Cassandra Ogier, who did equine therapy, where you didn’t even have to get on the horse. From the moment I met Cassandra, it was night and day in my life. My panic attacks got less frequent, and I ended up falling madly in love with just being around horses,” Beth said.
From the beginning of her horse therapy experience, Beth felt an immediate spiritual connection with the horses that allowed her to get out of her head and live in the present moment, which in turn took away power from her anxiety. She credits horses’ natural fight-or-flight instinct in teaching her how to show up authentically herself, regardless of how her day is going.
“If you’re trying to mask how you’re feeling, whether you’re sad, fearful or angry from your drive on the way to the barn, horses won’t connect with you because you’re not being authentic. Since they’re prey animals, they’re wondering, Are you a lion? I can’t tell; you’re not being truthful to what’s going on in your body and I don’t trust you,” Beth said. “I learned that no matter how I was feeling, if I showed up as myself at that moment in time, I’d connect with the horses. It became so empowering to realize the power of being authentic.”
Unlike talk therapy, where a lot of effort is involved in getting out of your head to start the healing process, just being around horses can effortlessly bring us back into our body and calm us. “There have been recent studies and science showing how our heartbeats can get regulated with our horse’s, without us even trying, and that’s one of the reasons why horses are so healing. I love that science is proving what horse girls have known forever: the value of our relationships with horses,” Beth said.
After finding a grounding, somatic sort of healing with horses through her work with Cassandra, Beth knew she needed to make horses a permanent part of her life. “I knew I needed a horse that could help bring me back to the present moment, whenever I needed it. I wanted to rescue a horse of my own, so I could have horseplay for me every day, whether that was grooming, going on long walks or just hanging out with them,” Beth said.
Who Rescued Whom?
Once Beth was ready to finally get a horse of her own in 2014, she reached out to her friends at the ASPCA and asked for recommendations of their favorite horse rescues. The team at Blue Apple Ranch had a video of a Paint mare, who’d been rescued from a domestic violence situation, that captured Beth’s heart. “In the video, they referred to Belle as Lucille Ball and she was doing this funny thing with her lips and a bucket. Lucille Ball has always been my biggest comedy hero, so I was like, That’s my horse,” she said.
But it wasn’t just the video that sealed the deal. Beth and Belle had an instant bond and connection the moment they met. “When I went to visit her at the rescue, I had to get her out of the field. She was probably 100 yards away from us and she ran up to us and literally put her forehead on my chest,” Beth said. “The woman from the rescue, who was with me said, ‘I think we’ve found your horse.’”
This beautiful moment is why Beth always says, “Who rescued whom?” when it comes to the impact she and Belle have had on each other’s lives. “From the moment she came into my life, it got astronomically better: my quality of life, my happiness, my anxiety, everything. Even though I was the one who rescued her, I feel like we really needed each other,” Beth said.
The connection has only grown over the past almost decade the duo has been together. “Belle whinnies to me every time she hears my car arrive at the barn and I walk up. It’s so cool when your horse can sense you and starts calling out to welcome you back,” she said. “It’s been such a neat process to watch the relationship develop both on the ground and on her back.”
Beth spends most of her time on the trail with Belle and does a little bit of Western dressage. She’s recently started taking English dressage lessons on other horses to further expand her riding education. “I’m trying to manifest my own English riding movie. I feel like that’s got to be next in my career, some sort of horse-girl show or movie. So I figure, maybe if I can get really good at riding in both saddles, someone will hire me to ride in a movie or something,” Beth chuckled.
Beth’s not the only one in the family who has a rescue horse. Her husband has his own rescue horse, a Percheron named Rosie. “I basically turned Michael into the cowboy of my dreams without really trying. He started coming to the barn with me and began volunteering at the equine therapy program for kids with special needs. He fell in love with Rosie. She was donated to the program because her owners couldn’t take care of her and he said he’d take care of her,” Beth said.
The lessons Beth has learned from Belle have transferred over to her career and both her and Michaels’s approaches to parenting. “There are high-energy situations when dealing with both a toddler and in my career. There are long hours, lots of pressure and difficult situations. In those moments, I go back to what Belle has taught me about staying in my body, being grounded and calm,” she said.
As soon as Beth started working with Cassandra and noticed a difference in her panic attacks and anxiety, she immediately thought of her younger sister, who’s a victim of sexual assault. “I had this gut intuition that the horses would help heal her in a way that talk therapy couldn’t and it proved to be absolutely true. She came to a workshop with Cassandra and had a moment where she connected with a horse, a huge Paint named Chief, in a way that had the entire workshop bawling,” Beth said. “To this day, my sister still talks about it being one of the most powerful healing experiences. She, Cassandra and I decided we wanted to give that feeling to other women survivors.”
In 2016, SheHerdPower was created to provide rehabilitative services to survivors of sexual assault and abuse, free of charge. Survivors participate in a weekend workshop where they use Equine Guided Empowerment™ and Somatic Reprogramming™ to reclaim their voice after trauma.
“We’ve done quite a few programs and there are now several women who are survivors who teach equine therapy through SheHerdPower. The pandemic derailed our workshops for a while, but I’m hoping we can start them up again, as the healing power of these animals is amazing,” Beth said.
The majority of participants experienced sexual assault in college. One such participant came to a workshop while she was still in college. “She had a beautiful connection with a horse in our program and immediately afterwards she found the closest barn to her college so she could continue her healing journey with horses,” Beth said. “My hope is to pass along the healing powers of horses, because even if you’re not riding, there are so many opportunities to volunteer to take care of horses and groom them, now that equine therapy barns are pretty common across the country.”
Although Beth is a huge advocate of horse-girl life, the intent of SheHerdPower isn’t to create a new batch of horse girls. “We had one girl who created a beautiful piece of art that she keeps on her desk, of her and one of the program’s horses with their foreheads together. I hope keeping that piece of empowerment from her SheHerdPower weekend can help her and the other participants reclaim their voice and presence in their bodies,” Beth said.
Education & Advocacy
In addition to her work with SheHerdPower, Beth also devotes her time and energy to other organizations that help horses, like the EQUUS Foundation, ASPCA and Wild Beauty Spirit Foundation. “One reason why I love the EQUUS Foundation is because of their commitment to horse and human protection and healing. They protect and safeguard horses while also promoting the spiritual bond horses can give us. Through working with them, I’m able to educate people and help nonprofits that are doing healing work with these rescue horses,” Beth said.
Beth hasn’t just been an asset to the EQUUS Foundation; they’ve helped her as well. Through her connections with the foundation, she’s been able to find horse healing programs for friends and family throughout the United States. “It’s great because they’ve vetted these amazing programs, so I can trust where I’m sending my family and friends. Unless you’re a horse person, you don’t go right away to equine therapy as a way of healing. I’m hoping to be able to spread awareness that there are alternatives to traditional talk therapy,” she said.
As a proud rescue-horse owner herself, Beth works with the ASPCA on The Right Horse Initiative, which works to reframe the conversation around horse adoption. “There are some misconceptions about rescue horses being somehow dangerous and that scares people away from adoption. It’s evident through my own experience with Belle that regardless of how these horses start out in life, they can have a great second act with their adoptive owners,” she said.
Beth is also passionate about wild horses and horses who end up on the path to slaughter. “A lot of people don’t know what’s happening in regard to wild horses and slaughter. I’m lucky that I have a platform through these various foundations, social media and being an actress where I can help shed a spotlight on these issues and make them my deepest calling and passion,” Beth said. “I will do everything and anything I can to shed the light on how terrible the last days can be for slaughtered horses and advocate for it to get banned.”
Lifelong horse advocate is a role Beth will gladly play as long as she’s needed. “I’m available any time one of the foundations needs me to educate the public and advocate for horse welfare and adoption,” she said.
Beth’s not only created the cowboy of her dreams in her husband, she’s also the mother of a future horse girl, Emma George. “We introduced Emma George, who’s 17 months old, to the horses at 3 or 4 days old. We have photos of her on the horse and they are so funny, because obviously we are holding her, but it looks like she’s riding a horse as a baby,” Beth said.
Fast forward to today: The family travels to the barn every weekend and Emma George sits in the saddle, trots and loves horses. “I feel like I’m giving her the horse-girl life of my dreams, which is super fun. I’m sure I’m going to have to look into owning a pony in the near future,” Beth said.
Beth can’t wait until she and Emma George can take mother-daughter hacks through the countryside. “I hope we have a horse property by then where we can wake up, have breakfast together and then go on long rides and talk. When I envision the future with her, I’d love to have moments of deep life talks and connection on horseback together out in nature. That’s what I look forward to most,” she said.
In the meantime, Beth is beginning to share her love of horse books with Emma George. “Each year my husband usually tries to find me a super-rare edition of ‘Black Beauty.’ Now we’re doing that for our daughter,” Beth said. “When she’s a little older, I will start reading ‘Misty of Chincoteague’ to her and show her the old photos of my sister and I on the island with the wild ponies.”
Emma George’s equine library includes the book ‘Emma the Vet.’ “I’m hopeful that she could be a horse veterinarian, so she can do free vet work for us. So I read her ‘Emma the Vet’ each night and think, Please be a vet, please be a vet,” Beth chuckled. “Seriously, she doesn’t have to be an Olympic jumper or vet, but it would be cool if she was. I just hope that as she gets older, horses are in her blood and are as healing for her as they are for her dad and me.”
One of Beth’s favorite aspects of being a horse girl is the connections she’s made with other horse girls, both in real life and via social media. After reading Sarah Maslin Nir’s ‘Horse Crazy,’ Beth reached out to her via DM on Instagram. “Sarah’s now literally one of my dearest friends. We’ve been on trips together, were business partners on a pony together and I met my friend Jessie Lochrie through her,” she said. “Now we call each other the ‘horse-crazy girls.’”
Beth also learned about the power of the horse-girl community in 2018 when wildfires broke out near where Belle was boarded. She tweeted and put out an Instagram story saying, “Desperate to get our horses out. Need trailers ASAP. Can anyone reach out here if they are in L.A. area and have trailers?” The horse community showed up for Beth in a big way and helped Belle get to safety.
“I had so many horse girls whom I didn’t even know in person reach out to offer to help. I’ve since met several and we’ve become friends,” Beth said. “Once you’re a horse girl, you never go back. We’re such a tight-knit community because we all have the same deep-rooted passion. It’s the best!”
When Beth looks towards her future, there’s no doubt horses will play a starring role in it. “My long-term goal is to have a horse property where I can provide retirement for some of the therapy horses who have given so much to humans their whole lives. I’d also like to have, at that same facility, a place where survivors of sexual assault and those dealing with chronic illness can experience the healing power of horses,” Beth said. “My main horse-girl goal is to rescue more horses to bring more healing to more people.”
The role of horse girl is one Beth looks forward to playing for the rest of her life. “As a recovering perfectionist, I love horsemanship because I feel like nobody’s perfect, because every horse is different,” Beth said. “It gives me this vast appetite to read and consume everything I can about horses over my lifetime, then try to share it with my daughter.”
Follow Beth on Instagram @bethbehrs
Photos by Lori Ovanessian, simpleefocused.com