IN THE FOOTHILLS of the Rocky Mountains in Longmont, Colorado, psychotherapist Jackie Ashley offers a unique form of counseling for women. Instead of having clients sit on a couch in her office and discuss their problems, Ashley takes them to a corral and encourages them to interact with horses. “It’s a powerful way for people to get in touch with their feelings,” explains Ashley. For anyone struggling with depression, anger, anxiety, or other difficult emotions, a horse can help.
WHAT TO EXPECT A therapist will guide you as you pet the horse, talk to it, groom its coat, and lead it around an arena (you won’t ride it).
BENEFITS “Just standing next to such a large animal takes you out of your comfort zone, which can bring up emotions,” says Calyn Acebes, director of the Medicine Horse Program in Boulder, Colo. (Horse handlers in the ring ensure safety.) Over time, clients move from observing the horses to connecting with them and ultimately leading them around the ring, all the while discussing feelings that arise. Often, Ashley has clients place their hands on a horse and breathe in unison with the animal. “It calms people and brings them into the present moment—and they get the physical and emotional benefits of touching a warm, soft, living creature.”
SHE TRIED IT Ashley’s client Beth Johnson, a survivor of childhood abuse, had difficulty expressing her bottled-up anger. Ashley had Johnson do exercises like stand in the middle of the ring, surrounded by the herd. “She was able to cry and to release some of that rage, and some of the horses even came forward,” Ashley explains. “Beth learned that she had a voice, and that she didn’t need to be ashamed of expressing her feelings.” Johnson, who now attends sessions regularly, agrees. “Being among the herd feels safe,” she says. “I’m learning to forgive, and to heal.”
COST Prices vary, but an average session is $75 (group session) or $150 (individual session); programs run for four to eight weeks. Check eagala.org to locate a practitioner in your area.
Woman grooming horse image via Shutterstock