Services: Equine-assisted Psychotherapy

Stride into wellness through therapy with horses

Services temporarily on hold until the summer

A great option for individuals, couples, families and groups

Healing and therapy beyond words

Christina Crowe, owner of Dig a Little Deeper, on-site at Rusty Jade Ranch, in Palgrave, ON.

Therapy with horses can be a great option for anyone especially those who may have had negative therapy experience in the past, dislike talk therapy, or find it difficult to put feelings into words. 

Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy offers a therapeutic environment that can feel less scary and more inviting than a traditional talk therapy office.  Anyone hoping to address relationship issues, social skills, or family dynamics, would also benefit since equine-assisted therapy helps you practice building a relationship, skills which can transfer to relationships outside of therapy.

You do not have to have any prior experience with horses, or horsemanship to participate in equine-assisted psychotherapy.  Equine-assisted therapy does not typically involve riding, but ground based exercises designed to specifically to create experiences that engage our physiological processing, for the purposes of psychological change and healing. 

Therapy with horses may not be the best option if you have severe allergies, or an intense fear of horses that you’ve not yet had a chance to work through in a traditional therapeutic setting (though, if you’d like to overcome a fear or phobia of horses, gradual exposure therapy with horses and trained mental health professionals can make a big difference.)

Emotional Regulation

Identify and cope with feelings, build confidence, self-awareness, and empathy

Communication & interpersonal skills

Develop patience, humility, and fostering a sense of pride.

Personal Obstacles

Learn to set boundaries, overcome fears and learn to trust

Personal Responsibility

Learn to accept responsibility and taking care of oneself and others

Horses have helped others with their mental health

Equine-assisted psychotherapy has been used to treat a variety of mental health conditions, such as anxiety, ADHD, eating disorders, addiction, depression, and PTSD.  It ​brings people outdoors and offers an opportunity to use all senses while learning and processing through emotional challenges. 

What you can expect

Find calm through caring for horses

Each therapy session will be tailored to your goals, and will generally including some of the following activities, depending on the type of program:

  • spending time observing horses and their behaviour,
  • grooming and brushing a horse,
  • ​leading a horse on a walk inside an enclosed area,
  • guiding a horse through obstacle courses, or along a trail.

At all times, your therapist will stay with you and offer guidance as you interact with the horse. They may ask questions about your observations and offer support with exploring any uncomfortable feelings — or helpful insights — that surface during the experience.​

Is equine-assisted psychotherapy right for you?

Evidence for the benefit of equine assisted therapy has been researched and demonstrated in the following area’s:

In equine-assisted psychotherapy, neuroception, atunement and co-regulation happen, in a nonjudgmental environment, which is when learning – for both horse and human – can occur. Anyone hoping to address relationship issues, social skills, or family dynamics, would also benefit since equine-assisted therapy helps you practice building a relationship, skills which can transfer to relationships outside of therapy.

Equine-assisted therapy will take a very different shape from person to person, based on the model used and the goals of the client.

All sessions are on site at Rusty Jade Ranch, in Caledon (Palgrave), ON

Current program options and rates

Equine-assisted therapy can take a very different shape from person to person, based on the model used and the goals of the client.  Adults of all ages can benefit, and the majority of children participating in EAP are between the ages of 6 to 18 years old, but the trainers at Rusty Jade Ranch have worked with kids as young as 4. ​

2023 Rates

Includes HST

Reimbursement through workplace or third insurance
 
Reimbursement through workplace or third insurance: Equine-Assisted Therapy is covered under Psychotherapy (“Equine-assisted psychotherapy”) with many of the major insurance companies such as Manulife, Sunlife, WSIB, Blue Cross for Veterans and First Responders (Veterans Affairs Canada and RCMP), Victims Services (VQRP) & Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (Ministry of the Attorney General, Non-Insured Health Benefits (for First Nations People, Residential School Survivors (Health Canada), Children’s Aid Societies, when done with a Registered Psychotherapist. 
Our Equine Specialists, Shannon, Brad, Kelly, Andi and Jody, at Rusty Jade Ranch, Caledon, ON.

Our Program Partner

Stable Relations, at Rusty Jade Ranch

Stable Relations has been a Western Riding school since 2000, and was founded by K​elly Solowka. Kelly’s partner, Brad Matchett, is a lifelong horseman (there are actual cowboys in Caledon!) and has had extensive experience in every aspect of horsemanship from breeding to horse training to open range work. 
18070 Duffy’s Lane
Palgrave, ON, L7E 3C4

2 ways to get connected

Get started with equine-assisted psychotherapy

If you are an existing client at Dig a Little Deeper, simply let your therapist know you are interested, and they can refer you into the program. 

If you are a NEW client to Dig a Little Deeper, please take a moment to fill out the New Client Intake form below. 

Rooted in the neuroscience behind equine therapy

Scientific principles behind equine-assisted psychotherapy

Equine-assisted psychotherapy, sometimes also referred to as EAP, EAT, or “equine therapy,” refers to activities with horses that are conducted while being supervised by a mental health professional and a horse trainer, or other equine specialist while engaging in psychotherapeutic work. 

How horses help us heal

Horses, like humans, are mammals. 

​Horses have long been domesticated and live alongside humans, it’s thought they are especially attuned to humans’ emotions and nonverbal signals, and that they respond accordingly. In humans, we often refer to the process of atunement, or simply ​our ability to be present to, and with, another’s expression of their experience.

We both have a mammalian nervous system and, one way to think through your horse’s unusual behaviour is to consider what we know about how human nervous systems perceive threats, danger and safety – what starts with a process known as neuroception.

​While engaging in activities guided by your psychotherapist, with the horse, clients will attempt to recognize how the horse’s behaviours might be due to their own emotional signals—a client who is angry or anxious, for example, may see the horse pull away, or otherwise respond negatively.

The unintentional benefit of a partner in therapy who cannot use language, is that client and therapist must tap into their emotional functioning and powers of observation to influence the horse. ​

The neuroscience behind psychotherapy with horses

The process started about 200 million years ago, when humans were both predator and prey. We mammals have nervous systems that keep us safe by constantly scanning for danger – long before any kind of sophisticated thought comes to mind about how we should deal with a potentially threatening situation. 

You may have heard of the ‘automatic’ responses all mammals have, called “fight or flight.”  While humans can tend to lean one way or another, we do experience both responses. Horses on the other hand, are almost always flight animals. They will move away from danger, long before they would dare come near it. And they most certainly recognize humans – the original predators – as potential threats. So how do you get your horse to want to hang out with you? 

We must ensure our horse doesn’t see us a a threat. It sounds simple, but isn’t always. 

Co-regulation

Understanding emotions through horse behaviour

While engaging in activities with the horse, the client will attempt to recognize how the horse’s behaviours might be due to their own emotional signals—a client who is angry or anxious, for example, may see the horse pull away or otherwise respond negatively. 

This “mirroring” process is thought to help the client identify what they’re feeling and potentially modify their emotions for the better, all in a nonjudgmental environment. Equine specialists may also promote the practice of mindfulness, or focusing on the present moment, when the client is interacting with the horse.

Because horses are large, powerful, and may be intimidating to many people, engaging with them in a supervised environment is thought to help anxious individuals face their fears and practice vulnerability in a safe space. Indeed, some clients report that simply interacting with the horses and successfully guiding them through challenges is beneficial for their anxiety and self-esteem.

Over time, many clients form a bond with the horse(s) they work with, which is theorized to foster empathy and build trust, especially among clients who have been traumatized in some way. What’s more, learning to interact with a horse calmly and safely is thought to help individuals, particularly children, who struggle with impulse control or hyperactivity.

​Learning to gain a greater awareness of the automatic functioning 
of these protective systems in our bodies is what leads to greater flexibility in how we respond automatically to stress and anxiety. We can get ourselves unstuck, safely connect to others to gain more satisfaction from our relationships and feel more empowered to improve the quality of our lives. 

When our ‘partner’ cannot communicate with us in words, in this case our horse, we have no choice but to communicate differently; that is to rely on non-verbal body language.

We have to somehow communicate to a 1,000 lb. animal that we are safe for them, and that we need them to be safe for us.