Leading With Horses
Vision and Mission
Leading With Horses is a platform for mental health professionals to apply Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) in their existing treatment program, as an alternative to conventional talk therapy. A collaboration of mental health professional and equine specialist offers a more holistic and comprehensive approach in providing solutions and treatment.
Our program serves any person who is being treated by a licensed mental health professional, with emphasis on youth development and family counseling. SCR offers the only EFP program in Washington that is free to the community and funded by grants and donations from our mental health partners. We also offer EFP workshops and certification programs for mental health professionals (MHP) to best utilize horses in their therapy sessions.
The strength of this program is that mental health professionals can assess their client/patient by observing their patient engaging in problem-solving tasks, or confidence-building, and self-awareness lessons. Parents and caregivers can put tools into action with real-time lessons under the guidance of their therapist.
With a special collection of retired sport-horses, we deliver an environment that fosters emotional growth and healing to those who are moving forward from trauma, with proven success in treatment of substance abuse, suicide prevention, anger management and anti-bullying.
This large reach into the mental health professional field optimizes collaboration and maximizes the positive impact on our community. It is our belief that creative learning environments lead to outcomes of increased confidence and resilience; enhanced motivation and engagement; and development of social, emotional and critical thinking skills.
About Our Services
Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) is a collaboration between a mental health professional and an equine professional to include adjunct EAP therapy to existing treatment programs. We address a multitude of issues affecting both adults and youth. Issues include depression, PTSD, anti-bullying, and suicide prevention, with a focus on “family counseling” to achieve a more holistic and comprehensive approach in providing solutions and treatment.
Our programs do not include riding or riding instruction. EAP is focused on human skills, not horse skills. Allowing horses and clients to interact naturally and of their own free will is what leads to change in people’s lives. It’s all about the relationship between the horses and clients, not the relationship between the facilitators and clients. Executive Director, Katie Merwick, facilitates the horsemanship aspect. Katie shares nearly 40 years of experience as an animal behaviorist and trainer, as well as having operated a nonprofit and youth development program for 21 years. Her role is to facilitate opportunities and bring perception or realization to the lessons being learned.
By integrating the horse-to-human connection, we offer experiential learning where the meaning and the process is solely based on the individual’s personal experience, rather than being “taught” through someone else’s experience. Aristotle once said, “for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” Often, professionals find their clients to be more receptive to accepting information from the horses through this non-verbal alternative to talk therapy. And as well, more open to expressing themselves than if directly speaking about their issues. By allowing them to process information differently, it allows professionals to observe their client’s triggers and respond to them in real-time counseling.
This team approach of licensed mental health professionals and equine experts offers a safe, controlled environment for the client. Sessions are structured and facilitated to specifically address the reasons clients come to therapy - designed to best create metaphors for real life situations.
The unique nature of the horse is what makes the therapy so successful. Horses reflect the behavior and emotional state of the people around them and provide us with immediate and effective feedback. The most important element of therapy is trust. There is an unspoken truth that horses don’t lie or deceive. Not because they are altruistic, but because they are incapable of deceit as an animal who cannot concoct an alternate tale of reality. As the horse builds trust, they connect deeper with the person. This quite often provides the client with a feeling of comfort and the opportunity to break down barriers and address the challenges they have been facing. Horses have a majestic and powerful presence. For people who lack confidence, being put in a position of leadership over a 1000lb animal and successfully managing that animal can build self-esteem and self-confidence. Or even those who have false overconfidence, the horse teaches humility through example as these powerful creatures live peacefully and cooperatively with us.
The three basic aspects of learning from equine therapy;
Horses share much of the same personality traits and emotions as humans; they are dynamic, playful, curious, emotionally sensitive – but more consistently, honest, and unbiased. Activities with the horses challenge participants to work together to find solutions through positive communication and collaboration. It is an experience that becomes a metaphor for real-life situations. The unpredictability of these activities and their outcomes require participants to apply and develop important relationship and life skills. The most important aspect of these activities is not whether the goal is achieved but rather identifying patterns of behavior and emotional response that relates to the modern-day experience.
The strength of experiential learning is that the meaning and the process is solely based on the individual’s personal experience, rather than being “taught” through someone else’s experience. As prey animals, horses have evolved exquisitely sensitive perceptual abilities that far exceed that of humans. As herd animals, they have developed a refined ability to read body language and emotional incongruence. Horses are masters of presence. The horses are powerful teachers of the integrity of will, intent, energy, and alignment. Quite simply, horses change the way we see ourselves.
People typically learn best by doing. Life lessons take deeper root when individuals understand them in their minds and experience them in their bodies. Horses respond with unique insight into exactly who we are in the moment. They are profoundly gifted reflectors of our true selves because their very survival depends on reading us correctly. Subtle changes in our actions or behaviors can provoke responses that give us immediate feedback about ourselves – they are an excellent source of organic biofeedback able to mirror our emotions and provide non-judgmental feedback. Through interaction with the horse, even running a hand over a neck, or putting fingers out to touch a muzzle, can do much to open a door to ideas or thoughts not before disclosed. In a world of technology, voice, the spoken kind has seemed to have lost its importance. What horses offer to the community is an exploration of the self and self-discovery. A model of the show and not tell.
Leading with Horses has created a safe place for coaches, therapists, researchers, and individuals to explore their behaviors. We believe horses are uniquely adapted to coach humans. SCR offers a curriculum and structure that provides opportunities to teach critical life and communication skills.
Benefits of EAP
Honest, non-judgmental feedback gains immediate trust – clients are willing to be more emotionally vulnerable.
Stimulus/Response: immediate responses by the horse demonstrates patterns of behavior and belief systems by both equine and handler
Non-verbal interaction tests ideas of connection and attachment. Horses communicate mostly with body language and limited vocal communication. Thus, clients are able to observe and practice how non-verbal communication might be impacting or influencing others in their lives.
Awareness and Focus. Handling a large and powerful animal or dealing with the unknown creates a need for boundaries, awareness, and horsemanship/handling requires that we are observant, focused, and attentive.
Confidence: Horses are a majestic and powerful presence. For those who lack confidence, successfully managing and training a horse can build self-esteem and self-confidence. Or even those who have false overconfidence, the horse teaches humility through example as these powerful creatures live peacefully and cooperatively with us.