Balancing the World of Equine Facilitated Wellness

In recent years, the addition of horses as a way to enhance traditional therapeutic environments has risen in popularity. This rise in popularity has brought with it an overwhelming number of training and certification programs, each providing its own beliefs, methods and even acronyms for integrating horses into client sessions. These training programs range from weekend workshops, to week long training, to training that has several training sessions and ongoing mentorship / certification requirements that must be met by the facilitator. The actual implementation of each method is slightly different, but all have the same focus, to aid the client in some type of personal growth.

Individual client sessions will look very different, depending on the training method that is being followed by the facilitator. Some sessions follow a prescribed set of lessons and are somewhat scripted, others are more free flowing and allow the client or facilitator to address things as they come up, other methods rely on interpreting the horse’s reactions to the client. The integration of horses into a session can vary from watching a herd on the outside of a fence, to interacting with the herd in the field, to working with the horse at liberty, to grooming, to leading, to completing obstacles, to mounted work being led by a facilitator, to actual horseback riding, to learning horsemanship skills, to riding lessons and even physical or occupational therapy using the movement of the horse.

As you can see, with the rise in Equine Wellness programs being offered, it is important to do your research to ensure you are going to achieve the results you are after. To help clarify a bit, there are a few general areas that Equine Wellness Programs fall under, do any of these terms ring a bell?

Learning Programs:

  • Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL)
  • Equine Facilitated Personal Growth (EFPG)
  • Equine Assisted Learning (EAL)
  • Equine Assisted Personal Growth (EAPG)

These programs are often Goal based and work on teaching skills and strategies that will aid the client in overcoming challenges they face in life on a day to day basis. These may be anxiety management, acceptance, relationship building, leadership skills, communication skills, sensory work, self regulation, team work, calming techniques, executive functioning, tutoring and more. They cover a wide variety of client types and needs. Facilitators for these programs usually have some type of instructional back ground – teachers, life coaches, horse back riding coaches, horsemanship instructors etc.

Mental Health Programs:

  • Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP)
  • Equine Facilitated Mental Health (EFMH)
  • Equine Assisted Counselling (EAC)
  • Equine Therapy (ET)

These programs are similar to the learning programs in fact a session will look almost the same. Where these programs differ is they are not only working on teaching the skills to manage current challenges, but will also go deeper to help the client overcome past issues and traumas. This style of program is offered by mental health professionals – counsellors, psychologists, social workers etc.

Physical Therapy Programs:

  • Equine Assisted Occupational Therapy
  • Hippotherapy

These are the programs that come to mind for most people when they think of Equine Therapy. In these programs the horse is used as a physical therapy tool. The clients often have some type of special physical needs, and are seated on the horse to help gain muscle control, strength or calm. Clients gain strength from the movement of the horse, and their own body movements. They can be seated in a variety of ways from special saddles to laying on the horse backwards feeling the bi-lateral movement. These programs are offered by specially trained professionals, generally Occupational and Physical Therapists.

Horsemanship and Equine Therapy Programs:

  • Natural Horsemanship
  • Centered Riding
  • Horseback Riding Coaches
  • The Tellington Method
  • Masterson Method
  • Equine Chiropractors

There are too many Horsemanship styles and programs to list here. These programs focus on developing and training horses. They teach handlers and riders how to be good leaders and how to develop their horses using a particular method. Although these programs are not true Equine Facilitated or Assisted Wellness Programs they offer the handler a chance to develop leadership skills and gain confidence when working with their animals. These programs are offered by people knowledgeable in a particular method. Sometimes it is his or her own method, other times they have been trained in someone else’s program. As for the Equine Therapy Programs, these focus on the horse and its well being. These programs include conditioning, massage, chiropractic adjustment, nutritional plans and tack fitting etc.

Here is the Million Dollar Question:

“What is it I do with the horses at Summersend?”

Most people are amazed at what the horses offer to clients. Horses bring with them a sense of acceptance and calming when they are added to a client session. Horses are incapable of lying, and their reactions are unconditional. When horses become part of the client relationship, it is often one of the first times the clients are able to truly trust another being and feel understood. There is no judgment or old grudges being drug up, horses live in the moment and allow the client to be drawn in and to live in the moment too.

As for what I ‘do’ at Summersend Balance, that is a question with no single answer. My training falls into the Learning Programs category. I am a teacher trained in Equine Facilitated Learning. The training program I chose to attend was the longer certification process that required a number of weeks away for training, practicum hours and other certification requirements, including continuing education and personal growth programs, first aid, horsemanship skills, continuing mentorship hours and more. It was a much longer process than some of the other training methods, but in the end I feel I am able to offer my clients much more support and help than I would have before. The skills I gained in counselling practices, client planning, horse care and safety are invaluable.

When clients come to Summersend Balance they are welcomed to my home as well. Client sessions are generally planned around the needs of each individual client, I do also offer group programs which follow certain themes or goals. Both individual sessions and group programs focus on building strong attachment relationships, developing courage, and finding calm. I am a strong believer in integrating nature into my sessions and programs. Clients work with the horses in the outdoors and nature becomes a big piece of what I offer. We will often go for nature walks, participate in mindfulness activities, and enjoy little hidden hideaways around the property.

I also believe creativity is a large part of personal growth. It allows the body to unwind and the mind to let go of tension. I integrate art activities into most sessions as well. These activities may be painting, drawing, coloring, art journaling, nature crafts and more. The horses are a huge part of the programs here, but are not the only part.

Although I am not a horsemanship instructor, or horseback riding coach, I do integrate basic horsemanship skills into the sessions. These skills help clients develop self confidence, leadership and communication skills. These skills are mainly ground work based and often include obstacle work and other equine safety skills. Depending on the client and his or her needs we may even progress to some riding activities. It is a slow process, and the focus is on building client skills not so much on building horse skills. As mentioned above, there are many horsemanship programs people follow, I lean toward a more Natural Horsemanship Approach, mainly Rother Horsemanship and Centered Riding methods.

The world of Equine Facilitated Wellness is huge and wide open. Each Facilitator and program is slightly different and each offers its own amazing benefits. Whether clients are participating in Equine Facilitated Learning, Equine Facilitated Mental Health or even Horsemanship programs clients are sure to experience powerful personal growth in their lives. I aim to offer clients a safe place to learn who they are and experience all the horses, nature and our programs can provide.It is an experience that will stick with them for a life time.

Finding Balance

Christmas has come and gone, as have all the holiday and New Year celebrations. Winter has settled in here at Summersend, and with it has come the time to contemplate and plan for the coming year. The last two years have been incredibly rewarding for me working in the field of Equine Facilitated Wellness. I have had several amazing experiences both with horses and clients alike. I have developed a wonderful herd of equine partners to work with, each with their own strengths and personalities. I truly feel I am in the right place and am excited for all the possibilities in 2017.

I have spent the last couple months thinking about and really focusing the goals and direction I have for the EFW work I plan to do in the coming year. I have continued to take more training and have a number of other courses to attend in 2017. With this additional knowledge and training I believe the Summersend Equestrian and Wellness I started out with two years ago has grown and changed, as everything does over time, into something so much more than I imagined it would become.

With this growth and change, I feel some more concrete changes are in order. Over the next few months, I will be making announcements about programs, services and other great events I have planned, as well as bits of exciting news here and there. I will be integrating new knowledge and skills into my existing work, as well as expanding to meet the needs of even more clients. I want everyone (children, youth, adults and families) to be able to experience the personal growth and development Equine Facilitated programs can offer.

Today, I am extremely excited to unveil my new and improved business name! After much thought and contemplation, I have decided the name Summersend Equestrian and Wellness does not fully speak to what we do here at Summersend. This new name is shorter, and speaks directly to what I aim to do: to help clients find balance in their lives through equine facilitated personal development programs. Because its not just about horses, and not just about kids; its about how we can all benefit from the space horses give us to grow, its about being in nature and embracing what it has to offer, its about being mindful, compassionate and courageous, its about finding a place of rest and the ability to play and learn, its about building healthy relationships and above all its about finding your own personal Balance.

I welcome you all to the new and improved Summersend Balance!

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Rest – Play – Grow

img_2437I just returned from a wonderful workshop with Dr. Deborah MacNamara. Deborah is a faculty member of the Neufeld Institute and an expert on Dr. Gordon Neufeld’s work in Attachment Theory. She has written this book to help anyone working with, caring for or parenting pre-schoolers or those of any age with pre-school type behaviours. It is based in Neufeld’s attachment theory research and offers an intuitive and comprehensive approach to parenting, caregiving and teaching alike. Definitely a must read.

Our programs at Summersend are based in Neufeld’s attachment theory. We believe in building strong relationships and offering clients the freedom to grow. In addition to this, MacNamara explains the importance of play in the development of young children. We believe that by integrating the animals, as we do in all of our programs, it adds a more nature based type of play for our clients. I strongly believe in nature being a big part of our sessions and programs as it allows clients to be grounded and opens up their minds to imagination.

MacNamara’s message is that strong attachments bring emotional rest and emotional rest brings play and play brings emotional development. Play must be unstructured and have no other agenda than to simply be play. It can not be work or be outcome based, just simply be children finding themselves and exploring different situations in a a safe environment. Without rest and play there can be no growth. My goal is to help all of my clients to find those attachments so they can find true play and growth in their lives.

For more information and to read other articles by Deborah you can visit her website at http://www.macnamara.ca.

Worth the Journey


When my journey began about five years ago, I had this little glimmer of an idea of how I wanted to pair my love of teaching with my love of horses. I began researching programs and training styles,  after much thought and many emails I decided to go with the EFW-CAN certification through Healing Hooves. It has been a long process, but one on which I am extremely happy I embarked. This certification has included a number of trips away to attend courses, a practicum process, horsemanship training, and mentorship sessions. The knowledge I have gained about people, horses and what we can learn from each other is more than I could ever put into words. That glimmer of an idea I had five years ago has grown into the services I am able to offer my clients today. I am so thankful for everyone who has helped me get to this point in my training.

Today I am excited to say I have officially completed the last required training course for EFW-Can certification.

In a few short months, and after a mountain of paperwork, I will be a fully dual certified EFW-Can EFLP and EP (Equine Facilitated Learning Professional and Equine Professional). The feeling of accomplishment tonight is almost overwhelming. I am looking forward to the next steps Summersend Equestrian and Wellness will be able to take, and the new services we will begin to offer.

A Horses Touch

When our big old man Diego came to us he was looking for a quiet retirement home where he could just roam the pasture, munch on grass or hay and simply enjoy the comfort of herd life. For most of his life Diego had been a competitive jumper, living in a stable in Beverly Hills (yes California) and travelling to jumping shows. It must have been quite a shock moving to Northern BC. He competed until he was about 14 years old and did quite well from what I am told. He moved to Canada to be used as a beginner jumping lesson horse when he was 17 or so. Diego knew his job and did it well. Anyone can ride this old boy, he is safe and will take care of even the most beginner rider.

Diego sometimes forgets he is an older gentleman and gets playing around in the paddock. One day, when he was 18, he got goofing around with the younger horses and injured a suspensory ligament in his hoof/pastern joint. This injury would ultimately end his jumping days. It also required a lot of extra care and months of stall rest to heal. No longer able to teach beginners to jump, he joined us here to become a reliable equine facilitated learning horse and welcome member of the Summersend Herd.

A few months after arriving here at Summersend Farm, Diego sustained a scratch to one of his eyes. As with many equine injuries, what exactly happened will forever remain a mystery. We worked to heal his eye with rinses, antibiotics and other healing drops. We were successful in healing the injured cornea, but the scratch went much deeper into the eye than even our wonderful vet suspected. Unfortunately, Diego developed an infection in the eye and we were left with only one option; to have the eye removed.

While the surgery healed, Diego again had to be kept in his own small pen, while the rest of the herd was free to run in the pasture. One day I had him out for a walk, the other horses had not had any close contact with him for at least a week. I was curious to see how he would react to them now that he had lost his sight on one side. The most amazing thing happened!

As I let Diego graze the other horses slowly inched their way closer to him. The first one to approach was Bullseye, Diego’s best friend and pasture companion. Bullseye approached us slowly, nibbling on the hay around us. He made his way closer and closer on Diego’s now blind side. Once Bullseye was close enough he gently nuzzled Diego’s muzzle. They continued eating together. Bullseye then lifted his head and ever so softly touched Diego where his eye had been with the tip of his nose, and then wandered off back to the herd. One by one each of the other horses did exactly the same thing. Slowly worked their way up to Diego, let him know they were there, brushed the spot where his eye had been and then went back to their own activities. It was as if they were saying it was ok, they would take care of him. Truly one of the most amazing experiences I have had with the herd.

The compassion shown by the herd that day is exactly the reason why I have chosen the path of Equine Facilitated Learning. Everyday we are faced with challenges in our lives, not everyone is understanding of where were are at that moment in time. The horses offer a safe place to share struggles, build skills to overcome the struggles and become more mindful of how to deal with struggles in our lives. The more mindful we become of how our thoughts and actions affect ourselves and those around us, the more we can develop compassion and acceptance for ourselves and for others. The confidence we gain in ourselves, once we know who we are is incredible. What Diego experienced that day was true acceptance by the herd. They offer the same, no strings attached, acceptance for you and I as well. Summersend Equestrian and Wellness aims to provide a program that is accepting and accessible to all who would benefit from it, and the unconditional care the herd offers.

Diego has recovered remarkably well from his surgery. Within two weeks he was back with his buddy Bullseye in the pasture. At first he experienced some anxiety in the larger pasture, but Bullseye was happy to show him the way. The two are inseparable, where Bullseye goes so does Diego. It took about six weeks for Diego to adjust to the new way of seeing things. He will tilt his head to bring his right eye forward so he can see things more clearly and he occasionally trips moving up or down a hill as his distance perception is different. We make sure he knows we are approaching on his blind side, but honestly he is often more aware of that side then he is of his sighted side. The big guy settled right back into the herd and is still the old man that runs the show just as he always has. With his large size, 17 hands, and being the oldest in the herd at 20, not many horses will try to question his authority. He takes us on short trail rides now and then, and holds a special place in my own heart. I like to think he loves his retirement home.