The Horse and Rider Connection

Restoration & Maintenance through Equine Massage Therapy

The News Herald - 26 July 2004

Horses provide therapy training
oscar Bobbi Whittemore, of Chapel Hill, grooms Oscar, one of the horses used during the equine assisted psychotherapy certification clinic held Saturday at the Exceptional Equestrians facility on the grounds of J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center. Photo by Jennifer M. Phelps.

Horses aren't just for riding anymore. And people who attended an equine assisted psychotherapy certification clinic in Morganton last week would say the same.

The three-day clinic, presented by representatives from the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) in Santaquin, Utah, taught people how to use horses as a way to relate to emotionally troubled youth or adults.

Lynn Thomas, co-founder of the association and leader of the clinic, welcomed nearly 45 people from the Southeast coast to the Exceptional Equestrians facility on the grounds of J. Iverson Developmental Center.

"EAGALA has been around for six years," Thomas said. "And since then, we've grown to over 2,500 members internationally. Our program is really powerful to change people's lives."

Thomas said equine assisted therapy taems a mental health professional with a horse professional, doing problem solving acivities with the horse that are designed to mimic problems therapy patients face.

"People who can bebefit from this kind of therapy may have come frmo broken homes, suffered abuse or had a parent die," said Dottie Reed, director of Exceptional Equestrians and clinic participant.

"And because horses are very social animals and act a lot like humans in many of the same non-verbal ways, we can learn a lot from them about what to look for in the body language of someone who is troubled."

Many of last week's activities, Thomas said, were made difficult with certain rules.

"Lots of times we tell people there can't be any talking to, touching or bribing the horses in order to get them to do what you want them to do," Thomas said. "That takes people out of their comfort zones. But it also forces them to look at other ways of communication."

For example, Thomas said, in one activity, clinic participants were asked to try to make a horse stay in one spot, as if it had been tied to an imaginary post. In another activity, a horse had to be made to jump a hurdle without being spoken to.

"Usually," Thomas said, "what ends up working for the horse, what makes the horse do what it's supposed to do, is what works for therapy patients."

For more information on equine assisted therapy, visit