The Transformative Power of Equine Therapy for Teens in Crisis

Looking for a transformative therapy experience? Consider equine therapy. Unlike other therapies, this approach uses horses to connect individuals to their physical, cognitive, emotional, and social selves. Equine therapy is an effective solution for a range of disorders, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, and autism. It promotes mental well-being and provides insights into the therapeutic journey. Don't miss out on this unconventional approach that fosters strong bonds between humans and animals for healing.


Harnessing Healing: Exploring Equine Therapy for Teen Growth

Equine therapy offers a holistic approach to healing and personal growth, addressing emotional, physical, cognitive, and social aspects of well-being. It can be particularly effective for individuals with a wide range of challenges, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorders, and physical disabilities.

In this episode, therapist Tiffany Silva Herlin, LCSW, is joined by Lee Bingham, Equine Director, and Rashelll Stubbs, Associate Clinical Director, from Discovery Ranch South. They discuss:

  • The unique insights students gain from Equine Therapy.
  • The bond and connection created with the horses.
  • Applying lessons to strengthen family relationships.
  • Overcoming challenges in a safe environment.
  • Improving verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
A teenage girl looks through a microscope while attending a residential anxiety treatment center | Discovery Ranch South - a residential treatment center for adolescent girls and teens assigned female at birth

If your child has gone through talk therapy and hit a wall, we have a solution. At Discovery Ranch South, we offer personalized mental health treatment that enables teenagers to live a life filled with meaning and self-reliance. Our therapeutic program helps in creating life-changing experiences and building strong relationships. Start healing today. To learn more about our services, call us at 855-667-9388.

Equine Therapy Podcast Transcript

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents


    Tiffany: Welcome back to our podcast. My name is Tiffany Herland, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and today I'm interviewing from Discovery Ranch South residential program, Lee Bingham, the Equine Director and Rashelll Stubbs. She's a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor and the Associate Clinical Director.

    Today in this episode, we will be discussing equine therapy and how it can help a student gain deeper insight into their therapeutic journey.

    Thanks for coming today, ladies.

    Lee: Thanks for having us.

    Tiffany: Yeah, I'm excited. As I was telling you guys before we started that I've got lots of experience myself in equine therapy as a therapist at my last program I worked at and it's one of my favorite things, like I've got passion and I'm sure you do too, which is why we're here.

    Rashell: That's why we're here.

    Lee: It's rochelle's best hour and a half of her week.

    Rashell: Yeah, that's what I like to say. It's the best hour and a half of my week.

    Tiffany: It really is, like, I always looked forward to it. We had a groups and so we'll dive into it.

    So, tell me each a little bit about yourself and then we'll dive into what equine therapy even is.

    Lee: Absolutely. So yes, I'm Lee. I actually grew up in Cedar. It was my hometown. My grandpa bought a ranch in the fifties and so we run horses and cattle, livestock. It's always been a part of just who I am in my everyday life and that led me into junior high, high school and collegiate rodeo. And I did that at some, you know, some national levels and competitions in that genre of the horse world.

    But as I was going to school, I got my degree in psychology. So, this job really created just like the dream job for me. It brought all of my loves, all of my passions into one and was really thankful. It's a long story. That'll be another podcast. How I ended up at DR, DRS, that's a, that's a whole nother story, but I'm just really thankful and grateful to be a part of this industry and be able to watch horses in this light. I know we'll get into this, but I would just say my most humbling, you know, experience for me going into this field was seeing a horse on a level that I never gave them enough credit for.

    Tiffany: They're miraculous creatures, like, beautiful and when you throw in therapy, it's just, you just have so much more awe for these powerful, beautiful creatures. Thank you, Lee.

    Lee: You're welcome.

    Rashell: So I'm the Associate Clinical Director. I have been at Discovery Ranch South for almost seven years, almost exactly seven years. Really I came to DR. I've been a therapist since for like 16 years.

    Lee: Forever.

    Rashell: Oh yeah, forever. Always, yeah. I've always worked with adolescents. I love adolescents. I actually came to Discovery Ranch South because of Lee. Lee and I, like our big joke, we've known each other since elementary school.

    Tiffany: Oh, so you guys knew each other before. That's even cooler.

    Rashell: Yeah, and it gets better. I mean, it does. And so, no. So we've known each other for our whole lives, pretty much. And so Lee, you know, shared with me that they were looking for a new therapist and I toured once and said yeah, this is my place. When can I start? But of course the equine program is what drew me there.

    So much like Lee my family is in the cattle industry, right? I'm sixth generation out of Cedar.

    Lee: I'm only five.

    Rashell: Yeah. I'm one up.

    Tiffany: Only five.

    Rashell: Yeah. So, so it's important to me. And so, you know, I've always, I've rode horses. I've been around horses. I've been around livestock my entire life. And so, I, as I got more involved in my career and then adolescence and different type of therapy, the equine therapy always drew me, you know, to the horses and what can I learn and what can I do? And so knowing that Discovery Ranch South had this equine program, it really made me want to work there and I've loved it ever since. And so.

    Lee: I mean, your senior's thesis.

    Rashell: Yeah, my like, yeah.

    Tiffany: So you guys were just made for this job.

    Lee: Yes and we had capstone classes together at SU. So with my rodeo, I went, you know, I started at UNLV, I transferred to Weber State University, but then I got married and so my last year I actually moved home back to Cedar and, and finished there. And so we actually had some capstone classes together.

    Tiffany: That's awesome. Okay. Which is gotta make what you do even more powerful because you have a relationship, you have trust, which is really what you need in an arena with a horse too.

    Rashell: For sure.

    Tiffany: That's so cool.

    Lee: Yeah, and I mean our cattle ranches are, we're probably closer neighbors on the mountain, you know, like our cabins than we are in town.

    Tiffany: And for those who don't live out in the country, when they say close, it's not close. If you live in the city, close is like down the block. For you guys. It's like, oh, 15 minutes across the mountain.

    Rashell: Exactly.

    Lee: Pretty much. Pretty much.

    Tiffany: Yeah. I know your lingo. Yeah.

    Understanding Equine Therapy

    Tiffany: Well, okay. What exactly is equine therapy? If you were a first time listener and we have a parent listening or anyone, and they have no idea what that even means. Can you give us a read or digest version of it? I know you could talk a lot longer than an hour about it, but shorten it down a little.

    Rashell: I look at there's a definition, you know, just an equine therapy definition of using the horse to help with any kind of emotional, mental health, any type of, you know, you can, I don't know, it's therapy, right? So to me, it's just that you use a horse to use therapy.

    Lee: As we've prepared for this and talked about this, I think equine therapy, the biggest things for us is what stands out the most is you get to see a kid in a different light. You get to see a kid in where I think their best selves come out. I think their, their heart, their soul, their passions, and maybe what has been lost as they've been through, you know, their traumas and their attachment, depression, anxiety. I think equine therapy starts to fold those layers back and get to who they were or who they want to become and the horse is just on that journey with them.

    Tiffany: That's a beautiful explanation and yeah, I agree. It just allows for students to gain deeper insight into what they're already talking about in session in the office and just applying it. I mean, which is why we're talking about this because the episode before, I met with your Clinical Director, Jennifer and we just talked about what experiential therapy is and I mean that's what it is, is it's helping clients make those aha moments, make those connections, feel safe, feel like they can make even more progress than just talking about it.

    Lee: For sure.

    Tiffany: So what does that look like? Help our listeners envision that, like, are they getting on a horse? Are they, what are they doing?

    Lee: All of the above. Okay, at Discovery Ranch, we do ride as well as the groundwork. But I think at Discovery, the horse is the therapist. We're just, we're just facilitating.

    Tiffany: Right.

    Rashell: And I think I do my best work when I let that horse do their work. Sometimes that's hard cause you may know the kid, you may know what the target behaviors are. You may know what that kid is struggling with. And sometimes you want to jump in too soon, too early and too prematurely. And if I let that horse guide the session and I let the horse just do what they naturally do organically because they love it and because they love to change lives. And I know that wholeheartedly with our team of horses now, because there are some that did not want to be there and they definitely threw the red flag and they said this work is not for me.

    Tiffany: The horse?

    Lee: The horse. Yes, right and so with our team now if they guide and they lead that session, they just tee everything up where we're able to ask their questions in the right way.

    Tiffany: Well from my understanding, correct me if I'm wrong, but the horse's mirror the kids in the arena who they're paired with. I was, our equine director always used to joke with me cause I'd come into the arena and as you know, I've got a big personality and a lot of energy and I'd be like, wow, the horse is really ramped up today. He's like, oh, they were fine till you got here.

    Rashell: Right. Right.

    Tiffany: What's that supposed to mean, you know? But I learned through this process that the horses mirror the boys or the girls that, sorry, I worked with boys. So...

    Lee: Client.

    Tiffany: Client, the student that they work with and that was fascinating to me to learn about. And then I also learned as a therapist that I would go and have a task set up that we were going to do. And then sometimes it would go a completely different direction. And so like you said, letting the horse organically guide that is so essential. Am I off there at all?

    Lee: No, I 100 percent believe in the mirroring. They do. But I believe it's deeper than that.

    Tiffany: Okay.

    Lee: I believe they do mirror. They allow the client in it. They do mirror and they allow the client to see their strengths and their struggles, but then they go deeper and I think they want to help them on that journey to better themselves. And so the mirroring happens, but I also think there's this piece of guidance from them or this ability for them to surface what maybe has been a challenge for them to accept. And the horse has a way of allowing that acceptance to be taken in a way that they want change. Is that fair?

    Rashell: Yeah, I think so. Their ability just to take this kid and almost, hey, this kid needs to be challenged with this. So I'm going to challenge, you know, I'm going to challenge them with, I'm going to push their boundaries just a little bit today because I can tell that's kind of what they need.

    Or we have one horse, highly anxious horse, and for some reason, all the anxious kids always choose this horse. It's mirroring and then it's teaching, you know, and then, but once the kid is regulated, you watch the horse just regulate with them. And so, yeah, just really cool experience.

    Lee: To some ability of, and it goes into our mission statement, right? This nurture challenge, this balance between nurturing and challenge and we have embraced that from 2013 when, when we began at Discovery Ranch South. And I was so lucky to be a part of that team that built this program and that horse, they just know. They know when to do what, like, do I embrace this kid in a hug today? Or do I dig deep because I know the potential of that kid and I am going to help them seek what is in there. And that's the guidance that I feel, like I said, I know I'm repeating myself, but my best work is letting that horse lead the session.

    Tiffany: With any experiential therapy, it's more powerful when you're there and you experience it. It's harder to explain.

    Rashell: I agree.

    Challenging Experiences and Insights

    Tiffany: It's so hard to get parents to really understand unless they're there and experiencing it.

    But we had this one student that I worked with who was really stubborn on the spectrum, very black or white, like to call like rock brain, would get really stuck and was either all or nothing and whenever they were doing well, they were doing awesome. And when they were doing terrible, they would rip up their therapy and their binder and have this giant fit and then like plop down and like be like, I'm not doing anything.

    And so we took this kid out into the arena and worked with this one horse that was also very stubborn and he had to get this horse over a log. Not a big jump, just a log. And he didn't have to ride it. He just had to lead it over the log. Now this horse would not go. But this kid who was maybe 80 pounds, like tiny, tiny kid was trying. I actually even took a picture and sent it to his mom and he was, if I could paint it for you, he was trying to pull on the horse on the reins and that horse just stood there and you could see the log and it was seriously like a foot away and all the horse had to do was step over that log and just stood there and looked at this kid and this kid was just like full body weight leaning back.

    And I sent that picture to his mom and she's like, that is my boy. That's exactly what he does.

    Lee: And I'm that horse.

    Tiffany: Yeah. And I'm the, well, the horse. Yeah, the horse is, you know, doing exactly what he does and all he had to do was ask for help and lead from behind to get the horse to go over and it took him like a whole hour and he was frustrated and angry and melted down.

    And we talked about how this, how does this relate to him? And he had this "aha" moment of I'm that horse. Oh my gosh, this is what I do and how my parents must feel and my therapist and my peers and it was just this cool moment of like, it was a simple walk the horse over a log, like that was it. But it was just so cool how the horse led him to this insight of like this is what you do. This is your MO.

    Lee: We, you know, we have that horse at Discovery. Her name is Carmel and I don't know one kid that has worked with her that hasn't used the word stubborn at some time or another.

    Rashell: And they use other words too.

    Lee: But I love when they use that word. It just allows us to dive in because it is. It's about the communication. It's about the respect. It's about how they're approaching the relationship. It's, you know, it's all of that, but all they can see is this horse is stubborn and there's just so much to, so much therapeutic work there. And so I, I love when they use that word. It just, you know, in the back of my mind, I'm thinking, this is great. This is what we want.

    Tiffany: Yeah, this is perfect. We're going down the right…

    Life-Changing Impact of Equine Therapy

    Lee: We're going down the right road. We're going down the right path. And they are, they're getting to those aha moments that are so, they're just so profound. They're life changing. They can be life changing. I really believe they can be life changing. These horses have the ability to change lives. You know, when they want to take them home with them, you know, it's, it made an impact.

    Rashell: Yeah. When they're trying to decide how they could convince us to get their horse.

    Tiffany: I've had one of those moments with horses like, how could I take, yeah, have a horse myself. I've been there.

    Lee: For sure. And it's even, you know, it's even more rewarding to watch that journey when it is a kid that will come in and say, I am not doing equine.

    Tiffany: Yeah, I hate horses.

    Lee: I hate horses. It's fear. It's scared. It's... they've been in an, they've had an experience with a horse that they didn't feel safe, they didn't feel comfortable, they, you know, they've been bucked off, something has happened in a situation where they've had trauma and so they do. They're very hesitant.

    And, or they don't believe in equine therapy. You know, I had one kid, they stomped up to me the first day. You know, they told me their name, they stomped up to me and they looked at me right in the eye and said, I'm not doing equine therapy. And I'm like, that's okay, you know.

    And that week it was, it was a really hard week. We actually had to put a horse down that week. He had, Yeah, it was one of the toughest weeks at DR that I've had. He was one of the best horses that we've had come through there and it was, I remember that the kid admitted on a Monday and I think this was probably Wednesday we had a group so the kids could say goodbye and so many kids worked with that horse. He had so many impactful relationships and they all stood up, they shared their journey with him. They shared just how much he meant to them. They shared how much they had changed their lives. It was real and it was genuine and that after that group, the same kid came up to me and they said, I want to do your equine therapy. I want to be a part of this.

    And it was just the horses and the peers that changed. I had, you know, I didn't, I said nothing other than it's okay if you don't want to do equine therapy. I'm not making you.

    Creating a Safe Environment

    Rashell: She's just held space for him.

    Tiffany: That's the best kind of change, is when they choose and their peers and the things around them, facilitate them to want to change rather than us coming in and saying you need to change.

    Rashell: Yeah. Well, I think that makes so much sense, you know, as we talk about experiential, our experiential programs and experiential therapy and equine is such a big part of what we do experientially that it is, it's always holding that space because I feel like we have, we can. The experiential part, and I think especially equine, we have a lot of time, right, and patience, and there's not a lot of pushing to do this or pushing to do that. It's, hey, okay, like we're gonna give you some choice, right, and we want these kids to come in and feel safe. We want them to come in and feel confident.

    And so being able to, like, okay, yeah, you don't want to do equine? All right, and chances are, we know, right, because of our, I think, because of our trust in it and because of how much we love it, that they'll come around. And, you're right, once they've made up their mind, yeah, they're in.

    Tiffany: Yeah. What a beautiful thing cause that's probably not what they're used to coming to your program. It's like, they've been told, pushed, you need to change what you're doing is not right, you know? So to have this. safe environment with not only you guys who are, you know, maybe authority type of figures and then these big powerful creatures like, Oh yeah, you're safe here and we're going to let you make the choices.

    Understanding and Choosing Specific Horses

    Lee: Can I just say on that, their first session, their very, very first equine session, is choosing their horse. Okay. So, that is not a relationship that I am, we are picking for them, that we are forcing them towards or pushing them towards. It is, let's go meet the team and who do you want to build a relationship with?
    Who may you connect with? Who stood out to you today? Did you relate to any of the horses today?

    And that first session can be so telling.

    You know, just this last week, I had a kid come down, has been struggling some other departments, you know, they come to their first equine session and they pick a horse that, he's a boundary pusher. You give this horse an inch, he's gonna take a mile.

    Tiffany: Those are fun.

    Rashell: Yeah, they are.

    Lee: He actually, he bites, he nips, he's in their space. He's, he's a younger horse. You know, his maturity is not quite as high as some of our go-to rocking horse grandpa. You know, on the front porch rocking horse, grandpa horses, right?

    Rashell: You can sit anyone on them, they're fine.

    Lee: Right. You know, and this kid, they said, you know, they said, I wanna work with Martin. You know, why'd you choose Martin? Can you tell me what is it about Martin? And this kid's answer just said, it was simple. It was said, this horse is misunderstood, right? So they'd heard in the milieu what he was. You know, he's this, he's that, he pushes, he bites, he nips, he's kind of, you have to watch your toes. You have to be safe. You know, he doesn't always respect you, right? It's all the things that this kid had heard.

    This kid is talking about themself, right, when they're saying they're misunderstood, right? They had the experience without any input from anyone else, what Martin meant to them, what connection they had, what interaction that they had and we're three sessions in now, and I was just telling Rashell on the way up this morning they're, and this kid has horse experience, so they have they have some knowledge and how to let the horse know what's okay. what's not? Okay, they have the ability to do it respectfully and safely, but he has turned a corner. Sometimes what takes months for him with other students, he is treating this student with a lot of respect and kindness and care.

    He's not being himself. He's meeting that kid where they're at, right? He's mirroring and meeting that kid where they're at. And to see that kid in equine is absolutely, just, it melts my heart. You know, it just gives you those cold chills because, again, it's what is inside that kid deep down. And maybe that, that kid has gone through all of these moments of what they're doing wrong, right? Or being told they're not good enough. They're not, you know, it's so much focus, you know, this kid's been in treatment for a while, right? There's so much focus on what is going wrong, what you're not doing right.

    And if I can just have that moment in equine to let them know you are worth it. You are doing great things. You're making eye contact with the horse. He's respecting you. You know and just, as I was telling this kid, they just looked at me and they just like their shoulders just collapsed and they just said thank you.

    Tiffany: Beautiful. Because that student is doing what all, you know, all of our clients need is for someone to see them differently than what they see themselves as and others and then when you start treating someone differently and see it in them, their potential, and look for the positive versus negative, it gives them an opportunity to live up to that and become that, which is what it sounds like with this horse. So, what a beautiful example and honestly what we all could use in our lives, right?

    Sometimes we limit ourselves and pigeonhole ourselves according to our core beliefs that sometimes aren't always accurate.

    Lee: Sure.

    Rashell: Or the messages you've received for years, right? Even though they're subtle or no one needs to tell you that.

    Lee: Yeah, and even like the non-verbal that you receive, right? Absolutely.

    Rashell: And I think about that, like that's therapy, right?

    Tiffany: Oh yeah.

    Rashell: And then I even think about, you know, you talk about kids choosing horses. Well, they might choose this horse because they look really nice or they're really pretty or that horse walked away from me and I'm going to chase it, right? Like, wow, that's like a, that's a big therapeutic issue, right? I mean, everything's therapy.

    Tiffany: Oh yeah.

    Rashell: So no matter, like, no matter what they do, we can turn that into, yeah, how's that like your relationships, right? How's that like your relationship with your parents or your friends? What does that look like?

    Lee: It's so amazing what that first session can even unfold.

    Tiffany: Yeah. Do they ever change their horses along the way?

    Lee: Great question. Great question. So yeah, so we have three tiers of equine at Discovery. You know, our grounds are fundamental program and that is mainly working with them on the ground. And the goal of that is, number one that they feel safe. You know, a lot of these kids don't have any horse experience at all, or they've had traumatic or experiences that did not go well for them. And so that, that's my main goal and grounds that they can feel safe. And yes, you know, we're working on, you know, how to safely haul or how to, you know, be with your horse, groom your horse, communication, boundaries, all of those things are definitely happening. But if we can get them to feel safe, confident, that they're ready to ride when we move into our second tier, our horsemanship groups.

    The Natural Lifemanship Approach

    Lee: And so that's really shifted when we went to Natural Lifemanship. Natural Lifemanship is the umbrella that we follow, that we use. I'm level one trained. Rashell's going to get level one trained this year. I'm going to go on to level two, but Natural Lifemanship is all about relationship, which is what Discovery Ranch South is about, is all about relationships.

    So, you know, I had been seeking this equine therapeutic, you know, piece.

    And my first training with Natural Lifemanship, within the first hour, I could just feel, kind of when Rashell came to the ranch, like you can just feel this is what I've been looking for. This is going to help me.

    Tiffany: Different than Eagala.

    Rashell: Yeah. It's different than the Eagala model.

    Lee: Yeah. Absolutely. You know, Eagala was a lot of metaphors. Yeah. A lot of pulling, you know, this horse represents this person in my life or that horse represents that person. It just didn't feel natural or organic to me like the Natural Lifemanship. It just fit. It just felt like a glove with exactly what we do at Discovery Ranch and it was really easy to dive into Natural Lifemanship and then it goes into a lot of work with Bruce Perry and trauma.

    Ideal Clients for Equine Therapy

    Tiffany: So who is the ideal client for equine therapy?

    Rashell: I think our ideal client is, as we've talked about this a lot, right, cause I think it's really easy to say everyone's our ideal client, like anyone who has anything but when I think about the kind of students that we have and that we've had and just looking over all of them, I mean, we can work, equine therapy can work with so many different issues or challenges, from our kids who have, who come in, you know, with attachment challenges, we can work with that, right. Let's learn. Let's teach these kids how to build trust, have a healthy relationship, right. We've worked with kids with trauma, right? We can teach a lot of different things, just even just the regulation piece, co-regulation.

    Lee: Respond vs. react.

    Rashell: Responding versus reacting. You know, kids who are highly dysregulated and anxious and depressed, work with a lot of that. I think, you know, we were even talking about, like, identity on the way up here because we think about kids who are struggling to figure out who they are, well...

    Lee: or what their values are.

    Rashell: Or what their value, yeah, their value, like, their personal value, and it's just easy to look at these horses, don't really have any judgment, right, they're gonna meet you where you're at, they see you as a person, they want to, you know, we feel like our horses there, the team, we have a Discovery Ranch definitely, you know, wants to help. And so I really think there is so many, I haven't really met, you know, even kids on the spectrum, right. You can do so many different things, right. But like nonverbal yeah, like teaching them how to read nonverbal.

    Tiffany: Well, and it's so much easier and safer to build a relationship with an animal that's not going to reject you and you don't have all these complicated, you know, trying to read the room. I mean, you can learn how to read the non verbals in a safe way, whereas like with another human being, that's scary and, you know, their brains aren't always wired for that. So I loved working with kids on the spectrum with horses.

    Rashell: For sure. I mean, we've had that the last couple of weeks we have, we have a student right now who, I mean, that's kind of at the end when we process her in group, you know, let's talk about non verbals today. Okay, yeah, this is what I saw. And when their ears went like this and their eyes were like this, I knew that they were kind of frustrated with me. Okay, cool. Like, what do you need to do next time? What are you doing?

    Translating Lessons to Individual and Family Therapy

    Lee: The cool part of that story, it's one of Rashell's clients but, you know, several months ago, I remember challenging, the kid came in with a ton of horse experience and their riding ability was top notch but their ability to read what the horse was trying to communicate was definitely a challenge for them. And when we brought that up the first time, this kid was frustrated with us, mad, shut down, disengaged, did not want to talk about it for a week, week and a half, two weeks?

    Rashell: Yes.

    Lee: I think was just processing and chewing on that. But once that kid allowed that feedback and then coming back to the following sessions to allow that horse to talk to them in a way that I don't think they had the ability, I just don't think they had ever opened the door to, man, what is this horse truly saying? What does this horse need? And what does this horse actually trying to communicate to me, it's been one of my greatest, it's been one of my funnest stories to, you know, or journeys to watch.

    We just had session yesterday and it was profound. This kid was like, Oh, this horse was so frustrated the first time I got on it this morning. He didn't want anything to do with me, right. And if I would have said that two months ago, that would have went, you know, that kid wouldn't have related to that at all.

    Rashell: And I also have to say that, you know, lessons we learn in equine or things that we go over in equine group, in our group therapy, it translates back to individual, right? It translates back to family.

    Lee: Absolutely.

    Rashell: So, you know, we have a kid who has, you know, maybe some neurodiversity and struggles reading, you know, nonverbals, what's really cool then we can kind of take that into our individual sessions and like, let's talk about nonverbal cues of horses. Let's talk about nonverbal cues with people.

    How, you know, what can we do? What do you need to learn? Yeah. So just, and taking it back, right. And even kids who struggle, I mean, I just think kind of on the same topic or whatever, you have these kids who struggle with their relationships and setting boundaries with their horses and being able to say, hey this this feels like a familiar pattern, right, when you're pushing people away. Where do you see that play out in your life? Right, and it's so cool cause you're watching it play out in the arena or like, hey, when you treat someone this way, cause you know we do have kids who get frustrated and walk away and I'm never talking to this horse again. Give me another. I need to ride a different horse. This horse is stupid. I hate it. All right, cool. Well, let's talk about that, right? There's a lot there.

    Tiffany: Yeah.

    Rashell: And this is how you respond to relationships, right? This is how you respond to things when things don't go your way, or when you don't like, you know, or you feel pushed away, you feel rejected. You know, let's talk about that. And so it's just so cool. You can take that back and talk about an individual, talk about any family therapy.

    Tiffany: Which again, takes it to an even deeper level because it's one thing to be like, hey, you frustrate your peers or your mom and dad feel this way, but you get them into the arena and you get them working with the horses and they see it play out.

    Lee: It's undeniable.

    Tiffany: Yeah. It's so much easier to go back in session and be like, hey, how do you think your parents feel when you do A, B, or C?

    Video Analysis for Therapeutic Growth

    Lee: Absolutely. You know, we've even recorded, once they get the horsemanship groups and they begin riding, we've installed a TV out of the barn and we'll record them and, and have the ability to watch their rides within minutes.

    And so it just allows, you know, then as we point out, hey, I noticed, or I'm curious, I wonder, right. Using those words that are safe and get them to open up versus, why did you turn your horse that way? You know, why, why, why? And I shut them down. But if I can use those words, you know, I wonder, I'm curious, I noticed.

    And as they're watching the video and they just, they can, it's a double, you know, it's like doubling it up. Like I see it and I feel it and I can watch it and it's been really helpful. So we've kind of taken that on this year and I want to implement that more, but it's really awesome to let them see what they're doing as they're writing.

    So yeah, it improves their fundamentals of writing, but the therapeutic piece, it just adds a whole nother level for them to actually notice them and really see, man, I am communicating that way, or I'm not communicating that way. Or man, maybe that was, that wasn't as soft as I could have been or, so...

    Tiffany: Which is probably a safer way than versus, you know, getting filmed out in the, you know, one of your peers, right.

    Lee: They want to see it. They'll say, hey, are you guys recording today? You videoing today? They love it.

    Tiffany: Yeah. That's what I love about therapy, is it's holding up a mirror, you know, to someone or I've gotten my own and seeing a mirror to myself and be like, Oh, I do do that, you know, like I didn't realize they did and then being aware of it and then realizing I don't want to do that anymore or I can do something different.

    Lee: Different. I love that. Yeah, I can do something different.

    Tiffany: That self improvement and breaking out of those negative cycles that we get into.

    Rashell: Sure. I think one thing I wanted to bring up too is it's not just always like the individual work or the group work. I mean, we do do individual therapy sessions with kids. If I have a kid who's really struggling to connect in the community or connect even at equine or just, you know, it just feels like they need some extra attention or extra love like down there at the arena. Like we do do individual sessions, you know, where we might take a a kid down, just work on connection, right?

    Equine-Assisted Therapy

    Rashell: Connecting with your horse. With the Natural Lifemanship, there's a lot about, you know, just co-regulation and so we might do that, right, with a kid who always feels like they're always in this, like kind of hyper arousal state. You know, how do we get them down to like window of tolerance? We've done that.

    Lee: Even finding like the horse's heartbeat.

    Rashell: Horses heartbeat, your heartbeat. And we have also done a lot of family work, right? I've had some really like just cool sessions with families, bringing families in.

    Lee: Those are my absolute favorite, the family sessions. You know, group sessions are great and individuals are, are good, or you know, they're really, really good. The family sessions.

    Tiffany: Powerful. Powerful.

    Lee: So what you can in 90 minutes in a family session, you know, that brings up one of my favorite stories that of all times in, you know, in 11 years of being at Discovery. We were working with a RAD kid, a kid that had been through...

    Tiffany: For our listeners, what does that mean?

    Lee: Excuse me, reactive attachment disorder. So this kid had been through more orphanages than I can count and then the same as with foster system, you know, the foster homes

    Tiffany: It's a lot of trauma.

    Lee: A lot of trauma. Not adopted until early teens.

    Tiffany: Oh wow. That's a rough start.

    Lee: And so yeah, the reactive attachment disorder definitely was one of the main things that the primary therapist and the family was working on.
    So we set up, so this kid had been with us for probably 10 months. They were actually working with Martin, the horse that I've talked so much about today. So we set up this...

    Tiffany: I want to meet Martin.
    Lee: You need to meet Martin. Everyone needs to meet Martin. We all need a therapy session with Martin.

    And so we'd set up this session. You know, I had three horses in the arena and Martin was one of them.

    And then mom and dad and the student. We just set up a task, set something up in the arena and ask, you know, parents and this kid to guide and direct the horses through it and I remember mom and dad were both type A. I remember, you know, we opened that arena gate, and they just were out in the dirt and, you know, making plans, making this happen, wanted to get to it and they were, it was just their personalities.

    This kid came into the arena, and I remember whispering to the therapist, this is a small win. For the first session that they are even in the arena with their parents, I'm taking that as a win. But I remember they sat down on, we had a little mounting block, and they sat down on the little mounting block, but they were watching what their parents were doing. They were, they were going back and forth as parents were trying to guide and direct these horses through this pattern, but they weren't saying much. They weren't saying anything, excuse me. They weren't saying anything, but they were, they were in the arena and they were engaged.

    But Martin, it took, you know, three or four minutes to go by and Martin realized this student wasn't out in the arena with their family. And he came over to them and you know, if I could talk about filming, this is the session I would've wanted to film. He pushed this student off that bench and it was, it was not, you know, Hey, are we, are we...

    Tiffany: You couldn't have planned that any better!

    Lee: So, you know, she stands up and they make eye contact and they look at each other for 30, 45 seconds and then the student proceeds to go out and finish the task with the family. And just like every group, we save, you know, that 30, 40 minutes to process in the end and ask questions and bring up what we saw in the arena and, you know, the opportunity came for me to ask, I said, hey, what was going on? You know, I just replayed what happened. Hey, I noticed Martin came over, I noticed he nudged you, you made eye contact. What was going on? And she said, I want to be out there with my family. I don't know how. Right. I can't get there without Martin. I can't do it without him. I can't make it happen without that team.

    And that's what they do every day, day in and day out. They're unbelievable. And I just, I'm really thankful for them for this job and the opportunity to to be with these kids and work through some really tough, tough things with them and just really thankful for an awesome team of therapists that are there, you know, with me and and this team of horses, that they are there for the right reasons and they want to help and they want to guide and they want to teach and they're in it for the long haul and I appreciate it.

    Tiffany: That's a beautiful story and I just, I teared up just even envisioning it. You guys have sold me. I'm going to come down and work with you.

    Lee: Let's go! Do it!

    Tiffany: I'm ready to jump back in the arena. It's been a long time.

    Rashell: Do it. Let's do it.

    Lee: I love that.

    Tiffany: Oh, I just, you sound like you have an incredible team.

    Lee: We do. We really do.

    Letters from Students

    Tiffany: You brought some letters that you wanted to share with our listeners. Is there any particular ones
    you want to read before we end?

    Rashell: Yeah.

    Tiffany: Explain what these are.

    Rashell: So we do, Lee talked about three different tracks, kind of like these three tracks, three tiers of equine. And so we go from grounds to horsemanship.

    And then when students get to our phase three, they can do advanced equine, right? So that might be more trail riding. We're bordered right there on like a BLM land. So we have a gate that just goes out to it. So we can do trail riding.

    Tiffany: You have beautiful horse riding land right in your backyard.

    Rashell: Yes.

    Tiffany: It's incredible.

    Rashell: I know. It's awesome. And so the kids, you know, if they want to, they can just basically, it's a conversation, right? About how comfortable they feel, how confident they feel and of course they've, you know, or have they kind of mastered some of these fundamentals in a way, right?

    Lee: So we can keep them safe.

    Rashell: So we can keep them safe. Yeah.

    Lee: Off on the trails cause we, you know, we canter, we lope out on the trails and so just knowing that they can keep themselves safe out there.

    Rashell: Yeah. So with these letters, as they're coming into advanced or even before they, well, I guess we do it with when they come into advanced and if we have a student, I think, who's really shown a lot of passion for the equine program, we have them write a letter to their horse as they're leaving or as they're getting into advanced. And so Lee, yeah, has a folder full of letters from, from years on. But I think just some of these, you know, so yeah. I'm going to read just a couple...

    Lee: Just pieces from the letters, not the entire letter.

    Rashell: Yeah, not the entire letter.

    Lee: Hear it from them.

    Rashell: Yeah. Hear it from our students.

    "Equine has been hard for me since I started. Failure has been a constant fear. I was originally afraid Pete, who was one of our horses, would see my failure and know I wasn't enough, but it was never the case. Every hard session I have Pete trying to non verbally communicate with anything is extremely difficult, but learning how to with an animal is difficult, but somehow it comes into play faster. Pete, you've provided me with a lot of confidence and patience and pushed me into being kind, but also setting boundaries."

    So that was one.

    Tiffany: That's gorgeous.

    Rashell: This one, Jasper. Jasper's one of our horses that is just rock solid. A lot of our, I don't even know how to explain Jasper. He's like this old...

    Tiffany: Old soul.

    Rashell: Old soul. Just safe as could be. Safe as safe, could be. I mean, just awesome.

    Lee: Most trustworthy.

    Rashell: Yeah, trustworthy. Loves his job. You know, he loves his job. Yeah.

    "So Jasper, you've had a huge impact on me. You really changed my perspective on horses. You actually listen to me. I always thought it would be weird to just randomly talk to a horse and they would just stand there, but I can see by your body movement that you listen and care."

    So again, this kind of goes back to like nonverbal, right?

    "Your ears go up and down and you put your head on my shoulder. When you feel sympathetic for me. It makes me so happy every time. You will always be my number one horse. He made me feel so comforted and helped me worry less about the outside world."

    Lee: Yeah, this horse, this is one of the horses, he will literally hug them. He will wrap his, chin and his nose around and he just, he'll just embrace you. And Jasper came to us, I don't think he was always treated fairly and always treated kindly and I think that's why he loves Discovery and he loves the kids because they just pour out that, like, kindness and that deep down like heart and he feels it and he loves it and he embraces it and he meets them right there with it. He is definitely my go-to horse for if no one has ever ridden or they've had those traumatic experiences, he is...

    And like I said, it's their choice who they want to work with, and I will always let them know he's one that will always take care of them. I have utmost confidence in him to take care of anybody that works with him.

    Rehabilitation and Healing

    Tiffany: At the program I worked at, they rescued a horse that had been out in the field. No one had touched it for a couple years. It was... ribs were showing it had like, skin off its nose. I mean, it was in bad shape, had been through trauma, neglected, abused and they couldn't even get the horse into the trailer and getting it out of the trailer, it was just awful.

    And there were some kids who had also gone some through some severe trauma and they helped rehabilitate this horse. And this horse, if you saw this horse now would have no idea. It is healthy, strong, socialized with the other horses, just fine. Let's kids ride it. I mean, such a cool thing to watch as a therapist. This horse and these kids who had been abused themselves just grow and heal with this horse. So they're powerful creatures.

    Those of our listeners who may think like, sure, you know, they're just horses. They're not. Like, these are beautiful, powerful, amazing creatures that help people grow and learn and provide safety in a way that I don't think people realize. So therapeutically they're phenomenal to use.

    Lee: Change lives.

    Tiffany: Oh, absolutely.

    Lee: They change lives for the better.

    Tiffany: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And if you've had a bad experience with a horse, I think you need to come to DRS and I think you'll change your ways just with the horses, having the right horses, the right people, the right environment to feel safe and to just create a different healing process for you.

    Lee: Absolutely.


    Tiffany: Ladies, thank you so much for coming.

    Rashell: Thank you.

    Lee: Thanks for having us.

    Tiffany: This was such a phenomenal conversation and stay tuned, for our listeners, and our next episode we'll be talking about the therapeutic adventure and outdoor recreation program with David Mosse. And I'm looking forward to talking to him and his experiences, which I'm sure just as awesome as yours.

    Lee: They are. He got me on a rock once. Yeah.

    Tiffany: That's awesome. Have you gotten him on a horse, though?

    Lee: No! That's true! That's true!

    Rashell: He's the one that gets scared.

    Tiffany: He'll have to talk to you. Thank you again and stay tuned.