FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Please connect with us if your questions aren’t answered below, we are always happy to help you
You will find ‘short answers’ to some of our frequently asked questions on this page by simply clicking on the titles below. We encourage you to follow the links included in each section to find more information!
What is Equine Therapy?
Equine Therapy is a form of experiential Animal Assisted Therapy. Other terms used include Equine Facilitated Wellness, Equine Facilitated Counselling, Equine Facilitated Mental Health, Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. At Healing Hooves we incorporate Equine and Animal Assisted Therapy into all of our services including Counselling, Personal growth, Professional Training, Therapeutic Horsemanship, Play Therapy and Parenting Sessions.
Refer to our Blog post: What is Equine Therapy? for a comprehensive description of what Equine Therapy can mean in different environments, including non counselling environments.
At Healing Hooves we incorporate specially selected and trained therapy horses and other animals with humans into a therapeutic environment and relationship. All of these interactions are carefully supervised by a mental health professional and Equestrian Canada registered and certified coach, and are designed in accordance with each client’s therapeutic needs and objectives. At Healing Hooves we bring together aspects of different fields including attachment theory, developmental psychology, person centered counselling, play therapy, experiential learning, theraplay, AAT, therapeutic riding, therapeutic vaulting and horsemanship. This results in a uniquely effective and flexible approach, drawing upon the human animal bond to foster healing, learning and growth.
How Can I Learn More About Working in This Field?
Part of our vision at Healing Hooves is to provide professionals, students, and others interested in getting involved in the field with information, resources and direction in the area of equine and animal assisted therapy. We have been active in this field since 1998 and training other professionals for over 20 years. When you train with us you join a community of professionals training and working in this field who collaborate with and support each other. You gain access to a huge body of resources and ongoing support from Sue McIntosh, a pioneer and leader in this field, and the Healing Hooves team.
Our training programs are approved for certification with the Professional Association for Equine Facilitated Wellness, and for continuing education with numerous professional bodies.
Find a full description of our training program – firmly grounded in the developmental and attachment based paradigm of Dr. Gordon Neufeld and integrating key aspects of Centred Riding, Connected groundwork and T-TEAM – here
If you’re not quite ready to start training yet but still want to know more we can help you too! We have a huge amount of information on our blog – a greatr place to start is our series of articles specifically written for people interested in getting started in equine and animal assisted therapy.
Resources for Parents and Professionals
We have published a number of therapeutic children’s stories featuring the Healing Hooves animals and sharing their stories. All proceeds from the sale of these books subsidise our sessions with low income families and/ or help finance the physical needs of our therapy horses, dogs and cats.
Grounded in attachment theory and developmental science, each story covers a different therapeutic theme including emotional expression, resilience, recovery from loss, forgiveness, and relationship conflict. They are also simply fun, engaging and amusing stories holding universal applicability to all children and their parents.
Share these stories with your children and clients to help you address potential areas of concern in a fun, engaging and non-threatening way, bring you and your child closer, strengthen your relationship and improve communication.
We have lots of other free resources for parents which you can access here
What is the Referral Process?
Individuals, parents and families can self refer to Healing Hooves. No prior experience with horses is required.
The first step to exploring whether one of our programs fits your needs is to complete our intake questions . We have several different programs and professionals at Healing Hooves and this will allow us to assess which one may be the best fit for you. If our program is not the best fit we will try to provide you with a referral to one that is.
When working with children/ teenagers the next step would be a phone or in person intake session with the parent/s (not your child at this stage). If parents can come here in person it is definitely our recommendation as it gives you the added advantage of being able to have a look around our facility, meet our counsellors, and the animals, and decide whether it feels like a good fit. Prior to attending this session we ask that you complete our consent forms for every family member who will be coming on site and/ or otherwise participating in sessions.
We don’t usually recommend equine therapy for children under the age of five. For our younger clients we will often incorporate aspects of animal assisted play therapy. Please note that we do not work with mandated clients. That being said many people who are not willing to attend other programs are more willing to give it a try when animals are a part of the team.
After that if we feel that our program may be a good fit for your family, the next step would be to bring your child here for their own individual session. We work from a strong attachment perspective and like to involve and empower the parent/s as much as possible. This may mean supporting you in how you can support your child, parent consults to help you understand and address the concerns regarding your child, and/ or involvement in some of their sessions.
For Adult Clients our intake process is similar. We ask that you provide us with some general information to allow us to determine if our program is a good fit for you and then we invite you to book a first session, which is usually in person although we do also offer sessions by phone and zoom.
Our session length is either one hour or 90 minutes – we usually recommend 90 minute sessions when the client is over 12 years old. We are not usually able to work with children under the age of five. Sessions are usually outside and/ or in the indoor arena with the horses although when it is cold we can also work in the heated office with the cats. While with the horses, riding can be an option in time but this is low key and not a huge focus of the sessions – we focus more upon the relationship that develops between a client and horse and the opportunities that arise from this. We also draw on a lot of story telling with and about the horses. For our younger clients we will often draw on an animal assisted play therapy approach.
As of September 1, 2021 our rate for counselling services is $200/ hour plus GST and we do bill for the in person/ phone/ zoom intake session. We provide you with a receipt which you may be able to submit for reimbursement if you have a health insurance plan and/ or for tax purposes.
We do also have various non counselling programs at lower rates. Completing our intake questions helps us determine which program and professional is likely to be the best fit for your/ your child’s needs.
Funding has been available to our clients through SFP (Supports for Permanency), FSCD (Family Support for Children with Disabilities), McMan Youth, some Family and Community Support Services Associations, and some private insurance plans.
If you are claiming reimbursement through insurance, SFP or FSCD we provide you with a receipt with the required information for these purposes. We are not able to direct bill other than to McMan Youth.
We ask that all services be paid for in advance by EMT and we require 48 hours notice for all cancellations.
We have a whole series of articles on our blog which explore this question which we encourage you to check out! You can find the first one here.
The approach followed at Healing Hooves is grounded in a growing body of research indicating animals are good for our physical and emotional health, well-being and development. These benefits can be particularly effective for children. For example, studies show that children who have positive contact with animals tend to have higher self-esteem, are empathetic and nurturing. Further research shows this bond is especially powerful when we are feeling vulnerable, stressed or are facing challenges, loss or major change. Animals can help us feel safe, express emotions, regulate our nervous system, seek social support and problem solve.
Our approach is grounded in the most recent advances in neuroscience and attachment theory as reflected in the work of Dr. Gordon Neufeld.
At Healing Hooves the horses are far more than ‘tools’. They are a key part of our counselling team, bringing themselves and their innate nature to the therapeutic relationship. Horses provide genuineness, unconditional positive regard and empathy as a part of their innate nature in a manner we humans can only strive to achieve. Meet the Healing Hooves herd on our Meet our Professionals page.
Find out more about the benefits from incorporating animals into your healing approach and environment on our Key Benefits page
What Happens During an Equine Therapy Session?
Using an approach called Equine Facilitated Wellness (EFW) – also sometimes referred to as Equine Therapy or Equine Facilitated/ Assisted Psychotherapy or Mental Health – we partner with animals as powerful role models, teachers, friends and guides on this incredible life journey. Sue McIntosh and her staff deliver individual and family counselling sessions with a team of specially trained therapy horses and other animals.
We don’t just offer counselling at Healing Hooves! We also have team members who are not mental health professionals who offer personal growth and therapeutic horsemanship sessions. These sessions – which are supervised by a mental health professional and an Equestrian Canada licenced and registered coach – are guided by therapeutic themes, but tend to be more focused on activities with the horses, learning new skills and therapeutic play. In some cases these sessions include beginner riding and vaulting sessions.
Every session is tailored to meet the specific needs and objectives of each client and can vary greatly. Our session length is either one hour or 90 minutes – we usually recommend 90 mins when clients are over age 12. Sessions take place in the indoor or outdoor arena, in the paddock or in the barn with the horses, although when it is cold we can also work in the heated office or cabin with the cats. While with the horses, riding can be an option in time for some clients but this is low key and not a huge focus of the sessions – we focus more upon the relationship that develops between a client and horse and the opportunities that arise from this. We also draw on a lot of story telling with and about the horses.
Often we will work through carefully selected, or specifically written, stories to allow us to work ‘one step removed’ at those times when a direct approach would be overwhelming and risk doing more harm than good. A selection of our stories are now available for use by parents and other professionals. See our blog for free downloads.
Our approach is firmly grounded in attachment theory, developmental psychology and neuroscience; an insight approach, rather than behavioural. Specifically, it is grounded in the approach developed and taught by Dr. Gordon Neufeld with whom all Healing Hooves staff have extensive training. As such the focus is upon the relationship between a client and the key attachments in his/her life, upon the client’s longer term healing and development, and upon the needs and emotions underlying their behavior or struggles.
This is approached through facilitating a process and creating an environment within which the client develops a positive relationship with the horses and other animals at Healing Hooves. This is then used as a bridge to develop a positive relationship with the counsellor, and with other key healthy relationships in the client’s life. The interactions and interventions facilitated with and through the therapy animals, and all other therapeutic approaches and interventions followed by Healing Hooves Counsellors, are grounded in our understanding of both human development and attachment, and the interplay between these two aspects.
This includes consideration of attachment depth, security and health; the health and maturity level of the developmental processes of emergence, adaptation and integration; the level of emotional defenses and the impact of this upon both attachment and the developmental processes; and the interplay between all of the above and a person’s ability to feel and express emotions (including frustration and alarm) in a healthy and vulnerable manner.
Sessions may involve specifically designed groundwork exercises with the horses, grooming, riding or simply talking with the counsellor while doing horse related activities. Some sessions involve very little activity and simply focus on just ‘being with’ the horses. Discussions may start in the context of the horse and the activity and gradually lead to parallel issues/ learnings in the client’s life if/ when a client is ready and able to make this transfer.
Much of the work done during a session is through metaphors. For example, through simply being with the horse and through various groundwork exercises, the client could work to regain their sense of self, safety, control and boundaries in the presence of the horse, which can open the door to experiencing this in other relationships. Other clients, for example a teenage girl with issues around body image, learn about self-care through learning about horse care. In other cases the horse can provide a client with feedback about how their behaviour impacts others. For example a child who is aggressive may find that a horse moves away from him/ her in the field. To connect with that horse the client will need to acknowledge their impact on the horse, and try a different approach. Other clients just need to be with the horses; to have the opportunity to give and receive safe non-threatening affection and physical touch, through grooming and other simple interactions.
Who is Equine and Animal Assisted Therapy most appropriate for?
While Equine and Animal Assisted Therapy can be beneficial for a wide range of individuals with a wide range of needs, clients who can particularly benefit from this form of therapy include:
- Individuals with anxiety or depression
- Individuals with attachment struggles
- Individuals who have been experienced trauma, violence or abuse
- Individuals who are not responsive to ‘talk’ therapy approaches
- Parent child conflict and relationship breakdown
- Adults seeking personal development and/ or to explore and heal from past trauma or abuse
- Parents seeking better relationships with their children.
Our approach is not a panacea. Clients are asked a number of questions before counseling begins to ensure our services are going to be safe and beneficial for all involved. Healing Hooves prefers to work with non mandated clients – i.e. clients coming willingly – and we are usually only able to work with children over the age of six.
We also have an extensive training program and a wide range of resources for professional, students and others seeking to develop a career in Equine or Animal Assisted Therapy or to incorporate animals into their existing practice.
Who are the Healing Hooves Professionals?
Meet our ‘four legged’ professionals on our Meet our Professionals page.
Sue McIntosh, MA, CCC is a Certified Canadian Counsellor with a Masters Degree in Counselling. She established Healing Hooves in 2000, and has worked with a number of organizations including Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abouse (CCASA), McMan Youth, Child and Family Services, YWCA Sheriff King Group Home and Family Violence Prevention Centre, Chinooks Edge School Division, Olds FCSS, Sundre FCSS, AADAC, and CWES.
Sue is a registered and licenced coach with Equestrian Canada (EC) and a Provincial Trainer with the Alberta Equestrian Federation (AEF) and the Alberta Equestrian Vaulting Association (AEVA). With over forty years experience working with horses, Sue has worked with a number of well-established Equine and Animal Assisted Therapy programs in the US and the UK over the past 25 years. She has additional training and experience in Attachment, Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), natural horsemanship and in therapeutic riding. She also works with organizations worldwide to develop nationally recognized industry standards for training, education, curriculum and certification in the field of Equine and Animal Assisted Therapy. Sue has had numerous articles published and has presented at a number of conferences on Equine and Animal Assisted Therapy and aspects of the human animal bond.
Carolyn Miller, RSW, BSW, MSW has been helping out at Healing Hooves since 2006 and joined our team more formally as a counsellor in 2011. She is a Registered Social Worker with a Masters and Bachelor’s of Social Work.
Carolyn has had a lifelong relationship with horses working with them in various capacities over the past fifteen years. Carolyn has been focused on a career in equine facilitated wellness from the beginning of her post secondary education and has taken every opportunity to tailor her learning to animal assisted and equine facilitated work including presentations, research papers and as a specialisation for her clinical master’s.
Carolyn has significant experience working with children and adolescents including those with FASD, anxiety, depression, attachment disorders, ADHD and ODD. Prior to joining Healing Hooves Carolyn worked in a number of different counselling environments including at Ardrossan Dreamcatcher where she also participated in animal assisted work. We are excited to have Carolyn as a part of our team!
Maren McIntosh is Sue’s daughter and has been helping her Mom out at Healing Hooves in various capacities since she could walk! Maren is currently attending University with the goal of becoming a high school teacher. Whenever she’s home, we are fortunate to have her teaching horsemanship and beginner riding at Healing Hooves. Maren has lots of horse experience through eight years of pony club and ongoing training with Sue and other coaches. During horsemanship sessions Maren focuses on safety with the horses, body language, relaxation and communication. Sessions usually start with some relaxation and ‘get to know the horses’ exercises, then move into some grooming and simple leading. In time clients can usually ride (if they want to) and thus also learn some basic riding skills. Maren starts all clients off on a stationary barrel for safety purposes before they get on the horse. Her sessions are guided and supervised by Sue, and grounded in information provided by the client or their parent (through the intake process and also any parent support sessions). For example, if a child is anxious Maren might explore what horses do when they feel anxious and what might help, or if a child is struggling with boundaries she might talk about a time when a horse escaped from the field and why we/ they need the fences to keep them safe. We also have several therapeutic stories about the horses which Maren may recommend and/ or include in the sessions. Maren is NOT a counsellor and thus her sessions are not counselling sessions. The focus is upon horsemanship.
Catriona McIntosh has also been helping out at Healing Hooves for a long time! In addition to all the ‘on the job’ training with Healing Hooves, Catriona is taking advanced training in vaulting and is partnering with Sue to integrate aspect of equestrian vaulting into sessions at Healing Hooves. Catriona also provides lots of the ‘behind the scenes’ help taking care of the horses and other therapy animals and providing extra support during workshops.
Sue Falkner March is the equine coach for Healing Hooves who supervises and guides our horses’ training and wellbeing. Sue also leads the horsemanship days that make up a key part of the Healing Hooves focus training.
Sue is a Level III Centred Riding Instructor who studied under Sally Swift, a Connected Riding Practitioner, and an Advanced T-TEAM practitioner and instructor. The horsemanship approaches taught by Sue form an integral part of all of our programs at Healing Hooves and fit exceptionally well with our counselling approach and philosophy.