Horse Sense

20 March 2013
Written by Sacha Kenny | Images by Sacha Kenny
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Jenny Gibbons, founder of Horse Sense, chats to Sacha Kenny about Equine Therapy & how horses are helping to create positive change for so many people

As Winston Churchill once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man” and in the case of Equine-Assisted Therapy these words ring true. The proven benefits of this alternative therapy are beginning to fill a gap and are considered to be desperately needed by mental health professionals and clients around the world.

Outside the town of Otaki, at the foothills of the Tararuas, is Horse Sense, an organisation dedicated to providing professional excellence in Equine-Assisted Development and Counselling (EADC), using the EAGALA (Equine-Assisted Growth and Learning Association) model as an alternative and proven form of therapy for clients and their families.

Equine-assisted therapy is the practice of using horses for emotional growth. Horses, like all animals, communicate non-verbally. They use body language and often mirror the emotions and behaviours of those surrounding them.  Essentially horses use a universal language that transverses cultures and allows trained specialists to read and assess their body language, including the way they interact in certain situations.

Jenny Gibbons, founder of Horse Sense and New Zealand’s only Advanced Equine Specialist explains Equine Therapy works because horses confront us on a deeper level.

Jenny believes it is the instinctive nature of horses that allows them to connect with people: “Because horses are prey animals they have heightened senses and are very aware of their environment.  It’s because of these heightened senses that the horses are able to mirror what people project through emotions and behaviours".

She explains that along with the centre's herd of six horses, Horse Sense facilitators present clients with challenges that stimulate healthy life skills and positive behavioural changes, allowing clients to experience and heal in an emotionally safe environment free from judgment, expectation and agenda. A lot of the time clients are much more willing to take information from a horse and take it to the next level of ‘how can I change my life or this situation?’ than they may in a conventional counselling office. 

“With the EAGALA model of therapy there are always two therapists present in a session – one focused on the client and the other, an Equine Specialist, watching the body language of the horses.”

The horses are not trained in any special way. There is no riding or horsemanship involved. There are no harnesses, saddles or whips used - the therapy is very much about allowing the horse to be a horse and the natural responses of the horse or horses bring about the communication and relationship between the client and horse.

“A lot of what happens with the activities creates a representation of what’s happening in the client’s lives.  This gives them a chance to go through it, work with the horses and address patterns and beliefs that come up and find new ways that will work better for them in their lives,” Jenny says.

For Jenny the connection between horses and humans is quite simple “when you think back through history mankind wouldn’t be where we are today without the intervention of horses”.

“I believe horses are very much in our lives today because so many people are closed off from their surroundings.  There’s the television and the video and mobile phones and this and that.  So many distractions that children, adults and families are disconnecting not only from each other but from communities and nature.  One of the great things about Equine Therapy is that it gives people a unique opportunity to be in nature while experiencing new ways of reconnecting with themselves, their families and the environment – which, for me, is a really beautiful aspect of the treatment.

“The therapy works for everyone – the youngest age we’ve set is 8, so from 8 years up, I think the oldest client has been 80 and the great thing is it works for whatever issue, concern or problem you’ve got going on,” she says.

Founded in the United States in 1999 as a non-profit organisation, EAGALA was developed to address the need for resources, education and professionalism in the fields of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning. EAGALA now sets the standard for professional excellence in how horses and humans work together to improve the quality of life and mental health of individuals, families and groups worldwide. EAGALA now has more than 3500 members in 41 countries and continues to grow.

For more information about Horse Sense and Equine Assisted Development and Counselling:



0 #3 Great article...Horsense . 2013-03-28 20:53
Wonderful work at Horsense Jenny Love the article,.
0 #2 Sacha 2013-03-22 20:25
@Vanessa ilott Thanks very much Vanessa. Horse Sense do a fantastic job - it's a beautiful place with very beautiful horses.
0 #1 Vanessa ilott 2013-03-21 23:22
Great article Sacha and lovely photo of you below:-) well done

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