One of the key reasons our 4-stage Equine Relationship Therapy (ERT) Program is so successful is the relationship between the student and their chosen horse. The stronger their relationship grows, the more horsemanship skills, soft skills, communication skills, and other skills the student learns and takes to heart.

Because each student works with the same horse for their entire time at Shepherd’s Hill Academy, it is essential to choose the right horse. The student is permitted to choose a horse at the beginning of their time in the program. While working with a horse is often rewarding, it is not without challenges and frustrations. Teens may be tempted to “throw in the towel” or quickly give up when things don’t go their way. The consistency and perseverance of the students help them to learn and understand the importance in investing in real-life relationships and the hard work that often goes with establishing healthy relationships built on a foundation of honesty and trust. Here’s how students are introduced to and choose their horses in our program.

The Introductory Week

Upon entering the Equine Program for the first time, a student will be given the Shepherds Hill Equine Relationship Therapy (ERT) Notebook. This notebook will be the student’s guide to the program, giving them insight into the temperaments and “social cues” of the horse they will be working with.

During the first week of the ERT program, the student will primarily be an observer. As they watch horse interactions with other students, and reference the Appendix in their ERT Notebook, they will begin to discover horsemanship. This means learning valuable information about the horse, their mannerisms, and how to work with their horse successfully during the program.

During their time at Shepherd’s Hill Academy, each student will work with an assigned horse. The horses are not chosen by the staff, but rather by the student.

When a student begins the ERT program, they are introduced to all the available horses. The student is then allowed to choose the horse that stands out to them. This horse will be “theirs” for the duration of their time at Shepherd’s Hill Academy.

We have found setting some “rules” around horse selection allows the student to be naturally drawn to the right horse for them:

  • A student is permitted to ask only if the horse is a boy or girl.
  • The student is encouraged not to ask about the horse’s personality traits or temperament.
  • They are advised to choose a horse based on how it makes them feel to be around it.

This allows the student to unbiasedly select a horse that will be most beneficial to their healing and gives insights to their standards for boundaries and attachment.

Some students will instead choose their horse based on their color, unique markings, or other physical features. The choice the student makes will tell our Equine Therapists even more about the personality of the child. In fact, some students even choose horses with similar attributes to themselves or a key person in their life and do not even realize it!