Horse therapy - leading

Core Skills: We teach, rehearse and repeat key resilience skills in an intensive and challenging, but fun way with feedback in-the-moment from specially trained horses. There is no discussion of the past. All sessions take place in action with the horses, there is no classroom content or talk-based therapy/counselling.

Tasks are guided by the facilitator and the horses are selected and trained to provide especially clear and easily observed physical feedback to participants, many of whom will not have interacted with horses prior to taking part in the programme. The methodological focus is on social/emotional shifts being made ‘in the moment’, in response to difficulties encountered. Participants are unmounted handlers, learning to work in partnership with the horses on the ground. The course employs an approach using a series of specific tasks as tools to develop positive habits. Specifically, the skills addressed by the course are:

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Engagement (Confidence as a Learner) – enthusiastically taking on new challenges, pushing limits whilst also taking care of own confidence

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Responsibility – taking responsibility for our own thoughts, emotions and actions

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Calmness – having the habit of calmness and knowing how to create it in difficult situations

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Assertiveness – able to be calmly assertive, without getting aggressive or upset

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Realistic Analysis & Planning – Stopping to think before acting, making a realistic assessment of situations and planning accordingly

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Focus & Perseverance – working towards goals despite setbacks

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Relating to Others / Empathy – seeing the needs of others, offering care and support, feeling closely connected

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Communication & Language – two way, respectful, assertive communications, having language to talk about thinking and emotions

Equine Therapy - guiding Horse

On the last day, each participant has a robust reflective session with their facilitator – looking at their progress in each of the areas of the Skills Star (below). Upon successful completion of the course, participants are presented with a certificate.

A ten minute video audition is filmed for each participant. This brings together all the skills they have been practicing during the week. They plan the tasks and the order in which they will do them, then get the chance to string these tasks together for the film. Participants receive their own copy of the filmed audition and most are proud to share this with their family. We organise award ceremonies wherever possible to celebrate success.

The Restart is the course replicated from successful work in prisons developed by the founder of TheHorseCourse, Harriet Laurie.


In order to make the maximum impact on social exclusion, we are keen to disseminate our course content, notes and materials to other practitioners for their own use. To this end we are working on a resources section here over time.

Please feel free to download any materials you find here. In return, we ask that anyone using our materials acknowledge us, do not misrepresent their degree of training or connection with us and do not present our materials as their own. Courses may not be described as “TheHorseCourse” without our prior written consent.

Horse Course Feedback Star

Referral / Outcomes / Feedback Star TheHorseCourse Star

The star shows the main areas we work on – at the centre of the star people are stuck in behaviours which are unhelpful. As they progress, they move outwards towards the points of the star. We assess progress by observation or in discussion with the participant – but always based on observations you have been able to make in session. By marking their level on each point you can join the marks and create ‘before’ and ‘after’ shapes. examples can be seen in our photo gallery.

Each ‘point’ has associated horsemanship exercises/strategies we use to work on the desired outcome.

The star is marked up as part of the referral process, later as the basis for discussion of outcomes together with the participant and finally as part of the feedback to referrers.

Horse Course Feedback Star completed

Referral / Outcomes / Feedback Star

The most important use of the star is as a way of discussing and reflecting on the course in the exit interview. We talk through each point, thinking about where the participant was at the beginning of the course and how far they got by the end. We reflect on specific moments that would ‘evidence’ these marks in session 1 and sessions 6 or 7. The marks are made by the instructor, following robust and realistic discussion. All the ‘before’ marks join up to make a shape as do the ‘after’ marks. The ‘after’ shape is always bigger, but each participant makes progress at a different rate. The one shown here is fairly typical.

There is then a handover – the participant keeps a copy of their star and takes responsibility for managing their own progress towards the edges. They learn that these skills are like muscles, if you don’t work at them they disappear. We discuss how each skill has an impact on the way life works.

Generally participants are very proud and surprised by how much they have learnt, about themselves and about the skills of self management. They seem empowered by the star.

The Horse Course Observation Chart

TheHorseCourse Observation Chart

Used by Dr Hemingway in a field study and now used as our primary case note tool.

The Horse Course Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone

The comfort zone chart asks participants to map and reflect on their time during the course spent feeling comfortable (white), feeling confused (in the grey fog of learning) and the (golden) moments of learning. We also check whether there were any (red) terror moments. Participants can then reflect with us on the learning process.

The slider bars are to compare the participant’s mental and emotional state within a task firstly when it was not working and then when it did work. They usually realise, when they see it in this visual format, that being calm and focused makes all the difference!