Breakthrough in Equine Therapy for Troubled Teens: HEAL Therapy Model

Some horses will test you. Some will teach you. And some will bring out the BEST in you.


Many of us grew up with an interest in horses. There is something about their powerful stature and knowing eyes make them a special kind of animal. At Greenbrier, we’ve learned just how special they really are. Our boarding school for girls uses horses for more than just pleasure; we’ve developed an equine therapy program that helps our students understand how their actions, thoughts and emotions affect their relationships with others.

Why Horses?

Horses are gentle giants that are both empathetic and calming. They tune into human emotion easily, often reflecting the behavior of the individuals around them.

According to Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy and Learning (EFPL) research, horses have a similar limbic region of the brain as humans do. This is the part of the brain that controls emotional aspects and social structure. As a result, they provide honest and immediate feedback. As your daughter learns how to better communicate with the horses in our program, these lessons are translated into how she communicates with others. This can provide healing and insights that positively affect her relationships with those around her.

Equine Therapy Breakthrough: HEAL Therapy Model

Through video footage and workshops, the EFPL has developed a model for using horses in therapy that Greenbrier uses in our unique equine therapy program to help troubled teens. The horses involved are treated as companion animals and are not forced to act in certain ways. They simply respond to the person in front of them.

The HEAL model involves six keys that not only help our students embrace their relationships with the horse, but also with themselves and others. This model is extremely effective for the therapeutic treatment of:

  • Anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, transient anxiety and generalized anxiety
  • Mood disorders, like depression and manic-depressive disorder
  • Dissociate disorders, such as dissociate identity disorder
  •  Trauma disorders, such as PTSD and specific personality disorders

How Does it Work?

We will never have to tell our horse that we are sad, happy, confident, angry or relaxed. He already knows- long before we do.

Marjike de Jong

The six keys involved in the HEAL equine therapy model are an essential part of our equine therapy program. Here’s how they work.

  1. Body-Centered Awareness- The girls will meet the horses, sit on them bareback and be led around the ring. They discuss and become aware of how their bodies change while riding the horse.
  2. Boundaries- The girls will set their own physical, emotional or spiritual boundary with the horse, then discuss how they feel during this activity.
  3. Divided Self- Working with a disconnected horse, the girls learn how to establish a healthy connection with themselves and with others.
  4. Yin and Yang- Through playful activities with the horses, the girls learn how important a healthy balance is in their life. Sometimes they lead, sometimes they follow. During this phase, they lead their horse through an obstacle course.
  5.  New Pathways- During play with the horses, the girls learn how to be more positive and how to change their negative mindset.
  6. The Social Brain- The students groom the horses. This helps them feel valued and important. It also teaches them how to care for others and for themselves.

The HEAL model’s six keys take place throughout several sessions of our equine therapy program. Troubled teens use this therapy to practice important self-care skills and learn how to self-regulate their emotions to improve their relationships with the horses and those around them.


Want to learn more about our equine therapy program? Call toll-free at 877-788-8422.

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