Connie Zibin of Healing Hearts Horse-assisted Psychotherapy.

Connie Zibin of Healing Hearts Horse-assisted Psychotherapy.

Horses helping people with mental health issues in Creston Valley

Web Lead

  • Oct. 16, 2014 2:00 p.m.

A little horse sense can go a long way when it comes to treating people with mental health challenges.

Creston social worker Connie Zibin is inviting the public to a free Nov. 1 demonstration of how equine assisted learning and equine assisted psychotherapy works.

Zibin, with her background in special education, a master’s degree in social work and a love of horses, has established Healing Hearts Horse-assisted Psychotherapy at her ranch on Hurry Road. She has travelled extensively to become a certified EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) specialist and is currently certifying in the Gestalt Equine Coaching Method, too.

With 27 years of practice working with individuals and families in the context of social services, Zibin has become a believer in the power of horses.

“You can’t hide your feelings from a horse,” she said. “It knows.”

Surprisingly, equine therapy does not involve actual riding. Instead, the client remains firmly rooted on the ground, learning to work with and trust the much larger animal.

“We don’t compete with the Therapeutic Riding Program in any way, or even with other forms of counselling,” she said. “In fact, equine therapy can be used to supplement other counseling. It can be especially valuable when a person gets ‘stuck’ and needs help in moving forward with their treatment.”

Zibin works closely with Natalie Zarchukoff, a longtime community support worker with people with developmental disabilities, who is also a certified equine specialist through EAGALA. Several years ago, Zibin envisioned that she could combine horse work with therapy and she returned to her hometown to implement a practice on a nine-acre ranch.

Healing Hearts has six horses, and with their strong background with horses, Zibin and Zarchukoff have found a model for therapy that makes sense to them.

“The practice incorporates horses for emotional growth and learning,” she said. “Each session is taught in collaboration with a mental health professional (Zibin) and an equine specialist (Zarchukoff). Participants will learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with the horses, and then processing their thoughts, beliefs, behaviours and patterns with both specialists. Ongoing therapy through coaching between equine sessions is incorporated.”

To learn more, the free demonstration will be held 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 1, at Bend in the River Ranch at 807 Hurry Road. For more information, call Zibin or Zarchukoff at 250-428-1742.