What horses teach us about ourselves


How do horses teach us? That’s the question we put to Leah Hope, program director of Little Oasis Equine, an equine-assisted learning facility in Trail. Leah and her staff and, most importantly, their horses, are a key part of our HEART program.

By doing, is her answer. The horses and people work together through obstacles.

“They navigate stations that we set up to explore with their peer partner and horse. Then we reflect on what we experienced with the horses that day.”

“We just facilitate; the horses are the teachers.”

And the result?

“I see such amazing development. Participants are able to rely on themselves and count on themselves and then see that they are able to do, what they need to do solve a problem. They become creative, and the joy you see when they find this in themselves, it shows how empowering working with the horses is.”

Removing barriers

Leah came into equine-assisted learning through necessity, almost.

“I was injured early in my nursing career, and I wanted to find something I could do given my physical limitations and give back to the community. My horses were injured and getting older. My ability to do things with the horses was limited, so I wanted to find something we both could do. It was about finding value in the things we could do instead of seeing barriers.”

Combining her nursing background and an approach based on her and the horses’ strengths, Leah got certified as an equine-assisted learning facilitator in 2011. Little Oasis now has four certified facilitators and may add as many as another three this year when their schedule gets busy.

Most of their work at Little Oasis is with youth, and to help make it more accessible, local businesses sponsor many of the kids who participate. The horses facilitate learning social skills, life skills, problem solving and conflict resolution skills.

Little Oasis also holds single day activities for corporate groups, teachers, or any group that wants to give it a try. They even host family sessions and date nights for couples to work with the horses.

Leah says her original herd has lived out their lives working for the kids, and she now owns five horses, has three more that live at Little Oasis, and have four others that come in for programs.

She is always looking at her work through the lens of removing barriers. And she is mindful of the horses’ capacity for doing the work. Some people and horses can only work one day a week. That’s fine. Some horses work only with certain demographics. That’s fine. That’s why they have several horses and facilitators.

Healing through equine-assisted learning

For HEART, they run 10 sessions with the horses and participants.

Leah says everyone—horses as well as facilitators—have no expectations for how a participant will work with a horse. If someone isn’t comfortable approaching a horse, they can wait and approach when they are comfortable.

“There is lots to observe and lots to do. They approach at their comfort not our expectations. You don’t need horse experience. What each participant brings forward will be an opportunity for growth.”

“Participants end the learning with increased confidence and that feeling of accomplishment when you’ve approached at your own pace. Success is defined by the participant.”

A participant in HEART can expect to first get comfortable around the horses. The first session with the horses is about skills acquisition, learning where to stand, where the horse can see you, safety, and building relationships with the horses. Then they move to two way communication, meaning delivery and reception.

“What are we doing with our bodies, our tone, our voice to communicate?”

“The horses react to the authentic person before them. It’s okay to experience whatever you’re feeling, and the horses will respond accordingly. They don’t judge and can’t lie. They’re in the moment and present.”

Leah (second from right) and her team at Little Oasis.


Other lessons they explore with the horses include trust and respect and what those words mean, boundaries and negotiation. They may also do teamwork activities.

“We find success in different ways. When we see clients find success, it’s unmistakable. It can give them confidence that they carry with them. Their confidence builds each time. They develop self-respect and trust in themselves. That confidence is remarkable.”

Our final HEART session in Trail starts February 26. Contact us for more information & to register.