Category Archives for "Equine Assisted Psychotherapy"

Horses Facilitating Change at Berkshire HorseWorks

Berkshire HorseWorks has seen nearly 200 individuals, couples, and families struggling with various mental and behavioral challenges ranging from depression, PSTD, TBI, anxiety, ADHD, trauma, addiction, autism, sexual abuse, and anger management. Our rescue horses have been there for them as they have been there for the horses. This video gives you a glimpse into the lives of these people as well as how this work has affected them, and the benefits they received from Equine Assisted Therapy.  As you will hear from some of our partners and mental health professionals, this is incredibly powerful work and horses really do facilitate change.

If this video has inspired you to become involved in some way, please contact Berkshire HorseWorks at (413) 698-3700 or Of course if there is someone in your life who you believe will benefit from this work, please reach out. We would love to thank Ptarmigan Films, in particular Stephen and Derek for their hard work and creative support.

Helping Released Inmates Succeed

In October, the United States Justice Department announced its plan to release thousands of inmates early from federal prisons. With this, comes the question, how many of those released suffer from mental illnesses, and how, as a society, and more specifically as mental health professionals, will we address their needs.

Approximately one in every 100 Americans lives behind bars, according to a 2014 report by the National Research Council—approximately 2.2 million people currently reside in our nation’s correctional facilities. Out of this population, many will be released and commit additional crimes and return to the criminal justice system. Psychologists have seriously begun to look into the cause of this where intervention must occur.

Over half of today’s prisoners suffer from some sort of mental illness, and rates of serious mental illnesses such as major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder are three to four times higher than that of the general population. In addition to mental illnesses, substance abuse compounds the issue.  Regrettably, June Tangney, PhD, a clinical psychologist at George Mason University who studies interventions for jail inmates admits, “The correctional system has become our de facto mental health system. It is one of our silent shames.”

Ironically, despite the pervasiveness of mental illness and substance abuse in today’s prisons, there is a dearth of quality services which adequately examine the root of the behavior as well as the familial impact or other factors before diagnosing and proceeding with a treatment plan.

Furthermore, those who do receive treatment are highly unlikely to either seek treatment after release or to possess the resources necessary to continue.

In addition to the lack of treatment of mental illness before and after release of these inmates, there are even more basic needs that must to be met in order to ensure these individuals will not succumb to recidivism. The Risk-Need Responsivity (RNR) Model created by the late psychologist, Donald A. Andrews, PhD, of Carleton University in Ottawa, has been the leading tool in assessing the needs of inmates. It not only assesses the risks of recidivism, but also measures the broad range of criminogenic needs associated with criminal behavior.

The greatest challenge is to accurately communicate and share the findings (knowledge) with certified social service professionals to ensure appropriate treatment. Fortunately, the Federal Government stepped in in 2008 and passed the Second Chance Act which provides grants to evidence based programs that aid in the reintegration, monitoring, and overall treatment of inmates.

One viable evidence-based modality for these inmates is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is the basis of EAGALA Model Equine Assisted Psychotherapy practiced at Berkshire HorseWorks. This modality has been found to be highly efficacious with this population for its unique ability to identify and modify behavioral patterns.

To read more about this topic, visit the article “Life on the Outside” featured on the American Psychological Association website.

EAL Session at Berkshire HorseWorks

15th Annual EAGALA Conference Held in March

EAGALA Convenes in Mesquite for Annual Conference ~

Every year, people from across the world who practice the EAGALA method of treatment, gather to learn more about the program and discuss new ways to apply the EAGALA Model of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning to help others in need. Professionals come here to learn more ways to treat their patients. We were there to represent Berkshire HorseWorks. Read more about this year’s conference in this article from The Mesquite News. The photo below is from a session at Berkshire HorseWorks and is not related to the Mesquite conference.

EAL Session at Berkshire HorseWorks

Unique mental health conference held in Mesquite

Mesquite News

Kenny Green • The Mesquite News • March 19, 2014 – Since the Mesquite Arena opened, it has been the host to numerous events that utilize horses. A recent event involved horses in a different way. Instead of using them to race around barrels at breakneck speeds or guide wayward bulls back into their pens, these horses where being used to provide therapy to individuals with mental illnesses as part of EAGALA’s annual conference.

“EAGALA uses a specific model for horses to help people with various mental illnesses,” said Lynn Thomas, EAGALA co-founder and executive director. “The way we incorporate the horses, it allows people to connect with them. Because horses are prey animals, they have the ability to read nonverbal communication. We are always sending these nonverbal messages, and the horses respond to that. As a result, through their reactions, we can learn a lot about ourselves.”

One way horses are used is for people that have faced addictions. Thomas said the person with the addiction will be asked to set up a path for the horse to follow. The path will contain various roadblocks and key points during their recovery process.

Kenny Green’s entire article is available at Mesquite News.

Military Reins Of Hope

Equine Assisted Therapy Helps Veterans With PTSD

Equine Assisted Learning Proves Effective For PTSD ~

According to a new study in the Canadian Military Journal authored by Dr. Randy Duncan of the University of Saskatchewan, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy “does in fact provide real-time relief for PTSD.” The study was conducted at Can Praxis in Rocky Mountain House with 100 particpants over a one year period. The photo below is from a session at Berkshire HorseWorks and is not related to article from

Military Reins Of Hope

Data suggests equine-assisted learning helps veterans with PTSD; program hopes for expansion

A local program that helps Canadian veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by working with horses is hoping new data will show how effective their methods are.

Can Praxis in Rocky Mountain House has been in operation for a year where the horses are used to help soldiers with anxiety, behavioral issues and problem-solving.

Co-Founder Steve Critchley is praising a new study in the Canadian Military Journal, which said the model is providing valuable help not only to the veterans, but their families as well.

“If they’re carrying a lot of angst or aggression with them, they see it, the horses won’t cooperate very well,” he said. “So they are learning how to within themselves, find a way to relax, to calm down, to be able to communicate effectively.”

Lucas Meyer’s entire article is available at

Team Building Exercises at Berkshire HorseWorks

Press Release – Team Building Demonstration at BHW

FROM: Berkshire HorseWorks LLC, EAGALA Certified Program
CONTACT: Hayley Sumner,, (413) 698-3700




Richmond, MA, APRIL 14, 2014— In an effort to further support community at risk youth and their families by providing EAGALA Model Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP), Berkshire HorseWorks is reaching out to local organizations to invest in their own staff’s development by signing up for a half or full day team building workshop by June 1st. In turn, BHW will donate sessions to identified at risk youth and/or their families free of charge. The initiative will formally be announced at an interactive demonstration on Tuesday, April 22nd, from 4:30 – 7pm at the Berkshire Equestrian Center in Richmond (40 Perry’s Peak Road, off route 41). The demo will focus on personal development and team dynamics in the workplace and how EAP can be a highly effective tool for corporate team building. Egremont resident, cancer survivor and EAGALA Certified Practitioner Hayley Sumner introduced this experiential modality of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) and Learning (EAL) to the Berkshires last June when she and her team opened shop.

The Model has a diverse application from helping in the healing process of the children, families and first responders affected by the Newtown tragedy, to assisting military personnel and vets with PTSD reintegrate into society, to cultivating empathy in Fortune 500 companies, to motivating a corporation’s sales force to teaching anti-bullying techniques in schools.

“My hope when starting this business was to be able to help organizations and our community concurrently. If we can offer a new way for businesses to invest in their workforce by using horses to honestly examine team dynamics, facilitate effective communication, increase problem solving skills and encourage creative thinking then that will lead to more productive and healthier relationships outside of the workplace,” said Sumner, Founder and Executive Director of Berkshire HorseWorks.

Clients have ranged from Fox Sports, Berkshire Functional Fitness and the Seekonk Tree Company to Hillcrest Educational Center, John Dewey Academy and the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Department. Because Equine Assisted Learning is so effective, it is considered a rapid approach to building life skills.

“I attended a recent team building session and had no idea what to expect. After just an hour and a half I came away with valuable information usable in everyday life. First and foremost, I don’t listen very well!! I hear fine but don’t focus on what is being said. Where I didn’t comprehend the initial instructions others did. So as a team, being able to combine all of our individual strengths and solve the task was powerful and more efficient. I highly recommend taking a session,” said Peter Sweet, Jr., Owner Seekonk Tree Farm.

“The HorseWorks experience awoke me to the realization that I am so intimidated by instructions issued by an “authority figure” that I will blindly follow those instructions to the letter, as if I were still the “good little girl” who never challenged the expected response. To have reacted this way at this time flew directly in the face of who I am today … an individual who explores every possible means to an end, extended to very out-of-the-box solutions. As a result, I am determined to diminish my tendency to demur without significant, informed thought and, instead, act on my proven ability to intelligently question and act beyond the expected, even at the risk of being “wrong”, shared Carol Robins, Former Director of Volunteer Resources, Lighthouse International.

Horses are innately sensitive and open. Interaction with them serves as a mirror of emotions and behavior, thus helping individuals, couples, and groups discover positive solutions to real-life challenges. Participants are empowered by the lessons learned in the arena and translate that energy, attitude, and behavior when they return to the workplace, the family or school. Recent group workshops have included:

  • Defining how employees can work as a team toward a common goal such as increased productivity or landing a new client.
  • Working with staff to enhance communication and adapt to a company’s new management initiatives.
  • Helping struggling students deal with bullying at school or issues at home.
  • Navigating cultural differences in a government agency.

Having run a public relations company for more than 20 years, Sumner recognized the importance of investing in and supporting her associates in their personal development. “We would go on rafting trips to Costa Rica to help us all develop a sense of trust and teamwork. They became great leaders and listeners. Had I known about horses at that time I might have traded in the rafts for hooves. We can work on just about anything in the arena that one would do in boardroom trainings. Bringing it to life allows for hands on metaphorical learning that is very powerful for staff development employee retention and overall wellness,” states Sumner.

Unlike therapeutic riding where a client is mounted on a horse, EAGALA Model EAP and EAL sessions take place on the ground, are facilitated by both a Licensed Mental Health Professional and a qualified Equine Specialist, are solution-oriented. Horse therapy or EAP can be used as both an adjunct or alternative to talk therapy. Horses often break through the barriers that in more traditional modes can stall people. EAGALA Certified professionals work with a broad spectrum of behavioral/mental health issues and learning goals including ADHD, autism, depression, addiction, eating disorders, couples therapy, stress management, recidivism, teamwork, sexual abuse, leadership skills and trauma-related disorders. Donated sessions to the families and youth will focus on these treatment goals as needed.

“The Berkshires are a very healing community. I am hoping the EAGALA programs at Berkshire HorseWorks will augment in a new way, the wellness and vitality of our population both individually and in the workplace – arming all with the tools to cope, heal, compete, communicate and thrive in today’s stressful world. BHW will offer not only EAP and EAL sessions for individuals, couples, veterans, and groups, but also tailored workshops and retreats for corporations, agencies, and school districts. The goal is to collaborate with existing initiatives so as to maximize impact and reach,” explained Sumner.

EAGALA is a nonprofit organization developed in 1999 to address the need for resources, education and professionalism in the fields of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning. The association has set the standard for professional excellence in how horses and humans work together to improve the quality of life and mental health of individuals, families and groups worldwide. In partnership with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF), EAGALA provides an opportunity for a second career for horses retired from racing. EAGALA has more than 4000 members in 49 countries and continues to grow. For more information on EAGALA go to

Visit for more information OR call 310 488 9777 TO RSVP

Team Building at Berkshire HorseWorks

Team Building Time

Team Building Time ~

Hi all. It’s team building time! Just about to kick off a community business partnership. Check out our hot-off-the-press brochure and the benefits of Equine Assisted Learning.

Berkshire HorseWorks Team Building Brochure

Berkshire HomeStyle Magazine

Berkshire HomeStyle Profiles Berkshire HorseWorks

Berkshire HorseWorks Featured in
Berkshire HomeStyle Magazine ~

In the August 2013 edition of Berkshire HomeStyle Magazine, a wonderful article was published profiling Berkshire HorseWorks and the EAGALA Model of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) and Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) we practice here. Please take a moment to click through to their online magazine and read the article.

Berkshire HomeStyle August 2013

Berkshire HorseWorks Opens For Business

Berkshire HorseWorks at Berkshire Equestrian Center

The article below was published in the Berkshire Eagle and is reprinted here with their permission. Thanks go out to writer Adam Poulisse and the Berkshire Eagle Editorial Staff.

Lorraine Brill pets horses at  Berkshire HorseWorks

Lorraine Brill pets horses on Thursday at a demonstration of equine-assisted therapy that has been implemented by Berkshire HorseWorks at the Berkshire Equestrian Center in Richmond. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Stafr)

Berkshire HorseWorks: Equines and human therapy

Adam Poulisse • Berkshire Eagle • June 24, 2013 – RICHMOND: Buddy, Herman and 007 know how to help people work through their issues, from addiction to coping with tragedy.

They are keenly aware of others’ feelings, and will never utter a judgment. Their presence alone can put a grin on your face – especially when they start nudging you or try to munch on your notebook.

By the way, Buddy, Herman and 007 are full- grown horses at Berkshire Equestrian Center on Perry’s Peak Road.

On Thursday, about 50 mental health specialists and horse experts gathered inside a shaded arena at the center to watch as the three horses led volunteers through a demonstration and open house of what can be expected in the upcoming Berkshire HorseWorks.

Hayley Sumner of Berkshire HorseWorks

Created just six weeks ago, Berkshire HorseWorks will implement the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) model to treat mental and behavioral challenges, including post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma, eating disorders and anxiety.

The EAGALA model uses equine-assisted psychotherapy and equine- assisted learning to help many different patients, from veterans returning from service, to children bullying others in schools. Hulahoops, pool noodles, traffic cones and buckets are just some of the props that can be used along with the horses. It was established in the Southwest in 1989.

Thursday’s demonstration was, held, in part, to catch the attention of mental health professionals in the Berkshires and to certify them in the EAGALA model to do work for Berkshire HorseWorks.

“The model is very solutionfocused,” said Hayley Sumner, the founder of Berkshire HorseWorks and who is certified in the EAGALA model. “If someone is doing an activity to work on an issue, then they are basically delving into their own being to find their solutions.”

Berkshire HorseWorks will operate out of Berkshire Equestrian Center.

“I see this kind of program as a way of really forwarding individuals and forwarding groups and providing insight,” said Carl Dunham, the owner of Berkshire Equestrian Center.

Unlike other horse therapy, the clients never saddle up and ride the horses. Instead, their two feet – and the horse’s four hooves – stay firmly planted on the ground.

“Horses are so intuitive they reflect your behavior,” Sumner said. “When you meet the horses on the ground, the horses can be themselves. When you put someone on their back, they’re going into a different world that is not their natural behavior.”

Animal therapy, mostly using dogs, has made recent headlines to help those affected by tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombings and the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. “[Horses] are flight animals, and in order to protect themselves they’re able to read people very well,” said Jimmy Downes, the owner of Relatively Stable, LLC out of Newtown, Conn. ” Clinically, the social worker gets to find out about their clients 10 times faster than in an office model. Anything they can do can become significant to the client’s session.”

Horses at Downes’ stable helped families and friends of some of the victims cope with their grief and emotions using the EAGALA model. Downes and Ellen Donaghey of Brewster, N.Y. are two of the four EAGALA models trained at Relatively Stable.

“We got to see the people have an opportunity to do something that was able to brighten their day,” Donaghey said. “They had an ability to be themselves and, for the first time, actually felt some release and happiness. It became a routine that they could be comfortable with.”

Downes and Donaghey led groups of volunteers in three demonstrations of the several Berkshire HorseWorks activities specialized to help a patient work through their trauma.

Dominick Sacco, a therapist at Monument Valley Middle School in Richmond, participated in one of the demonstrations: He was one of four linked together that had to act as one human body to get a horse over a small hurdle.

Sacco uses dog therapy with his students, but after Thursday, he hopes to use the EAGALA model in the future.

“I feel the horse is an incredible medium for treatment,” Sacco said. “We can’t bring a horse to a middle school, but we can bring a middle school to a horse.”

Adam Poulisse’s article is also available at

Press Release – EAP Demonstration at BHW



For Immediate Release



WHO: Hayley Sumner, South Egremont resident, Founder and Executive Director Berkshire HorseWorks, a new venture providing EAGALA Model EAP and EAL services to the Berkshires; Ellen Donaghey, MSW and Jimmy Downes, EAGALA Advanced Certified Equine Specialist, owner Relatively Stable Ct.; Carl Dunham, owner Berkshire Equestrian Center and the Inn at Richmond; first responders, social workers, educators, equestrians, corporate leaders, psychologists.

WHAT: Launch of Berkshire HorseWorks and the introduction of experiential EAGALA Model Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Learning. Demonstrations of the innate sensitivity of horses as they run free and work with humans in non-mounted activities involving obstacles and props. Facilitated by certified equine specialists and licensed mental health professionals, The Model is increasingly being used in the treatment of veterans, at-risk youth, families and groups as an adjunct or alternative to talk therapy. Berkshire HorseWorks’ programs and wellness retreats offer the tools to cope, heal, compete, challenge, communicate, lead, empathize and thrive in today’s stressful world. Recently featured on reality TV’s “World’s Strictest Parents” and developed to address the need for resources, education and professionalism in the fields of EAP and EAL, EAGALA has set the standard for professional excellence in how horses and humans work together to improve the quality of life and mental health of millions worldwide. In partnership with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF), EAGALA provides an opportunity for a second career for horses retired from racing. EAGALA has more than 3,700 members in 41 countries in Africa, North America, the Middle East, Latin America and Australia. It is not therapeutic riding.

WHEN: Thursday, June 20th, 4-7pm ( First Demo 4:15)

WHERE: Berkshire Equestrian Center, 40 Perry’s Peak Road, Richmond, MA (off 41)


Please call Hayley at 310 488 9777 to schedule and confirm appointments.
For additional information visit or