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Youth Program Q & A

Q: Why use horses to help the mental health of youth?

Horses are one of the most sensitive animals on the planet. As prey animals, their survival depends on constantly reading changes in their environment and taking information in through all their senses. They can hear you approaching well before you arrive and can sense your heart rate and respiratory rate from a distance.

As herd animals, their survival also depends on each member of the herd having full access to their senses in every moment. Humans are meaning-makers about everything, while horses have no language or thoughts. They simply accept everything as it is and live completely in the present. Therefore, if we are up in our heads and telling ourselves a story, our energetic state will reflect that to the horse, who in turn will physically separate themselves. How could we alert the herd to an approaching predator if we’re mentally distracted elsewhere?

Horses will also mirror back to us on the outside what we’re experiencing on the inside. We cannot hide behind a façade of whatever we’re presenting to the world. If we’re anxious, their behavior is anxious. If we’re peaceful and calm, their body language reflects peace and calmness. If we have high energy, they’ll move around with high energy. Regardless of what we’re expressing on the outside, that may indicate the contrary.

Because of all of this, horses give us a unique opportunity to explore how we are engaging with the world and provide a deeper understanding of our patterns. How we do one thing is how we do all things. They give a physical representation of our internal experiences and bring awareness to aspects of ourselves and our behavior patterns that we may have been unaware of previously.

Q: What is equine-assisted learning (EAL)?

Equine-assisted learning (EAL) is an experiential learning approach that involves interactions between humans and horses for the purpose of personal and emotional growth, as well as the development of various life skills. It is a form of therapy or educational intervention that takes place in a controlled and structured environment with the guidance of trained professionals.

In EAL, individuals or groups engage in activities with horses that are designed to promote self-awareness, communication skills, emotional regulation, problem-solving, leadership, and other personal development objectives. These activities are ground-based and do not involve riding the horses.

It’s important to note that while equine-assisted learning can be a powerful tool for personal development, it is a complement rather than a substitute for professional mental health treatment when needed. Anyone seeking therapeutic support should consult with a qualified mental health professional.

Q: Does equine-assisted learning involve getting on and riding the horse?

No, all EAL programs at Free Rein Foundation are conducted on the ground in the open pasture, allowing the person and the horse to interact together on their own terms. Riding a horse changes the dynamic of the relationship. When riding the person is in control of the horse. When both are on the ground the relationship is relatively even.

The goal is to help the person to make connections first with the therapy horse and then later with other people.

Q: What are the benefits of equine-assisted learning?

EAL offers a range of potential benefits for individuals and groups. These benefits can encompass personal and emotional growth, skill development, and therapeutic outcomes. Specific benefits of EAL can vary depending on the goals of the program, the facilitators’ expertise, and the needs of the participants. The experience of working with horses can be transformational for many individuals and groups, and it is increasingly used in various therapeutic and educational contexts. Benefits include:

  • Enhanced Self-Awareness: Interactions with horses can help participants become more aware of their emotions, behaviors, and non-verbal communication, leading to greater self-understanding.
  • Improved Communication Skills: Participants can develop better communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal, as they work to build a connection with the horse and effectively convey their intentions.
  • Stress Reduction: Spending time with horses in a calm and natural environment can reduce stress and promote relaxation. This can be especially beneficial for individuals dealing with anxiety or trauma.
  • Enhanced Problem-Solving Skills: Participants often need to adapt to the horse’s responses and make decisions in real-time, which can help improve problem-solving and critical thinking abilities.
  • Building Confidence and Self-Esteem: Successfully interacting with horses and gaining their trust can boost self-confidence and self-esteem.
  • Leadership Development: EAL activities often include exercises that require participants to demonstrate leadership, assertiveness, and effective decision-making.
  • Team Building: When EAL is conducted with groups, it can promote teamwork, cooperation, and better group dynamics as participants work together to achieve common goals.
  • Emotional Regulation: Working with horses can help individuals learn to regulate their emotions, including anger, frustration, and anxiety, as they need to remain calm and centered to establish rapport with the animals.
  • Empathy and Compassion: Developing a connection with horses can increase participants’ empathy and compassion, as they learn to understand and respond to the needs and feelings of the animals.
  • Personal Growth and Development: EAL can support personal development, allowing participants to overcome challenges, set and achieve goals, and develop a positive self-identity.

Q: How does equine-assisted learning at Free Rein Foundation work?

All EAL sessions at Free Rein Foundation are conducted in groups of 10 to 15 people. Each group is paired with a trained and licensed Egala, Arenas for Change ( or Equus ( facilitator, and an equine specialist/horse handler. EAL sessions typically last two to three hours. The sessions begin with groups working in the gardens around the Free Rein Foundation facility and the Urban Tree Forest, which is adjacent to the FRF horse pasture, for about one hour. Because horses tend to mimic an individual’s energy, we have found that by letting our participants do a little physical work and use their hands in the garden calms and grounds them so that they can have a positive experience in the pasture with the horses.

The second hour begins with a 15-minute overview on what to expect, how to interact with the horses, a safety briefing, and breathing exercises are conducted to calm individuals before they enter the pasture to interact with the horses and clears the mind. It also includes a discussion about the intention of the session and goals. Each session focuses on one key theme, like communication, self-awareness, trust, confidence, bullying, peer pressure, anxiety, problem solving, etc..

After the briefing, participants enter an open pasture with three or four horses. Human to horse interactions are monitored by the equine specialist and facilitator. Participants interact with the horses on their own for 15 minutes. They are then brought together where they sit on the ground and discuss what they experienced. Dialog is facilitated to help individuals relate their experience in the pasture to what is going on in their lives. One of the biggest benefits with this exercise is that participants learn from each other. After 15 minutes of dialog, the process repeats. Depending on where the individuals are, the facilitating team will give them projects or exercises to do. After the second session discussion, clients are led out of the pasture to share a healthy, nutritious meal together, continue discussion and complete writing exercises to describe what they have learned and how they are feeling.

Q: What types of youth groups does Free Rein Foundation serve?

Free Rein Foundation partners with other nonprofit organizations, schools, Boys & Girls Clubs and home school groups. We are open to working with just about any youth group that works with pre-teens and teens (ages 9 to 18) who can benefit from our program. Each session can include up to 15 people.

Q: How many EAL sessions are needed to see an improvement in a person’s mental well being?

That depends entirely on the individual or group. If a person is unwilling to participate, speak up, and has their guard up during a session, it’s going to take a few sessions for them to learn to relax and realize the benefits. If a participant is open and willing to learn and grow they will see the benefits much faster, even after one session. In either scenario, profound work is always taking place. Oftentimes the effects of a session can last and have an impact for up to a week later.

Q: Does Free Rein Foundation serve high performing youth groups like athletes, sports teams or academic groups?

Absolutely! Any group can benefit from FRF’s proprietary curriculum that focuses on developing and enhancing leadership skills, communication, trust and self-confidence. Additionally, we support groups on an emergency basis that may be suffering from a traumatic experience.

Q: How much does it cost to bring a youth group for EAL at Free Rein Foundation?

One three-hour session with up to 15 participants at Free Rein Foundation cost $1,500. This covers time for the equine specialist, facilitator and lunch. Typically, most groups join FRF for two to four sessions, depending on what learning is needed most. Two sessions are a $2,500 flat fee and four session groups cost $5,000. Free Rein Foundation fundraises to provide scholarships to some low-income groups. If you are interested in applying for a scholarship please contact us as at

Q: What does the Free Rein proprietary curriculum include?

At Free Rein Foundation, our equine-assisted learning programs are meticulously crafted to serve as catalysts for healing, empowerment, and engagement. Before each session, topics are carefully discussed with group leaders and program directors to ensure they address the specific needs and concerns of the participants. Covering a diverse range of subjects such as managing trauma and grief, enhancing communication skills, building leadership abilities, and navigating issues like anxiety, depression, and social media addiction, our programs offer holistic support and guidance. Through experiential learning alongside our gentle equine partners, participants learn invaluable life skills such as setting boundaries, dealing with bullying and peer pressure, learning to trust, and mastering conflict resolution. By integrating the wisdom and sensitivity of our equine companions, our programs provide a unique and transformative journey toward personal growth and empowerment for all those we serve.

Q: I have a child that is suffering from anxiety and depression and I can’t afford a therapist, can you help?

If you believe your child is in crisis, we strongly encourage you to contact the California Youth Crisis hotline hotline at 800-843-5200.

The California Youth Crisis Line (CYCL) operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week as the statewide emergency response system for youth (ages 12-24) and families in crisis.

If your child is not in crisis, please get in touch with us by completing our contact form or email us at

We try our hardest to help every child who needs help by fundraising to help offset costs. We will do our best to put your child in a group of peers his/her age who are also suffering from the same mental disorders.

Q: I'm a teenager and I need help dealing with my depression and suicidal thoughts. Can you help me?

If you are having suicidal thoughts we strongly encourage you to call the California Youth Crisis hotline hotline at 800-843-5200.

The California Youth Crisis Line (CYCL) operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week as the statewide emergency response system for youth (ages 12-24) and families in crisis.

If you are not suicidal or in emergency crisis, please get in touch with us.

We try our hardest to help every child who needs help by fundraising to help offset costs. We will do our best to help you by putting you in a group of others your age who are also suffering from the same mental challenges. We do not do one-on-one equine therapy sessions.

Q: Can you help my child who has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)?

Unfortunately, no. Because horses are so incredibly intuitive and mimic human emotions and energy, it is not safe for children with ADHD to get close to the horses.