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Animal & Equine Therapy - learning self regulation & attachment through self awareness & connection

Animal and Equine Therapy Video - Leanne Winter

00:00 - Start 00:48 - Introducing Leanne 02:36 - So what is animal assisted therapy? 04:58 - Animal phobias 06:40 - What animals do you work with? 07:28 - How do you start the process? Wandering around a paddock patting animals? 09:40 - Is being out in nature part of the therapy also? 11:02 - How does it work with families from broken attachments or trauma or who experience sensory processing challenges such as ASD or ADHD? 12:40 - What about emotional regulation? 15:24 - With equine therapy, how might that differ? Obviously the animal is much larger! 17:52 - Is getting the horse to follow you the aim? 18:38 - What about strong emotions like fear, anger, grief and others in equine therapy? 20:40 - Group-based therapy that helps with sensory processing disorders? 21:56 How is your profession regulated? What should carers look for in an animal or equine therapist? 24:20 Is there anything else we should know or discuss today?

Animal and Equine Therapy Transcript - Leanne Winter

This is Sonia Wagner, representing PCA Families in one of our recordings that capture lived experience and best practice research-based learning that assist kinship, permanent and adoptive parents/carers in supporting young people. PCA Families has a zero tolerance of child abuse. I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay respect to elders past and present and express our intention to move together to a place of justice and partnership.

Today we are discussing equine and animal therapy with Leanne Winter from Mullum Road Clinic.

Leanne Winter is a clinical psychologist who specialises in animal and equine therapy and working with childhood behavioural, sensory and other issues, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Disability.  Leanne lived on a farm for over 20 years so she is a long time advocate of the value of working with animals.

00:48 Welcome Leanne. Can you tell us a little more about yourself?

I had a room based clinic for 13 or 14 years now. About 10 years ago I looked into equine therapy and couldn’t get insurance and there were no courses around so it was a dream that never took off. So I got into animal assisted therapy and started buying and training more dogs and more farm animals. My first therapy dog is now 12 and retired. I brought him into the clinic. No one was doing it at the time other than who had started the training. It just wasn’t done in private clinics. I was the only one of 12 of us doing the training that responded that I have my own clinic. The others in hospitals etc couldn’t get through the red tape. 11 therapy dogs later and its now equine and animal assisted therapy. The kids say we need a cow!

02:36 So what is animal assisted therapy?

The way that we use it we have clinicians who are all qualified psychologists. Most of them began as room based therapists doing ACT, CBT and other therapies.  They also need an interest in animals. Its then just about bringing another tool into the toolbox in the room. Sometimes its proactive and we are training the dogs or getting the dogs to do things and talking about what that is like for the client or what that experience is like. Other times we are doing room based therapy with the dogs on their lap and they are stroking the dog. Research shows that stroking reduces stress and the heart rate. Clients with trauma will say I’ve never felt this calm. Just being there they are doing their job. Obviously we can be a lot more proactive too. This is fudge a toy poodle who thinks he is my little assistant. Never go anywhere without him. Often I’m sitting up here with clients and there is a dog on every chair on about 6 chairs a dog each, all listening. Confidentiality they never tell anyone anything.

They just accept people for who they are so there is that unspoken acceptance.

4:58 Does that calmness come from children who don’t have animals at home?

We do a lot of do phobia work where they want to buy a dog but perhaps they have a child with autism who is petrified of dogs. They will come and work with us to work out how they can overcome that fear so they can purchase a dog down the track. I’ll just show you Fudge who is doing it tough. I had a child that was petrified and would run from dogs for no reason so we got her a dog. Often there are those experiences within families where the child wont go to the park because the child is screaming and up on the picnic table or it can be because the client has a genuine love of animals and has resisted counselling in the past. The parents are trying something different. It usually works

6:40 What animals do you work with?

Stick insects, guinea pigs, pet rats, chickens, duck, baby goats, baby alpacas, lambs just been offered, bearded dragons, green tree frogs, hermit crabs, miniature donkey and horses.

7:28 So how do you start the process? Some people will think this is all about wandering around a paddock patting animals hoping that the child simply offers up a relevant conversation about a trauma. Is that how it works?

It’s an indirect therapy and it took me a little while to adjust when I jumped from room based therapy. I was doing equine work and clients were feeding back that they didn’t like what we were doing. I had to shift and follow the client. Its very client led and indirect therapy. Its about how are you going which animals do you want to hang out with today. So clients come with their list and they want to see all the animals. I don’t think we can see them all. But just tracking around with the client and things just come up. Something will come up and naturally move into what we need to be talking about. . The miniature pony herd for example. An animal is a great rapport builder. One little pony is a boss and one pony is really shy. The little ginger pony chilli always gets picked on. So kids will see that’s just like what happens to me. I don’t like that pony bullying the other pony. It just evolves without me saying what happens to you at school.

9:40 Is being out in nature part of the therapy also? With smaller backyards and more time online I expect we are losing touch with nature?

Going forward I think there wlll be a big move towards eco psychology and nature-based psychology. Just as animal and equine therapy has taken off. A lot of my clients will walk around the property and talk or go bush and start talking. You are right kids are sitting inside on their screens often with no background. So to come out here and get muddy and dirty they come dressed in their oldest clothes because they know they are not going to get past 7 dogs without paw prints and mud everywhere. So gumboots on and off they go. I’ve had clients say they have never jumped in a puddle. So we go and jump in a puddle in winter and we do these things we grew up with so there is a real sense of getting back to the earth.

11:02 Interested in how animal therapy works in the context of families where they have already experienced broken attachment and removal from a birth parent that might result in social, emotional or behavioural challenges or delays. Specifically I am thinking about childhood trauma and sensory processing issues, such as ASD or ADHD. Is animal therapy a good choice for these children and families?

Yes. There are only a very specific population I would say no to, such as people that hurt animals as that puts the animals at risk. For attachment disorder and children and families that have gone through attachment issues, animal therapies research promoting it. In modelling how we look after our animals and the attachment we have with our animals, is modelling safe, healthy, secure attachment. The research is saying that through a child watching that and with the consistency we show the animals, that is how trust is built. That person, the psychologist or therapist is genuinely caring and looking after and caring for their animal so they will be an ok person to trust. It can perform some pretty amazing stuff and miracles.

12:40 Does that help with emotional regulation because your showing the calm with the animals?

It’s almost like coregulation. Little Fudge is showing us how to coregulate really well. Pretty relaxed. If clients are having meltdowns for example he will jump on and start pawing on them to bring them back. Intuitively he knows what to do there. We do a lot of work around emotional regulation as the animals won’t hang around you if your really heightened and dysregulated. The animals will just leave or go to the other end of the paddock. The child needs to learn how to regulate if they want to be with that animal. There is motivation to do it and there is direct feedback if the horse runs away from you. Clear feedback that the horse is not happy and not prepared to stay with you.

The job is not to bring them together but to teach that awareness of what you’re doing: the horse is reacting to what you’re doing with your body. So if the aim is to have the horse come to them they are going to have to do something different in their own body to achieve that. So its teaching self awareness and self regulation. Its providing that bio feedback. I have miniature donkeys that hadn’t been handled and the kids were running up to them to grab them and the donkeys were like no way and left. It took several months of the kids where if they had the patience the donkeys would go to them. Now they will run over for a cuddle. So it’s working within relationships as well. You want that relationship but how are you going to work it so it becomes a connection.

15:24 With equine therapy, how might that differ? Obviously the animal is much larger!

Surprises me how many people are frightened of chickens.

There is a bigger element of safety with the horses.

With the dogs we have to do particular training with them as a handler and the dogs are regulated and we get re- certified each year.

With my horses I am very careful. I only allow practitioners that I know have experience with horses to keep everyone safe with a big animal. Safety first. If it stands on your toe it will break your toe. Touch wood no accidents. Im very aware as I have been around horses all my life. So its about just notice where your foot is. Just notice where the horses foot is. Just notice where the fence is. If you are between the horse and the fence and the horse goes to move, you will likely get squashed. So teaching that awareness, that’s a sklll that will hopefully keep them safe in life with awareness training. If you walk down a dark alley at night what might happen. You will use that awareness to think about it which leads on to safety in life.

Initially it was equine therapy when I opened up. Some clients come here specifically for that but the rats, guinea pigs and miniature goats, they draw a huge following. Some people come here with horses in mind but then they merge and often find another animal they are more drawn to.

17:52 Is getting the horse to follow you the aim? Is that accurate.

That could be one thing that you would do. There is an array of activities you can do with them. You could be doing brushing and that is about awareness. You could be leading a horse and imagine what its like to be leading this big animal and being in control of them. Or go into the shoes of a follower and explore what that was like.

18:38 What about strong emotions like fear, anger, grief and others and how that translates in equine therapy?

Tracking just comes up. They might come in and say I want to work on ABC and they end up being work on XYZ because working with the horse triggers something for them.  Emotions can be drawn into a session. Often I don’t know where we are going to go. The past session I said to a young woman would you like to halter the horse. We were in a group setting and she was the leader of the group and wanted to do it first. She got the halter and it got tangled and she threw it. Working with her over time I taught her how to do that. Sense of achievement. Learning a new task. Self confidence. Overcoming frustration intolerance. Disregulation to regulation. So a simple activity can have an array of other things you are working on. Even just sitting with the horse.

20:40 I believe you are looking to setup group-based therapy that helps with sensory processing disorders next year near Eltham. Can you tell us a little more about that?

Considering group based equine based therapy especially for women on the autism spectrum. Equine based running over 8 sessions over a term with 6 to 8 young people. We can set some structured topics like awareness, boundaries, relationships. A topic for each session. I just have to get the energy and time to get  it in shape and obviously Covid put the brakes on too. That might spill into other groups.

21:56 How is your profession regulated? What should carers look for in an animal therapist?

It’s taken off tenfold with places popping up everywhere which is a little concerning. When I did the course there was discussion around if you are a psychologist its therapy if your otherwise qualified you advertise differently . So look at their qualifications as names are misleading.

Check what they offer – we offer psychology and assessments on top of that animal or equine therapy. Just know that therapy may not be run by a therapist.

Just be mindful of good insurance and know what you are signing up for.

The Equine Psychotherapy Association lists therapists (120 hours of training supervision and assessment)

Those identifying as Equine Assisted Learning are typically riding instructors who have done the course while Equine Assisted Psycotherapists have some sort of Mental Health Qualification behind them.

24:20 Is there anything else we should know or discuss today?

It’s a pretty cool experience. A lot of my clients say it’s a long way to come to the country but when they hit Warrandyte and start winding through the bush to get here, often the parents are just sitting out in the trees waiting for their kids saying I’m doing my bit of therapy here sitting among the trees and listening to the sounds. Just like the birds in the background!


To anyone making the time to listen to this recording, thankyou for giving up your valuable time for the benefit of the young people in your life.

Until next time have an amazing week.



Mullum Road

Animal Therapies Ltd

Equine Psychotherapy Institute