Helping hooves: Leander horse-led therapy program gives clients unbridled connection


Winston Churchill once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

Kelly Jones, owner of South Wind Equestrian Center in Leander, agrees.

For a while, her business offered boarding, riding lessons, summer camps and birthday parties. However, Jones wanted to expand the center’s services. 

“Over the years, I had the pleasure of watching my horses impact both adults and children, and decided to pursue a deeper understanding of what these animals offered us beyond riding,” she said. “I attended a course in equine assisted psychotherapy and realized how much more there was to this connection with horses and humans.”

After a seven-month internship at Spirit Reins with Tim Jobe, the founder of the Natural Lifemanship model, she returned to South Wind Equestrian Center ready to put what she learned into practice. In November of 2015 the center hired their first licensed professional counselor. There are now six counselors and psychologists working

with clients.

“I personally serve as the equine professional on four of the therapy teams and have witnessed first hand the remarkable life changes that can happen when we allow these horses to teach us about self-awareness, connection at an energetic level both to ourselves and to others, conflict resolution, true leadership, self-confidence, teamwork, perseverance, trust and authority,” Jones said. 

Those with low self-esteem/confidence issues, anxiety, depression, trauma, marital conflict, bi-polar disorder, PTSD, attachment disorders and other conditions are encouraged to utilize the services. 

“Horses are 100 percent focused in the moment,” Jones said. “They don’t dwell in the past or worry about the future. They demand your attention.”

Jones noted that 90 percent of communication is non-verbal and it is necessary to learn the art of tuning in to others. Since a horse responds mostly to non-verbal communication, participants learn how to tap into this skill.  

“We’ve lost how to connect with each other,” Operations Manager Brent Shives said. “Horses give you that instant feedback.”

Those in therapy typically attend weekly sessions. Jones and Shives agree that this form of therapy provides much faster results than talk therapy.

“Horses teach us to set healthy boundaries and to effectively confront challenges while staying connected in relationships,” Jones said. 

There are more than 20 horse available for therapy use. In addition to therapy, the center also offer mentoring, coaching, team building and leadership development workshops. 

This fall, St. Edward’s University professor, Dr. Candice Ackerman, will begin her scientific research study on the effects of equine assisted psychotherapy on veterans with PTSD at South Wind Equestrian Center. 

“If we can help a man sent out to defend his country to be able to communicate with his wife again, drive a car and work we have done our job,” Jones said.