Horses and worthwhile causes: Exploring equine-assisted learning at Dune Lakes Horse Inspired Learning Centre in Aotearoa New Zealand


  • Ricarda Lietz Healthcare New Zealand
  • Ksenija Napan Massey University, Aotearoa New Zealand



Horse-assisted learning, horse-assisted intervention, animals in social work


INTRODUCTION: Equine-assisted therapies and trauma-informed interventions have become increasingly popular with a growing literature suggesting that people can deeply relate to experiential work with horses, where silence, emotional growth, reflection and acceptance are prioritised over talking about problems.

APPROACH: This research, undertaken at a rural learning and retreat centre near Auckland in Aotearoa New Zealand, examines how practitioners tailor equine-assisted interventions (EAI) and sheds light into values, theories and frameworks that underpin their work. The study is based on personal and professional experiences of four practitioners who engage in equine- assisted learning.

FINDINGS AND APPLICATION: Findings are drawn from the thematic analysis of the transcripts of four semi-structured interviews, highlighting the process of facilitating post- traumatic growth in a professional, supportive and client-centred environment involving a facilitator, a horse, and a person keen to improve the quality of their life. Application of this modality, particularly when working with clients with complex trauma, is explored with a special emphasis on the relevance of involvement of animals in social work practice.


Adams, C., Arratoon, C., Boucher, C., Cartier, G., Chalmers, D., Dell, C. A., ... Wuttunee, M. (2015). The helping horse: How equine assisted learning contributes to the wellbeing of First Nations Youth in treatment for volatile substance misuse. Human–Animal Interaction Bulletin, 1(1), 52–75.

Albright, B. (2018). Clinical trends: Consider the value of equine therapy. Behavioural Healthcare Executive, 1(4). Retrieved from marketing/consider-value-equine-therapy

Anestis, M. D., Anestis, J. C., Zawilinski, L. L., Hopkins, T. A., & Lilienfeld, S. O. (2014). Equine-related treatments for mental disorders lack empirical support: A systematic review of empirical investigations. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 70(12), 1115–1132. doi:10.1002/jclp.22113

ANZASW. (2019). Code of Ethics/Ngā Tikanga Matatika. Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers Te Rōpū Tauwhiro i Aotearoa. Retrieved from www.

Brandt, K. (2004). A language of their own: An interactionist approach to human–horse communication. Society & Animals, 12(4), 299–316.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2012). Thematic analysis. In H. Cooper (Ed.), APA Handbook of research methods in psychology: Research designs (pp. 57–71). American Psychological Association.

Buck, P. W., Bean, N., & Marco, K. (2017). Equine- assisted psychotherapy: An emerging trauma-informed intervention. Advances in Social Work, 18(1), 387–402. doi:10.18060/21310

Burgon, H., Gammage, D., & Hebden, J. (2018). Hoofbeats and heartbeats: Equine-assisted therapy and learning with young people with psychosocial issues—theory and practice. Journal of Social Work Practice, 32(1), 3–16.

Carlsson, C. (2017). Equine-assisted social work counteracts self-stigmatisation in self-harming adolescents and facilitates a moment of silence. Journal of Social Work Practice, 32(1), 17–30.

Clark, E. J., & Hoffler, E. F. (2014). Hope matters: The power of social work. National Association of Social Workers Press.

Donaghy, G. (2006). Equine assisted therapy. Mental Health Nursing, 26(4), 5.

Dune Lakes Lodge. (2015). Dune Lakes Lodge. Retrieved from

Dunlop, K., & Tsantefski, M. (2017). A space of safety: Children’s experience of equine-assisted group therapy. Child & Family Social Work, 23, 1–24.

Frederick, K. E., Hatz, J. I., & Lanning, B. (2015). Not just horsing around: The impact of equine-assisted learning on levels of hope and depression in at-risk adolescents. Community Mental Health, 51, 809–817.

Garden, E. R., & Kabacoff, R. I. (2011). Evaluating research articles (3rd ed.). Sage Publications.

Hamilton, A. J. (2011). Zen mind, Zen horse: The science and spirituality of working with horses. Storey Publishing.

Johansen, S.G., Wang, C.E.A., & Binder, P-E. (2016). Facilitating change in a client’s dysfunctional behavioural pattern with horse-aided psychotherapy: A case study. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 16(3), 222-231.

Kern-Godal, A., Brenna, I. H., Arnevik, E. A., & Ravndal, E. (2016). More than just a break from treatment: How substance use disorder patients experience the stable environment in horse-assisted therapy. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, 10, 99–108.

Klontz, B. T., Bivens, A., Leinart, D., & Klontz, T. (2007). The effectiveness of equine-assisted experiential therapy: Results of an open clinical trial. Society and Animals, 15, 257–267.

Lee, P., & Makela, C. (2018). Horse’s roles in equine- assisted psychotherapy: Perspectives of mental health practitioners. Journal of Psychology and Behavioural Science, 3(1), 78–95.

Merriam, S. (2002). Qualitative Research in Practice. Wiley.

Mueller, M. K., & McCullough, L. (2017). Effects of equine- facilitated psychotherapy on post-traumatic stress symptoms in youth. Child Family Study, 26, 1164–1172.

Naste, T. M., Price, M., Karol, J., Martin, L., Murphy, K., Miguel, J., & Spinazzola, J. (2017). Equine facilitated therapy for complex trauma (EFT-CT). Journal of Child & Adolescents Trauma. doi:10.1007/s40653-017-0187-3

Porter-Wenzlaff, L. (2007). Finding their voice: Developing emotional, cognitive, and behavioural congruence in female abuse survivors through Equine Facilitated Therapy. Explore, 3(5).

Sanchez, C. T., Castro, F. V., Herrera, S. & Juanez, J. C. (2014). Hormonal changes analysis by effects of horses- assisted therapy in the autistic population. Procedia — Social and Behavioural Sciences, 132, 87–91.

Schroeder, K., & Stroud, D (2015). Equine-facilitated group work for women survivors of interpersonal violence. The Journal for Specialists in Group work, 40(4), 365–386.

Shapiro, F. (2017). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy: Basic principles, protocols and procedures (3rd ed.). Guilford Press.

Smith, J. A., & Osborn, M. (2003). Interpretative phenomenological analysis. In J. A. Smith (Ed.), Qualitative psychology: A practical guide to research methods (pp. 51–80). Sage Publications.

Sullivan, W. P. (2014). Borrowing hope. In E. J. Clark & E. F. Hoffler (Eds.), Hope matters: The power of social work (pp. 138–142). NASW Press.

Szcygiel, P. (2018). On the value and meaning of trauma- informed practice: Honouring safety, complexity, and relationship. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 88(2), 115–134.

Tolich, M., & Davidson, M. (2011). An introduction into research methods: Getting started. Pearson.

Trevithick, P. (2008). Revisiting the knowledge base of social work: A framework for practice. British Journal of Social Work, 38, 1212–1237.

Trotter, K. S., Chandler, C.K., Goodwin-Bond, D., & Casey, J. (2008). A comparative study of the efficacy of group equine assisted counselling with at-risk children and adolescents. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 3(3), 254–284.

Tuuvas, M., Carlsson, J., & Norberg, J. (2017). A healing relationship: Clients’ experiences of the long-term relational significance of the horse in horse-assisted psychotherapy. European Journal of Psychotherapy & Counselling, 19(3), 307–328.

van der Kolk, B.A. (2002). Beyond the talking cure: Somatic experience and subcortical imprints in the treatment of trauma. In F. Shapiro (Ed.), EMDR as an integrative psychotherapy approach: Experts of diverse orientations explore the paradigm prism (vol vii, pp. 57–83). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Waite, C., & Bourke, L. (2013). “It’s different with a horse”: Horses as a tool for engagement in a horse therapy program for marginalised young people. Youth Studies Australia, 22(4), 15–24.

Wamser-Nanney, R., & Vandenberg, B. R. (2013). Empirical support for the definition of a complex trauma event in children and adolescents. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 26(6), 671–678. doi:10.1002/jts.21857

Yatchmenoff, D. K., & Sundborg, S. A. (2017). Implementing trauma-informed care: Recommendations on the process. Advances in Social Work, 18(1), 167–185.




How to Cite

Lietz, R., & Napan, K. (2020). Horses and worthwhile causes: Exploring equine-assisted learning at Dune Lakes Horse Inspired Learning Centre in Aotearoa New Zealand. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 32(4), 40–54.



Original Articles I