Derby News Community Grant

Mental health therapy, and personal development, assisted by…horses!

The notion that horses can help a person overcome their psychological or mental health problems is intriguing;  that they could assist with team building and leadership training even more so.

Sarah Stephens runs the Sprit and Soul Equine Assisted Activity Centre Community Interest Company (CIC) based in Kirk Langley. She had breast cancer at an early age; during her recovery period she continued to look after her horses and benefitted immensely from the regular interaction she had with them. It helped her to overcome many of the personal consequences of her cancer treatment. The positive impact on her was so profound that she decided to make a career change and develop a service to offer this therapy  to others.

Sarah is joined by 2 other Directors  on the board of the CIC, and the organisation is supported by volunteers who help out in the sessions, and with looking after the horses.

She is well qualified in looking after horses; she also  graduated in Psychology and then subsequently studied Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning.

So why horses?

Many people are familiar with dealing with cats and dogs.  As they are  predators, the nature of their heightened senses are mainly geared towards hunting and this drives much of their behaviour. Horses are prey and so have a very different sense of their environment and, in particular, have an acute ability to pick up on remote physiological signals that express anxiety, fear, anger, aggression etc – even in humans.  Their instinctive response to these signals is generally adverse and protective –  to be cautious, distrustful, and to flee. At all times they need to be alert, and in control. Any response is normally immediate and expressed in a straightforward manner.

People who benefit from Equine Assisted therapy will tend to have trust, self-esteem, or confidence issues, or are suffering from a  trauma or a similar condition.  A human therapist might take a number of sessions to pick up on the nuances of the person’s diagnosis, the horse will feel it a lot quicker. Sarah, as a trained facilitator, draws on the horse’s reactions  during the sessions, to ask questions, prompt ideas, explore problems etc.  – the horse helps in guiding the diagnosis through the interaction.

As the person learns more about themselves, works closer with the horse, gains its trust, and is able to respond positively to the horse’s reactions and behaviour then then the client will start making progress.

The sessions will involve demonstrating and challenging that new found trust with the horse.




One of the most innovative, and counter-intuitive exercises is using the horse as a “white board”. In addition to the  therapeutic effects of being outside, and walking around, writing and drawing can externalise ideas and issues. But on a horse? Perhaps it needs to be tried to be understood….


Spirit and Soul also offer group sessions which use a variety of techniques and approaches to support team-working and leadership. From developing a knowledge of horsemanship  through to developing mutual trust by, for example, helping a blind-folded colleague lead a horse.


Spirit and Soul is a Community Interest Company. Its purpose is not to make a profit, but to cover costs.  People looking to use the service either pay for themselves, bring personal budgets with them, or are within a specific population which are subject to external funding. Spirit and Soul has recently secured a grant from the National Lottery focussed on people who have come out of abusive relationships.


There are some people who could benefit from the service, but are not in a position to self-fund, or are not eligible for project funding opportunities. To address this, Derby News has awarded a grant to Spirit and Soul to be used to cover this gap, and to ensure that people who are in genuine need can benefit  from this service.

If you are interested in using Equine Assisted Therapy and are not sure then please contact Sarah Stephens – DETAILS

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