The Unique Contact with the Invisible

The Unique Contact with the Invisible

That night, the sunset was beautiful and the tranquility behind this energy was simply remarkable. You could feel the calm behind the majestic body of the great horses. At that moment we could not know that the energy of the invisible was going to surface to appease a great sorrow. A young woman in her twenties arrived at the centre with little energy remaining from her day, but her eyes lit up with the idea of meeting the horses. In front of these beautiful beings filled with compassion for this young lady, she closed her eyes to begin the exercise of the body scan.

A Piece of Equine Facilitated Wellness (EFW) History


Five years ago, as many of us where working hard to develop the NAEFW (now EFW-CAN) certification requirements, I read the following letter written by Leif Hallberg. She sent it to a number of people with her concerns and recommendations regarding developing Equine Facilitated field in the US. Leif states many of the principles and beliefs common to the development of NAEFW. It was good support and inspiration for taking the ‘long journey’ of deep learning rather than a quick approach. For those of us involved with NAEFW, this letter was welcome support for our direction.  

Deborah Marshall MA

Generation Farms

Certified EFW-CAN Trainer


March 22, 2008 - My dearest friends and colleagues,   

Since 1996 I have dedicated my life to the pursuit of better understanding the psychological implications of the horse-human relationship. For most of that quest I have remained silent – watching, listening, and learning. Finally, I feel ready to begin speaking out – sharing my feelings and thoughts. This email message is my first attempt.   

I feel that there are two key areas that we must focus on in the upcoming ten years for this field to be considered a truly “viable” and ethical treatment or education/learning approach.    


Regardless of how much we love horses, recognize their helpful/healing abilities, and see the impact that any equine facilitated or assisted approach has on clients/students, we must also see that horses are horses. And as the Equine Inherent Risk Law reminds us, equines are dangerous, unpredictable, and may cause serious bodily harm or death. This is not a joking matter. The manner in which we conduct our services determines how much “safer” we can make our programs. It is up to us as facilitators of equine experiences to ensure our clients/students safety TO THE BEST OF OUR ABILITY. This means (to me) that it is our responsibly to provide our clients/students with the information and skills needed to maintain their physical safety. Any challenge course program, adventure based program, or wilderness program REQUIRES that all students/clients undergo an intensive safety and equipment presentation and training prior to engaging in a high-risk activity. Participants are never subjected to an experience without first clearly understanding the risks and having appropriate training to decrease the risk factor. If humans come into partnership with horses and do not have adequate safety training, the risk for serious accidents increases.   

Not only is it critical to provide every student/client with a general safety training and education that includes a basic overview of equine psychology, behavior, physiology and communication, but we must also evaluate how safe our activities are. If we are placing horses in situations/activities that increase their natural fight/flight/freeze response we are placing our clients in greater danger. When a horse goes into a fight/flight/freeze response their primary concern in for their own safety. In such a state horses will trample people, knock into them, kick, bite, or whatever it takes to get away – to get safe. They are not thinking relationally. They are not thinking about the good or wellbeing of their human partner. If we are inviting unknowing clients into an arena with loose horses and providing instructions to those clients that engages the horse’s flight/flight/freeze response, we are knowingly endangering our clients.   

Is this a risk you are willing to take? I realize that the therapeutic benefits can be profound and that people, when experiencing a rush of adrenalin, may experience intense personal reflections and insight, but at what cost?   

All of this has not yet even touched upon the ethical considerations of placing an equine into such a situation. Some may not be as concerned about this as others. For myself, I believe wholeheartedly that it is the relationship between the client/student and the horse that creates the success of the intervention. I consider my horses my employees and my partners. Therefore, as a respectful boss, I also believe that it is my ethical duty to provide them with an emotionally and physically safe work environment. I know my horses well enough to know that they do not like being chased. I also know that for the most part they are not living in a state of fight/flight/freeze. This reaction only occurs when they are threatened or scared. I do not feel that it is ethical to use a treatment or learning method that places any member of the treatment team (human, animal, nature, whatever) in such a state. Furthermore, when horses get into that fight/flight/freeze response not only are they unaware of the humans, they are more prone to physically hurt themselves or other horses. I don’t think that this is ethically appropriate either.   

Basically, what I am asking is that everyone who is providing an equine facilitated or assisted service evaluate carefully their use of activities and their safety training protocol for clients/students and make SAFE decisions.   

My desire is that our field would minimize the risk for physical harm to our clients and emotional stress for our horses by adapting activities to be safer for all involved. Law suits will increase the rate of our insurance and will decrease our viability as a treatment option. This field is in our hands. It is our choice whether or not we start speaking out about unsafe practices – or helping to educate those new to the field about the safety risks involved and guiding them in a healthful and responsible direction.   


For those of us who are mental health professionals, we must consider the ethical requirements we are bound to. As mental health professionals we are required by law to keep our clients as physically and emotionally safe as possible. If you are working with clients that you obtained or who were referred to you, please consider this statement. If you are not a horse person, how can you guarantee that you are “keeping your client as physically and emotionally safe as possible”? You are entrusting your clients to a “horse specialist” to keep them safe. This may be a person who is AMAZING and who you trust with your life, but at the end of the day, it’s you who will get sued if the client gets injured. And the question will be asked, were you providing a service that you have been educated, trained, and supervised to provide? If you have only been through a three-day “certification” workshop, or attended other short-term trainings/workshops, are you truly “educated, trained, and supervised” in an equine facilitated/assisted method?  

The practice of medicine, law, science, psychology and any other professional discipline requires years of extensive training, education, and experience. If we want equine facilitated or assisted services to take its place as a viable, ethical, and respected professional disciple, we must “bite the bullet” and get the additional training, education, and experience needed. Even those of us who are already mental health professionals, this concept remains the same. It’s just a like a doctor – we have our general information to be able to practice within the methods we have been trained, educated, and supervised to provide. But, if we want to become specialists, we have to do more training, education, and supervision to ensure that we are truly competent to provide the specialty. Just to become a credentialed “play therapist” a licensed and experienced mental health professional must obtain an additional 150 hours of education/training from an institute of higher learning, have completed 500 hours of supervised play therapy facilitation, and obtained 50 hours of play therapy supervision. This is to include PLAY into therapy – not a 1000-pound live animal who is considered by nearly every state in the country to be “dangerous, unpredictable, and who may cause bodily harm or death.”

Foundational Awareness   

I feel that in order to consider ourselves “competent” we must know as much about the field that we are working in as possible. To me this means understanding the field’s origins, knowing the “who’s who” of the field, having a comprehensive grasp of the various membership and training organizations that exist, and understanding all of the methods available to use. We should also have a deep understanding of the ethics that govern us as providers of this method.   


It seems like we just need to take a deep breath and settle. If we keep growing without a deep understanding of what we are REALLY getting ourselves into as a field, I am afraid of the consequences. I am afraid that without slowing down and addressing these issues, we will find ourselves without a field. So, please help me by passing along the notion that we must become SAFE and COMPETENT facilitators of these experiences, and that to do so may take time, money, and additional training. There is no quick answer. We need to slow down and make sure we are doing it right. Be wary of any organizations that suggest that you can become “competent” within a short period of time. Suggest to those who contact you about “getting into the field” that they will need to dedicate serious time and maybe money before they can start providing an equine facilitated/assisted service.    

Here are some guidelines and suggestions:   

1. Get lots of horse experience and document it! 2. Review your ethics (… and your licensure/membership codes of ethics) 3. Enroll in college programs offering equine facilitated or assisted courses (courses, actual degree programs, professional trainings, whatever you can do) ….. 4. Go to workshops and pursue their advanced programming (not just their introductory programming) ….Find a supervisor with experience in equine facilitated work and log your equine specific supervision hours.  5. Understand all the methods available for professionals providing an equine facilitated/assisted service. 6. Know your membership organizations and what they each provide to the field ….. 7. Make sure that you are creating/using activities that are SAFE and appropriate for your clientele. There are MANY options in regards to your methods or approach to providing an equine facilitated/assisted service. Find out about all of them and become educated so that you can choose and pick based upon the needs of your client, not based upon your limitations.   

I thank you so much for your time, and for listening to me voice my fears and desires.   



Leif Hallberg is the author of Walking the Way of the Horse, Exploring the Nature of the Horse-Human Relationship,  one of the first textbooks in the Equine Facilitated field. The above letter contains excerpts from the original letter.

Meet Our Trainer Sue McIntosh

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I have learned that recognizing these needs and their sources of fulfillment in my own life greatly enhances my ability to guide my clients.  This takes time, humility, patience and (of course) horses!

As a child I was a perfectionist.  A high achiever. Growing up in a small Scottish village made it relatively easy to be well behaved and top of my class, and to thus gain a sense of significance and acceptance.  But then adolescence arrived.  Like many of the teenagers I now work 

"mistakes do not make you a bad person"

with, I struggled, and a key part of that struggle was realizing that ‘earning’ my way simply didn’t work.  But I was one of the lucky ones; I had a horse.  And with him I experienced grace.  It didn’t mean ‘anything went’ (for either of us!) and our journey together certainly wasn’t easy!  But my horse time and relationship opened my awareness to essential and ongoing life lessons I now seek to share with clients: that mistakes do not make you a bad person (or horse!), we may have valuable opportunities to grow when things seem the worst, and we remain loveable and significant - we can know we matter – within this imperfection.  

Little Moments

As I was grooming Moonbeam this morning my attention was immediately brought to this new design in her mane. And my thoughts right before that had been focused on the Solstice and Full Moon today and ways the horses and I could honor this moment. And my answer was right there in the infinity symbol in this beautiful mare's mane, embellished with little flowers and other bits of nature. Wishing you all a magical day filled with ever flowing Balance.

By sara Willerson

Thanks for sharing that little magical moment Sara!

So Beautiful... - Si Belle...

So Beautiful...

By Hélène Gagnon
Translated by Marie Josée Marcoux

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elow is an excerpt from my diary about when I experienced the magic of a session with horses. I related in this diary a lived moment about my participation at a workshop “À la rencontre du cheval, miroir de soi” given by my friend Sandra Villeneuve. This extract, dated summer 2012, describes my encounter with Sybelle, a little Haflinger mare who belonged to the "Espoir" herd. This mare allowed me to learn an important lesson that I want to share with you.

I needed to shed, especially in front of these sensitive animals. I didn’t want to cut myself from my sensations. We, the participants, were in the pasture, searching for an equine match. We had to spot three horses and then, had to choose one to work with, for the next exercise. I did not want to rush.

I as aware of my huge need for solitude. I felt that just observing the herd was all I needed! I didn't want to meet a horse… I saw myself in my shyness with people.  My feeling was that all I needed was to be centred. I had to ground myself, to attract the right horse to me, but I wasn't there yet. I walked through the herd and the other women, without breathing correctly, deeply. My belly was compressed. What was causing me to be so uncomfortable? Perhaps, it was my thoughts and judgement about the women there? Or it was a judgement on myself?

rabesque draws my attention, a mare with a bump on one of her legs from a past accident. I was intrigued about her. I was searching for Malcolm, this young horse that I met before at my first session with Sandra. I lived a special moment with him. He reminds me of my son… a teenager! At that time, he came in my bubble but I managed to back him up and he responded gently to my request. This time, Malcolm did not come to invade me. I think I have worked hard to protect my space! Arabesque walked near me and I was taking the risk to approach Malcom who was grazing very quietly. I was squeezed between these two horses. I wasn't feeling at ease! By reflex, I put my left hand on Arabesque’s side and my right hand on Malcom’s back, and closed my eyes in an attempt to calm myself. After some breathing, I felt my left hand slipping off Arabesque’s body as he was moving away. Malcolm did not move.

I resumed my walk toward the top of the field where I could have a view of the whole herd. I turned myself toward the horses and I closed my eyes to breathe better. I was not able to relax my belly though. Then, for a while, I succeeded in feeling free with a totally laid-back attitude. Right at this moment, the little blond mare appeared to me. I opened my eyes and she was in front of me! Not imposing, nor intimidating. Very calm and patient. I allowed her to sniff my hand and I petted her. The meeting was initiated.
Then, I choose to work with Sybelle in the round pen. We, the participants, had to wait our turn to do the Body Scan exercise*. I followed the directives of our facilitator but I had some difficulty understanding my body messages. I was standing with my back to the round pen. Sybelle and Sandra were standing behind me in that pen. The fence separating us, I was alone, facing the wind, face to face with my ego. Again, I closed my eyes. I was trying to let the blazing sun warm me up. I was hearing the horses from away. I was feeling my uncomfortable belly. Stuck. A dominant feeling. I wished to retrieve the feeling of liberty I had when I was in the herd earlier this day!

ybelle was neighing at my back. Later, Sandra told me, with a moved look, “It looked like she was calling you”. While I tried to relax my belly, Sandra came to help me. She asked me to make a complete body scan and told me to turn myself towards the mare. “What is your belly sensation saying?” I asked my body what message it wanted to tell me. I understood: “Release”. OK, but release what??? Then it told me: “The Past” Release the past…

I shared it out loud with Sandra. As I was naming my feelings and letting go of my emotions, Sybelle started showing an interest in me. She came back to me, her ears listening. Tears came down my cheeks while I became conscious of what I was experiencing. “I know that I must let go of my past relationships but I'm resisting! Why so much restraint?” A part of me was so afraid.

The mare would be my helper. I walked into the round pen. I really felt the need to walk! I expressed this and started to walk. I walked along the fence. When I was walking, I focused on my breathing. I completely forgot the spectators who were observing. Sybelle joined me, adjusting her walk to mine, without overtaking me. She went with me. What presence! I could almost say that we walked “hand in hand” together. I was feeling that she supported my process, and at the same time, respected my pace. We made a complete circle around the round pen. I was walking in this comforting circle becoming more conscious about my personal power. When I stopped, Sybelle approached me. She wanted to give me a cuddle. I was ready to welcome her. I thanked her. The feeling in my belly was gone! This picture of me walking with a horse was carrying me for a long time. Free. No line. It is within vulnerability that I could make this possible.

Before I felt asleep that night, I scrolled in my head all the details about this amazing day. Awareness upset me again. Later, I discovered that the horses I had chosen to work initially were also very traumatized from their past. I resonated with animals that had a wounded soul... like me. I am so grateful that Sybelle chose me! She helped me recognize my old defence mechanisms. She lightened me up, and I gained a new understanding of myself. I didn't have to save others anymore. I had to simply… let go… and take care of myself.
It took more experiences like that to really understand the depth of this message, but it is Sybelle who ignited a spark. With her, I understood the importance to get out of my head and into my body. I had to experience it in order to integrate it. This was a wonderful healing experience.
When I returned home, I turned on my computer to see weekend pictures. I was surprised when I saw, at the centre of the screen, the cute little blond mare appearing to me! Such beautiful radiance. Thank you!
*Body scan: meditating exercise consisting of focusing on body sensations. Connecting to our body in thepresent moment , to feel our body parts, their weight, their position, the heat, the contacts…

© Hélène Gagnon, tous droits réservés,

A very special relationship between human and horse to help people with a mental illness - Une complicité entre l’humain et le cheval ​ au bénéfice de la santé mentale

A very special relationship between human and horse to help people with a mental illness

By Melissa Richard
Translated by Sophie Grenier and Pierre Fantinato

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Who would have thought such terms as ‘’psychology’’ and ‘’horses’’ could relate so closely when it comes to the well-being of humans? For Mrs. Marjorie Leblanc, a psychologist for the Témiscouata installations, a western horseback riding trainer and an EFW facilitator (Equine Facilitated Wellness-Canada), there is no doubt they relate closely.  She has been aware of the fact for a long time. Mrs. Leblanc works with young people and she realized some of her young clients did not respond well to traditional therapy. So she decided to set up a special program that would combine both traditional psychological interventions and the techniques involved with the Equine Facilitated Wellness-Canada program. Her clients, aged 10 to 17, face problems such as depression, anxiety, relationship issues, low self-esteem, conflicts with their parents or siblings and a difficulty to manage their own emotions.
Each session lasts about an hour and fifteen minutes and takes place at “L’Écurie Maryse Thériault” located in Témiscouata-sur-le-lac. The number of sessions depends on the treatment plan established for each client as well as the client’s response to this experiential approach. It is important to mention that the clients do not ride the horses but interact with them through various drills on the ground. 

Well-Being Multiplied by Two: Humans and Horse

Mrs. Leblanc explains that horses are beautiful and impressive animals. They are a strong and noble creature, but still they remain fragile. Such contradictions can positively influence  young clients and help them become more aware of who they are and help them engage in a process for a better life. Clients experience such activities as bandaging and handling the animal, observing the horse as he runs free, etc. The client can therefore learn new ways to communicate, experience new behaviours, an discover what he must improve to communicate better with the people around him.

Mrs. Leblanc also insists on the importance of being honest and totally present when you engage with horses. Horses are a prey animals and remain very sensitive to how other horses or humans feel: how do those who come close to them feel? Are they calm? Are they in distress? Horses act as a mirror to how we feel. Sometimes humans just act as a predator would when they approach horses. This is one thing you must not do. You must be humble when you approach horses in order for them to respect you and to collaborate with you. When you approach horses with no desire whatsoever to dominate them, they collaborate with you because they feel they are engaging in a winning partnership. From that moment on, humans and horses are partners.

Surprising Results

The influence she could Experiences differ from one client to another, Mrs. Leblanc is always happily surprised with the results. Since 2011, when the program was implemented, 75 sessions have been organized and 15 clients have benefited from it. One particular experiment really moved Mrs. Leblanc. The young girl she was working with had been depressed for many months; she wasn't reacting, she wasn't standing straight. Mrs Leblanc decided to go for more active exercises to encourage the young girl to become a part of the action. She asked her to have the horse trot as she would run next to him. Mrs. Leblanc explained that her posture, energy, intentions and her breathing could either help her reach her objective with the horse or fail her. When

the client realized have on the horse, she stood straight, looked right in front of her, became more confident and energetic. She smiled and increased her own pace. The horse followed. He felt relaxed, he felt there were no tensions. The young girl was quite impressed and marvelled as she reached her goal and watched the horse collaborate with her.

A Dream Come True

Mrs. Leblanc has felt a passion for horses since childhood. She trained for many years and did research. In 2010, she found “L’Écurie Maryse Thériault”. The installations were close to her home and allowed her to make her dream come true: to combine both her passion for horses and psychology. “Les Écuries Namasté,” near Quebec City, helped her transform her project into something more official. They offered her training her to become an EFW facilitator. Mrs. Leblanc wishes to thank her chief of programs, Mrs. Michèle Soucy as well as the human resources manager at the time, Mrs. Sarah Lebel, who were both open-minded enough to support her project and help her reach her goal. 
The EFW approach is well established in the USA and in the rest of Canada. It is developing more and more in Quebec. For now, Mrs. Leblanc is the only psychologist trained as an EFW facilitator in Bas-Saint-Laurent and she is now in the process of being recognized by the EFW-Can (Equine Facilitated Wellness-Canada). The association that was founded in 2011 exists, among other things, to ensure emotional and physical safety of humans and horses when EFW services are being offered as well as to establish standards for training and practice. The management and the chief of programs in Témiscouata are very proud of this innovative project and are convinced of the positive impacts on the people who engaged in the process.

The Sound of Connection - La résonnance du lien

The Sound of Connection
  By Lisa Loewen

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Eva (fictitious name) is a bright 6-year-old girl who came to me with her mom Karyn (fictitious name). They were looking to connect with horses and learn some strategies to stay connected to each other through Equine Facilitated Wellness while they weathered a separation and pending divorce. 

Eva shared that she loved horses and brought her My Little Pony stuffie with her to share with me. I could see that Eva was quite fond of this stuffed animal and I invited her to bring it out to the pasture to meet one of my therapy horses, Smokie. We worked through some safety exercises and discussed boundaries and soothing touch. Eva piped up and said “I love hugs and so does my stuffie because he neighs!” and Eva proceeded to give her stuffie a big hug and it let out a jolly neigh. I said to Eva “I onder if I give Smokie a hug if he would neigh?” and so I wrapped my arms gently around his big neck and… he let out a whinny! Eva was thrilled and thought it was magical. I was completely shocked, I could not have planned it better. Every time I work with the horses, I am amazed at what they come up with. They really are sensitive sentient beings.

About the Author: Lisa Loewen operates LL Equine in Prince George, BC. Lisa specializes in communication, trauma and anxiety. You can find out more about Lisa  at




What a Journey

What a Journey

purchased an interesting horse magazine just over 2 years ago now, never suspecting how it would change the course of my life.  I am 59 years old this year and have been in the company of horses for most of my life.  In that magazine was an article entitled ‘Horses as Healers’. It talked about horses helping people heal from Post Traumatic Stress, abuse and other mental and physical troubles.  I felt all the puzzle pieces fall into place and knew I had finally discovered the answer to so many of my questions.

We Are Changing Our Name!!

We have changed our name from the National Association for Equine Facilitated Wellness to:

Equine Facilitated Wellness-Canada         Mieux-Être Facilité par le Cheval-Canada

EFW-Can:  pronounced "efwa-can"     MFC-Can    pronounced

Why the change?  The National Association for Equine Facilitated Wellness was quite a mouthful for one thing.  Equine Facilitated Wellness-Canada is still a mouth full but it explains our approach and "Wellness" describes our three fields of certification for the Equine Facilitated Mental Health Professional, the Equine Facilitated Learning Professional as well as Equine Professional who may work in partnership with the former Professionals or as an Equine Coach, teaching the EFW principles of respectful relationships with horses. 

We added Canada because we are proud that this association has its roots in Canada and that we have developed a community of people who honor the horse as a sentient being, in this important field.  We would also like to open the door to a more international membership, participation and community by allowing different chapters to add their country, province, state or region to Equine Facilitated Wellness;  for example, Equine Facilitated International,  EFW-Alberta, EFW-Germany etc.  We now have members in the United States and the UK and have had people coming from France and the US to take our training.   So we are extending an invitation to everyone far and wide to join with us in celebrating equines as partners in trusting relationships in the field of Equine Facilitated Wellness.

EFW/MFC-Can is not only for people interested in obtaining training, mentorship and certification to work in the field of EFW but also for people who want to build relationships with equines that are based in trust, safety, compassion and awareness.  People are invited to take the first levels of EFW-Can trainings to experience this approach and philosophy of being with equines as well as the personal development workshops that are given by our EFW-Can Professionals and EFW-Can Certification candidates.  (link to training page here)  Consider becoming a member of EFW-Can today to further your journey in developing meaningful relationships.  (link to membership page)