Every horse person knows that our equine friends have the ability to make us feel better, no matter the cause of our mental anguish. As teenagers we shed tears into our horses’ manes, and as adults we ponder problems on long, quiet rides or while wielding a brush to bring out the shine on our BFF’s coat.
We also know that the healing power of horses goes deeper, having seen the lives of abused children and war-ravaged soldiers brightened by therapeutic sessions. But few of us have witnessed just how profound the human-horse interaction can be and how it can heal the hidden wounds that burden so many of us. Melisa Pearce has—and has made it her life’s work to help others.Photo Credit: KimBeerPhotography.com
Pearce successfully bred and competed APHA and AQHA horses for many years before completing her education in psychotherapy and opening her practice. Her practice was based at her ranch, and it was there that she made an interesting discovery.
“Between sessions I encouraged my clients to get some fresh air, enjoy the ranch and visit the horses over the fence,” Pearce says of the origins of her equine therapy program. “For the most part, my clients were non-horse people, but I knew they’d be safe being present with the horses over the pasture fence. I soon observed that regardless of what my herd was doing, whether grazing in deep grass on the far side of the pasture or grooming their friends, one of them would almost always stop their activity and go over to greet the visitor. It was always a different horse. My horses weren’t accustomed to treats so I knew they weren’t seeking them, but would be content with a pat and typically stand with the clients at the fence for a long time.
“When I worked with the client later in the day, I normally found him or her to be much more emotionally available to me as a therapist,” she continues. “After repeated observations with different clients the effect the horses had on them got my attention! What were the horses doing to soften my clients and help them open up?
“The next summer I intentionally asked clients to spend time with the horses before therapy sessions. The benefit of this time was impactful and took me to the next stage in what became my Equine Gestalt Coaching Method. These observations were in the 1980s, before the Internet and ways to easily research if anyone else was partnering with horses in psychotherapy. Now, almost 30 years after the birth of an entire industry of equine therapy, equine coaching and horses healing humans, I’m humbled to be recognized as one of the founders of this widely-accepted and very popular niche.”
Pearce’s private practice grew, along with demands for her as a motivational speaker and clinician at events throughout the country. She became an award-winning author with several books to her credit, and the host of popular “Touched by a Horse” seminars and retreats at her Lil Bit North Ranch in Colorado. The demands on her time became increasingly great and she began to realize her talents could reach beyond her own practice.
“I was treating clients from all over the world who had experienced sexual assault and a wide range of traumas,” Pearce says. “An assistant always worked with me, and soon my assistants, former clients and colleagues began asking me to mentor them in my methods. I looked at how many people I could personally treat versus how many lives could healed by training other coaches and clinicians. Then and there my decision was made.”
In 2008, Pearce formally began Touched by a Horse, Inc. and her Equine Gestalt Coaching Method Certification Program. She now has more than 135 coach graduates of the equine therapy program working in seven countries. Each semester, roughly 60 students are learning the skills needed to become equine coaches and healers.
To learn more about Touched by a Horse’s Equine Gestalt Coaching Method and Melisa Pearce’s books, seminars, retreats and upcoming appearances, go to touchedbyahorse.com or email her at [email protected].