Equine Therapy Programs

Equine Therapy & Natural Horsemanship

Horses Provide a Powerful Reflection

We believe that the horse and human relationship models the relationships we have in our everyday lives and is essential in helping our students build better connections with their family, peers, and teachers. Horses’ intuitive sense of emotion and nonverbal communication make them the ideal teachers for pre-teens and teens to become more aware of their demeanor.

By focusing on co-regulation, non-verbal communication, and reciprocity within the horse and human relationship, our students learn how to better understand their role within their own relationships.

Equine Therapy - two students with a horse


Simply put, co-regulation suggests that when our students are calm, cool, and collected, it helps others around them to be calm and collected. We see this modeled through our students’ interactions with the horses. While interacting with the students, the horses learn to better regulate their emotions and respond to us as humans through co-regulation.

Non-Verbal Communication

Most of the interaction between humans and horses occurs nonverbally. This means that horses are especially attuned to small changes in emotional states. Because of this, equine relational programming offers invaluable insight into how students communicate with their families, siblings, and peers.

Reciprocal Relationships

We encourage our students to view their relationship with a horse as a reflection of themselves and what they bring to the relationships in their lives, and as a means to develop tools to communicate more effectively and get their needs met in a healthy way.

Trails Carolina’s wilderness therpay programs are dedicated to helping adolescents and teens work through behavioral or emotional difficulties, build trusting relationships with their family and peers, and achieve academic success.

Horses Help Teach Self-Awareness

horses in a field on the Trails Carolina campus

Equine programming helps students overcome their struggles and reconnect with their friends and families. Horses teach students to be more self-aware and exercise greater control over their internal states.

The communication skills required for working with a horse directly translate into the communication skills needed to have healthy, reciprocal relationships with their families, peers, teachers, and other important figures in their lives. Trails Carolina’s Equine Specialist can help create these changes for your child.

Other Benefits of Equine Relational Programming

Studies continually show that the presence of animals decreases anxiety and aggression (Wilson, 1984). It is widely believed that the presence of an animal, its spontaneous behavior, and its ability to pick up on non-verbal communication provides a therapeutic tool that would be challenging to recreate in any other form. In addition, it is also believed that using horses as part of a therapeutic treatment program for troubled youth helps them learn appropriate social interactions and behavioral cause and effect (Brooks, 2001; Nebbe, 1991).

It is our experience at Trails that horses tend to be helpful in providing social behavioral feedback in both honest and immediate ways. A horse’s response to a student's intentions, anxiety or calmness, etc is not a debatable conflict. In essence, the horse can provide feedback by drawing closer or stepping away and that feedback is not disputable.

When students learn to approach horses in a way that the horse reflects and responds positively we see a gain in confidence. The take-home for our students is the carry-over of this lesson into other interactions beyond the “barn”. Many times troubled youth can draw lessons from their interactions in our equine program that they aren’t prepared to “hear” from a parent, or staff member for that matter. Horse therapy for troubled youth creates an incredible opportunity in a very unique form of nonverbal communication.

As the “light bulb” begins to go off for our students in these interactions, our therapists are able to step in and help guide their process to make this new information accessible in other interactions. With parents, peers, teachers, and beyond, there is a powerful transformation that our students experience in working with our equine program.

natural horsemanship - Trails student with a horse
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Trails saved my daughter’s life. Amanda is an amazing human and a brilliant therapist. I am so grateful to her, Science Steve, and the other wonderful people who could reach my daughter at a time when I could not.

Margot Lowman August 2022

Great life changing experience for our son. After becoming addicted to gaming during covid he was very depressed. At Trails he experienced the wilderness, Science Steve, learning survival skills and top notch therapy and support etc… I highly recommend! This gave our son and our family a renewed family bond full of love and excitement about his bright future.

Winnifred Wilson July 2022


Outstanding clinical work and superb staff! There’s a great culture at this company and it shows with how they engage with families/clients.

Kristin Brace June 2022



Being immersed in nature and away from all distractions allows for teens to have the opportunity to disconnect from the world and reconnect with themselves.

They can grow, learn, and not just survive, but thrive in the real world. Trails Carolina offers many benefits of wilderness therapy, including:

Personal, reflective growth: While at Trail Carolina, teens have the opportunity to better understand themselves.

This transformation, which takes place in the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains can help them to be better about knowing themselves, understanding others and how their actions, words, and lives can impact others.

In the wilderness, these teens are allowed to take a step back, reflect and see the world from another’s point of view without any distractions.

Transferable life skills: Not only do teens learn hard such as how to pitch a tent, how to build and keep a fire going, as well as how to navigate through the wilderness, they also learn valuable life lessons which are transferable to the real world. Some of these include leadership, teamwork, respect, responsibility, and self-awareness.

Individualized therapeutic and academic programming: Individualized therapeutic programming is the crux of why Trails Carolina works so well. When the academics and therapy are specific to an individual, it creates an environment that is personalized which enhances learning.

Teens struggling with defiance may have different therapeutic methods for dealing with this than other teens who may be struggling with different problems such as anxiety.

Family-focused programming: One of the ultimate goals of Trails Carolina is helping to repair the family unit. While their son or daughter is away in the wilderness, some programs offer family therapy sessions that help both the parents and the siblings work through problems which the family has been struggling with.

When the focus is brought back to the family, it can ensure lasting change when the child transitions home from a therapeutic program.

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do” – Eleanor Roosevelt

If your son or daughter is struggling with behavioral, emotional, or mental health issues like defiance, anxiety, or depression and it has started to impact their day to day lives, now is the time to examine possible options for treatment for your teen.

What is wilderness therapy?

Wilderness therapy programs, which are inpatient mental health treatment programs, can help child or teen explore what is troubling them, why they are acting out, and how they can better relate to their family and friends.

Removing teens from their hectic lives, technology, peers, bad habits, distractions, and influences is one of the many reasons why wilderness therapy programs work.

The best wilderness therapy programs offer an array of therapeutic techniques including, but not limited to equine relational programming, cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, group therapy, individual therapy, and mindfulness techniques.

Wilderness therapy programs accept students on a case by case basis. The selection usually depends upon the clinical programing of wilderness therapy programs and the behaviors exhibited by a potential student.

Some programs may accept teens dealing with more clinically complex issues while others chose to focus on students with more easily managed difficulties.

That being said, most all wilderness therapy programs provide therapeutic programming for struggling teens with behavior problems and emotional difficulties including:

Neurodevelopmental Disorders- These include Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Nonverbal Learning Disorder, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 

School refusal- Many teens entering wilderness therapy programs are struggling with school refusal problems. Which is why wilderness therapy programs are great for treating teens who refuse school, who are frequently truant, or even suspended.

Substance experimentation or use– While most wilderness therapy programs deal with substance abuse in some degree, there are some wilderness therapy programs which are specified to help treat teens who are struggling with substance use issues, whether that be alcohol or marijuana use.

Defiance– Whether this is disruptive behavior in school and at home, wilderness therapy programs can help get to the root of these problems and address these issues in teens. This may also include Oppositional Defiance Disorder.

Anxiety– Social anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder can be crippling for teens. It inhibits their functionality around peers, in the classroom, at work and with their family. Many wilderness programs provide help for teens struggling with some form of anxiety.

Depression– Depression can be tough, especially with teens which is why wilderness therapy programs offer therapeutic help to teens who are struggling with this.

We offer programs designed for pre-teens ages 10-13 and adolescents ages 13-17. Our clinically proven methods work exceptionally well with:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Family conflict
  • Low self-esteem
  • Trauma
  • Social isolation
  • Self-harm
  • Suicide ideation
  • Adoption
  • Defiant behavior/Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  • Gaming and technology obsession
  • Substance abuse
  • Attachment issues
  • Manipulative behavior
  • Poor academic achievement
  • Learning differences
  • School refusal
  • ADHD
  • Mood dysregulation
  • Autism (high functioning)


We are passionate about helping students overcome challenges and reach their full potential, and committed to creating the most effective wilderness therapy program possible for students and their families. Our entire team is honored to dedicate their professional lives to changing the lives of troubled teens.

The average stay at our wilderness therapy program is 70-90 days.

After graduating from our wilderness treatment center, students will typically transition back home or to a step down type residential program (Therapeutic Boarding School or Residential Treatment Center, as examples).

Parents have multiple weekly touchpoints at the program. There is a separate program specifically designed for the involvement of the family.

We also provide in-person opportunities during a student’s time at trails for families to get on campus and do work with their child. We have some of the highest-rated family services within the industry. 

91% of students showed improvement in extremely significant symptoms of depression, 12 months after graduation.

Learn more: Does wilderness therapy work?

91% of students showed improvement in extremely significant symptoms of anxiety, 12 months after graduation.

Learn more: Treatment For Anxiety In Teens: How Wilderness Therapy Can Help

79% of students reported experiencing a decrease in suicidal thoughts, 12 months after graduation.