Equine Programming Serves as Alternative Experiential Therapy for Anxious Teens

Many young people don’t respond well to traditional forms of therapy. Group therapy can feel overwhelming for teens with social anxiety and talking to a therapist can feel intimidating if they don’t know them very well. Wilderness therapy programs utilize a variety of alternative experiential therapies, like our equine therapy programs, to help anxious teens identify and overcome their anxiety. 

Why Choose Equine Programming?

Equine relational work is a form of experiential therapy that consists of interactions between students and horses. Sessions usually involve grooming, feeding, haltering, and leading horses rather than riding them. They work with the same horse each time they attend an equine relational treatment session, which allows them to form a bond with an individual horse, helping them build relationships and communication skills.
For teens who struggle with anxiety, there are numerous equine therapy benefits that this program offers. They may find it easier to trust animals than to trust other humans when they first arrive at a wilderness therapy program. Animals provide a different kind of support than people, as they can only communicate nonverbally, which helps teens pay more attention to their sensory experience and subtleties in interactions. They may feel more confident in their ability to hold boundaries and manage their emotions with animals than they do in other group settings.

How Does Working with Horses Help with Self-Regulation?

As our Equine Specialist, Anne Westall, will tell you, “You can’t hide your feelings from a horse.” When our students are engaged with the horses in equine programming, the horse emulates the physical and emotional states of the student, thus providing immediate and honest feedback. This allows for a better understanding of certain patterns exhibited by the student and how their actions affect others close to them. When students learn to approach horses in a way that the horse reflects and responds positively we see an increase in their confidence.
“Horses are actually pretty cool. They’ll take deep breaths with you and kind of reflect back to your energy levels. So, if you get really relaxed, they’ll actually fall asleep,” describes Anne. “Often, teens aren’t aware that other people can pick up their anxious energy, but observing horses become skittish helps students recognize that they are feeling the same way and to practice mindfulness skills that they’ve been learning throughout the program.”

How Does Equine Programming Align with a Wilderness Therapy Model?

Equine relational work at Trails Carolina provides a unique and different way for our clients to learn about themselves and continue their therapeutic journey. Our monthly transition cycle rotates between multi-day wilderness expeditions where students hike and learn outdoor skills and time at our base camps, where they participate in more traditional types of experiential therapy. At our Winding Gap Base Camp, students have the opportunity to participate in traditional academics and equine work.
Whether hiking or at one of our base camps, Trails Carolina uses experiential learning to help students connect with nature, animals, and environmental conservation. Equine relational work is just another way we do this. It is hands-on experiences, like equine, that help students make connections outside of a classroom setting and apply the skills they’ve learned to their personal lives and relationships.

Trails Carolina Can Help 

Trails Carolina is one of the nation’s leading wilderness therapy programs that helps young people ages 10-17 who are struggling with behavioral and emotional issues. This program uses adventure-based therapy to help students gain a new sense of self-awareness, confidence, and independence. The skills they learn throughout the wilderness program offer long-term benefits towards their ability to successfully self-navigate in the real world. By removing teens from their fast-paced environment into a safe, nurturing, and peaceful environment, they are able to focus on improving and reflecting upon their behavior.
Contact us at 800-975-7303 to learn more about our equine programming!

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Avatar of Jeremy Whitworth

Jeremy Whitworth

As Executive Director at Trails Carolina, a leading wilderness therapy program for youth and teens, I oversee operations and collaborate with our leadership team. Since 2022, I've also hosted the Common Ground Podcast for parents: https://trailscarolina.com/common-ground-podcast/ With a background in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education, I've managed adventure-based therapeutic programs across the US and Canada. My experiences in competitive athletics and adventure sports have honed my leadership, risk assessment, and decision-making skills, which I apply to running a successful business like Trails Carolina.

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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


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