No Horsing Around with Equine-Assisted Therapy
Palm Beach Post, Sunday, March 13, 2005
By Kelly Wolfe

Cappuccino was having none of it. Neither was Spike, the pony-instigator. Together, they ran circles around an increasingly frustrated Lisa Cohen, a mental-health counselor on a mission. "I'm done, I've had enough, I don't want to keep battling with her," Cohen said after she had spent roughly 45 minutes running around the paddock near Lake Worth with an empty bridle, trying to catch the spirited Cappuccino.

Lisa Baugh, a marriage and family intern who runs Sagittarius Rising, an equine-assisted therapy business, said this is how the therapy works. Give a person a task with a horse not always an agreeable animal, plus kind of big and intimidating to boot and see what occurs. Baugh offers both private and group workshops using equine-assisted therapy. She just wrapped up a series on teen tension and family dynamics in February. In March and April, she'll offer two "Professional Burn-Out Buster" workshops. Workshops last about three hours except for the "Horse Within Workshop." Individual sessions vary in time and cost.

The idea, Baugh said, is to ask people to participate in exercises with horses that require skills such as nonverbal communication, assertiveness, creative thinking and problem solving. People are not asked to ride horses, and no horse experience is necessary. Other, more internal issues seem to naturally bubble up, Baugh said. Cohen said that while chasing Cappuccino she started thinking about an argument she had with an acquaintance the day before. She shifted that dormant anger onto Cappuccino, she said. "Was there a fear you were going to snap?" Baugh asked Cohen. "I feel like I'm calming," Cohen said. "I guess I'm sensing I'm a threat and I need to go to her as though I'm not a threat peacefully."

Baugh has been a horsewoman for about 35 years. She first came to Wellington to compete in the Winter Equestrian Festival and now splits her time between here and Illinois. She opened Sagittarius Rising last year after getting her license as a marriage and family therapist intern. Linda McLendon, executive director of Full Circle Therapeutic Riding in Palm City, said she is considering hosting one of Baugh's workshops. "I think its really amazing," she said of equine-assisted therapy. "Oftentimes, even if we are not being treated for therapeutic issues, horses are able to bring things to the surface in a profound way." McLendon said she took one of Baugh's workshops and was paired with another woman. Together, they had to brush a horse using only one brush. They weren't allowed to talk to each other. "I learned that I knew how to give and take," McLendon said, "and how to get what I needed without having to ask for it." She said horses work well in a therapy setting because they are intuitive: "They can read us."

Teresa Oster, a psychotherapist in Delray Beach, said she sat in on a Baugh workshop. "I thought it was amazing what can come out in an hour or two. People can learn so much about themselves." Oster said. "Most people are unfamiliar with horses. Because a horse is big and unknown, it can be frightening or intimidating, so you learn how you handle situations that are uncomfortable or intimidating. At the same time, it's a lot of fun."