<div style="display:inline;"> <img height="1" width="1" style="border-style:none;" alt="" src="//googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/viewthroughconversion/1028731116/?value=0&amp;guid=ON&amp;script=0">
6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Lancashire Life today click here

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy - the life of Lancashire's horse whisperers

PUBLISHED: 18:15 05 November 2012 | UPDATED: 19:46 18 April 2016

Linda Butterworth with Polly Panda and Kathryn Tranter

Linda Butterworth with Polly Panda and Kathryn Tranter

Our bond with horses is well-known but is it strong enough to help solve our emotional problems? Alison Coleman finds out

The practice of using horses as a therapeutic medium has been established for some time.Picture: Alamy The practice of using horses as a therapeutic medium has been established for some time.Picture: Alamy

There’s a special bond between horse and man, steeped in history and still in evidence today. But few places is it as profound or as heart-warming than in the pioneering work being done by Burnley-based psychotherapist Julie Stirpé.

She and her five horses are helping youngsters and adults overcome some huge emotional and physical challenges.

She said: ‘My two biggest passions in life are horses and therapy; the first, ever since I was able to sit on one, and the second inspired by the film One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest which I saw when I was about 13. Thirty-five years on, I’m discovering that the two can complement each other with some incredible results.’

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP), the practice of using horses as a therapeutic medium, has been around for some time, but it wasn’t until three years ago, after specialist training, that Julie began using it to help some of her own clients.

Sarah Nattrass during a session Sarah Nattrass during a session

‘I’m lucky in that I have my own horses and equestrian facilities here on the farm, but it wasn’t an easy decision,’ she explains. ‘As a psychotherapist you have to remain very contained emotionally, especially when you are working with damaged children. My horses are my friends, part of my family, and quite separate from my working life. Would I struggle emotionally with involving them in my professional life?’

Her two teenage sons were enthusiastic; her husband a little less so, but Julie’s concerns soon proved unfounded as the healing power of the horses began to deliver results.

Some patients, as young as four and caught up in distressing child protection proceedings, have responded particularly well. The experience starts when they arrive at Crow Wood Equestrian Centre. They choose a horse to work with and spend an hour in the arena going through various exercises as part of the therapy programme. The horses are loose and are never ridden, and have an equine specialist keeping an eye on them, while the therapist focuses on the client.

Julie explained: ‘They are trying to overcome a problem, and the process of getting the horse to do something with them, for example, creating a timeline in the sand using a box of props, helps them put things in order in their mind.

After making an assault course visitors had to work together to walk the course staying connected with the horses at all times After making an assault course visitors had to work together to walk the course staying connected with the horses at all times

‘They’ll start talking about what they are doing and I then will explore it with them. The horse is a tool in the therapy session, but the connection they make with the person is just incredible. Nothing else has that power.’

To date Julie Stirpé Associates’ 11-strong team of qualified psychologists and therapists has treated around 20 youngsters with measurable, positive change and positive emotional impact in every case.

Julie said: ‘One little boy who was seven came to us with a lot of problems. He had extreme difficulty regulating his own behaviour; he was full-on, in your face, literally, and like a whirling dervish, yet on this particular day I watched him stand in the arena with Tick, my biggest horse at the time, quietly and calmly reaching out to touch him and then stepping back. By seeing how close he could get to the horse, he was actually working out his own space, and that was incredibly moving to see.’

Adults too, with issues ranging from mental health problems to the impact of divorce, have been helped by the therapy.

Above: Beverly Craig and Vicky Howden-Green with Harley, Julie Stirpe with Bob and Linda Butterworth with Polly Panda Above: Beverly Craig and Vicky Howden-Green with Harley, Julie Stirpe with Bob and Linda Butterworth with Polly Panda

Julie, whose speciality is adult mental health, recalled: ‘A lady in her late 20s who had multiple problems, including agoraphobia, was referred to me for formal therapy sessions. I worked with her for about 18 months and towards the end of the programme we talked about the possibility of her working with the horses.

‘She got the bus from her home to Burnley and I collected her and brought her to the farm, which presented immediate challenges for her with its wide open spaces and sweeping views.’

But what happened next came as a complete surprise. ‘The horse she chose to work with was the most nervous and least trusting animal; a bit stand-offish; but actually a complete mirror image of how she was feeling, and she was just brilliant with him.

‘We worked for an hour in the arena while she talked about her connection to that particular horse and we compared it to parenting, one of her problem areas, and made some real headway.

‘She had a doctor’s appointment on her way home and the next day he rang me to say“What have you done to her?” He’d never seen such a remarkable change in anybody. Just that one session had been a massive confidence boost for her. The emotional shift that we often see after EAP, for her had been an emotional landslide, which was wonderful.’

What makes these positive outcomes all the more remarkable is that each of Julie’s horses; Bob, Minty, Polly, Harley and Darcy have distinct personalities of their own and will respond differently to different individuals. So how does their connection with people really work?

‘My own theory is that horses are herd animals, and their instincts are a genetic survival resource. If you spend your life with your head down eating grass, and someone on the edge of the herd senses danger, the rest have to be attuned to the tiniest reaction or movement and ready to respond.

‘I believe it is that intuitive alignment between herd members that exists between domesticated horses and their carers, who they bond with and react to on an emotional level,’ she says.

The applications for EAP are broad and interest from business, education and health organisations is growing.

Julie added: ‘It is a powerful force that I believe will have a lasting impact, but it requires qualified and experienced therapists who know how to use it and get the best out of it.’

Not to mention some very special horses.


More from People

A singing group has been raising money for the RNLI with traditional sea shanties. Jo Skorecki dropped in to the lifeboat station to meet them.

Read more
Thursday, February 8, 2018

Lancaster’s popular orchestra has a new man at the conductor’s podium

Read more
Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Alfie Boe has performed all over the world, but nothing beats a return to his home town

Read more
Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Alison O’Neill has become well-known as The Barefoot Shepherdess but life in the fells would be impossible without her four-legged friends. Emily Rothery met them.

Read more
Monday, February 5, 2018

Lancashire has witnessed some of the most important events in the Suffragette movement, we take a look at the places where you can see them first-hand.

Read more
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Many of us are frustrated by our inability to swim well. Sarah Hill did something about it and now helps others. She spoke to Roger Borrell.

Read more
Monday, January 22, 2018

Blackpool legend Jimmy Armfield spoke to Lancashire Life in 2008 about fighting cancer, being the county’s busiest pensioner and autograph etiquette. Interview by Paul Mackenzie.

Read more
Monday, January 22, 2018


Read more
Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Come rain or shine, this dedicated team of volunteers will be on the roads helping save lives. Rebekka O’Grady reports

Read more
Thursday, January 11, 2018

It’s hard to tell which are the hardier in winter - the farmers or the sheep. Writer and photographer Irene Amiet went to find out

Read more
Thursday, January 4, 2018

Stonyhurst College houses the oldest surviving museum collection in the English speaking world.

Roger Borrell reports

Read more
Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Just back from the jungle, Jennie McAlpine on missing her family and serving tea fit for a queen. Mairead Mahon reports

Read more
Afternoon Tea Manchester
Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Britain has never produced another hero like Dan Dare. Charlie Connelly pays tribute to a figure with strong Lancashire roots who has shaped our art, literature, science and architecture.

Read more
Tuesday, December 19, 2017

It’s been an action packed year in Lancashire, how much of it can you remember?

Read more
Great British Holidays advert link

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Subscribe or buy a mag today

Local Business Directory

Lancashire's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area

Property Search