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Spotlight: Pegasus Program

Updated: Apr 24, 2022

Olalla Center has several innovative programs to support and meet the needs our clients in non-traditional ways. One of these is our Pegasus Program, directed by Denise Leonard, LPC. I talked with Denise (remotely, of course, given the current climate of social distancing!) about what the program is all about.

What is the Pegasus Program?

The Pegasus Program is an equine assisted psychotherapy program that is based just outside of Toledo. Currently the team consists of a Mental health therapist, an Equine specialist, and four horses. 

How did you get started in equine assisted therapy?

My first experience in equine assisted therapy was almost 20 years ago when a friend of mine who was a horse person and therapist told me about it. I was super excited to think that I could pair my passion for horses with helping people. It has been a dream of mine ever since. 

Tell me a little about the horses!

Currently we have four horses in the program. Buddy is a 22 year old Arabian that I have personally owned for almost 12 years. Wasabi is about 20 years old and our pony of the team. Einstein is a three year old Mustang who is working towards interacting more with clients-he is a therapy horse "in training". Gus is an almost three year old Mustang who I named Pegasus (Gus for short) after the program. He is also "in training" and has been doing really well. Gus and Einstein were adopted by me last year from the BLM. They were once wild horses in Eastern Oregon. Each horse brings their own unique personality to the team. 

You use a model called EAGALA. Could you tell me a little about that?

The EAGALA model is 100% on the ground with horses, meaning no riding. This model has the therapist, the equine specialist, and the horse or horses in session along with the client(s). The horses become an equal team member. The client interacts with the horses in a variety of ways depending on their treatment goals, often being able to externalize issues or challenges through the horses.  What are the benefits of this kind of therapy? How is it different from traditional talk therapy?

There are so many benefits! Getting people around an animal that is non-judgmental, provides immediate feedback, and tunes into our emotions is priceless. Horses are also a way for people to work through challenges without having to talk about them or discuss it personally. For example, the focus can be on the horses' behavior as opposed to their own. 

What does a session look like?

Sessions typically begin with the therapist asking about goals for the session. We then come up with an activity with the horses that supports working towards that goal. Often sessions follow their own path. There is a lot of flexibility and using what is happening in the moment with clients.  Why is it important in this model that all of the work between the client and the horse is done on the ground?

There is more of an equal role when interacting with the horses on the ground. The horses can choose to interact or not with clients. This creates a setting in which the client can explore what works or does not work with the horses. It allows the horses to be themselves, which is key.  If someone is interested in having sessions with you, how do they do that?

The best way to get started is to fill out a contact form through the Olalla center website. We offer individual and group sessions on the weekends as well as evenings during the week. Currently our horse sessions are "virtual", using telehealth to interact with the horses during session. 


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