When some people think of having therapy sessions with a licensed clinical social worker, they think of meeting in an office, sitting on a couch and doing quite a bit of talking while a therapist listens.

When some people think of having therapy sessions with a licensed clinical social worker, they think of meeting in an office, sitting on a couch and doing quite a bit of talking while a therapist listens.

They may think that “horsing around” is not allowed.

That’s not exactly the case with Horses Healing Hearts, LLC., a unique therapy option operated by an licensed clinical social worker who lives in Rolla.

“I have always been a horse lover, and I have an LCSW (credential),” said Linda Richards, explaining why she founded Horses Healing Hearts.

Richards, who works by day in Pulaski County and runs Horses Healing Hearts during her time off, said she first heard about her business’ type of therapy some time ago.

“It was about 12-13 years ago when I first heard of equine assisted psychotherapy,” Richards explained. “And it was something I was very interested in pursuing. I love horses, and I love helping others. This was a way to combine both of my loves.”

She said that it took some time to plan the logistics of opening her own private practice for this form of therapy, and her business has now been in operation for about a year. Her office is directly above Freida’s Closet on Forum Drive, although her therapy utilizing horses currently takes place at the Rolla Saddle Club.

“We’re taking the traditional office therapy and putting it out in the arena,” she said.
Richards said her therapy sessions do not involve riding the horses.

“Most people associate this therapy with riding — like with physical therapy,” she explained. “But with this, it is all on the ground. No one is riding. They are completing structured, interactive activities with the horses.”

Richards, who has a Master of Social Work and her LCSW credentials from Mizzou and training and certifications through the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, said she had discussed the idea of having an equine assisted psychotherapy program for soldiers at Fort Leonard Wood, but that idea did not work out due to budget concerns.

After that idea did not work out, Richards said she came up with the idea of Horses Healing Hearts.

She said that since she opened her doors last year, she has had several clients.
“We have had some referrals through the schools, and we have the word out to other organizations,” she explained.

In fact, Richards was a speaker and exhibitor last fall at a conference organized by the Missouri Institute for Mental Health, which helped her garner additional exposure. She also hosted a webinar regarding her programs.

She said her programs could work for clients with a variety of needs.

People with behavioral issues, attention deficit disorder, substance abuse problems, depression, anxiety, relationship issues, abuse issues and many more issues could benefit from equine therapy, according to Richards.

“Any age group or mental health concern can benefit from this,” she shared.

She said businesses and organizations could also work on team building, communication and trust by participating in some of her programs.

“(The programs) are usually involved with some sort of structured activity that in some way mirrors (the client’s) real life,” she said. “The horses, which are part of the team, are used in a metaphorical sort of way.

“An easy example would be asking someone to catch and halter the horse. The person may feel angry or frustrated.”

She said feeling angry or frustrated may mirror their real life, and after the clients finish the exercise, the therapy will come after and they will apply what happened to their real life.

Richards said that she would eventually like to transform her part-time endeavor at Horses Healing Hearts into a full-time position.

She said the key to that happening will be “a lot of networking and getting out there.”
Right now, she does not accept insurance.

She said that, as the business grows, she would like to be able to change that. Her goal is to make the shift to full-time within five years.

“I also want to eventually have our own arena on my property,” she said.

She said her business’ type of therapy has quite a bit of potential to make a difference in the lives of area residents.

“My favorite part about (the therapy) is watching the client gain insight as to what is going on with them a lot quicker than they may in my office,” she shared. “People seem to learn things a lot quicker with hands on activities.”

There are currently four animals on Richards’ staff. They include a donkey, pony, race horse and a Missouri Foxtrotter.

“A friend actually donated the race horse,” Richards said with a smile. “She heard what I was doing and was happy to show her support.”

For more information about Horses Healing Hearts, contact Richards at 573-578-0548. She can also be reached by email at hhh_llc@yahoo.com, or you can find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HorsesHealingHearts1.