March 13-15, 2016 • San Diego, CA


3/14/2016  |   3:20 PM - 3:50 PM   |  Topical Session 3   |  Towne/Esquire   |  4 - Early Intervention

Equine Therapy: Going Beyond Hippotherapy into Attachment

Most commonly, equine therapy, or hippotherapy, is used as a term for equine-assisted activities, from occupational therapy to physical therapy, to speech therapy. However, equine therapy can include these components while also exploring psychological, emotional, and relational issues, including attachment repair. Ruptures in bonding and attachment are a fact of life. How we carry these messages in ourselves, and how we reinforce these messages in others is optional. Many parents experience a (temporary) rupture in providing bonding and attachment for their deaf and hard-of-hearing infants and toddlers, associated with the common grief response or other stressors. Unfortunately, in the general population non-secure attachment has been linked to many negative outcomes (e.g. higher rates of substance abuse, mental illness, suicidality, poor academic achievement, etc.). With equine therapy, we can efficiently support parents as they support their children. Due to the poignancy of equine therapy interventions, equine therapy can optimally support emotional regulation, nervous system regulation, emotional availability, and healthy responsiveness to deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. The therapeutic metaphors and parallels between parenting/leadership and horsemanship are profound. This presentation contains a handful of underlying beliefs, as follows. Attachment can be ruptured when parents receive a deaf/hard-of-hearing diagnosis of their child (influenced by grief). Secure attachment is based on learning that the world is safe and that one is intrinsically okay (acceptable). One’s sense of safety and acceptability can be objectively seen in parasympathetic nervous system arousal and subjectively seen through self-reports of well-being. An infant’s sense of safety and acceptability are enmeshed in the caregivers’ sense of safety and acceptability (due to lack of differentiation and autonomy at this stage of development). Attachment ruptures can be healed. Equine therapy can be particularly supportive for attachment work (as documented by the impact on the parasympathetic nervous system).

  • Identify the difference among different types of equine therapy.
  • Dissect the parallels between parenting/leadership and horsemanship.
  • Discuss how equine therapy can facilitate repair in relationships and support healthy attachment.

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Jessica Dallman (Primary Presenter), Natural Wisdom Counseling, jessicadallmancounseling@gmail.com;
Jessica Dallman is a tri-lingual (English, ASL, Spanish) mental health counselor based out of Boulder, Colorado. She is passionate about weaving together her trainings as a wilderness therapist (Naropa University), special education teacher (Teach for America), and early interventionist (Gallaudet University) to serve her clients and the community. She has an interdisciplinary, relational, and social justice framework that she brings to all of her work. In her free time, Jess can be found rock climbing, hiking with her Great Dane, meditating, reading, dancing, or volunteering.


Financial - No relevant financial relationship exist.

Nonfinancial - No relevant nonfinancial relationship exist.