Two North County sisters have created a nontraditional therapy business that couldn't be more at home in Rancho Santa Fe. Reins of Change offers equine therapy, where clients interact with horses under the watchful eye of an equine-assisted learning specialist and, in most situations, a specially trained psychotherapist.
The results from even one session working with the majestic animals can have profound effects for those dealing with issues such as anxiety and depression or groups looking for team-building.
And while the new business is perfect for the horse-friendly city of Rancho Santa Fe, it also a no-brainer for owners Betsy Gleijeses and Brandi Miller.
"We grew up with horses, they've always been a part of our lives," Miller said. "(Reins of Change) came about because I thought there was a need for equine therapy in the area."
After their mom passed away 10 years ago, Miller said her horse was basically her therapist and that planted the seed in her mind. Gleijeses, who was already working as a court-appointed advocate for kids in foster care, saw equine therapy being done at the same barn where she was keeping her horse in the Los Angeles area and decided to sponsor one of her kids. She was very impressed by the results and worked to get the courts to fund a pilot program for foster kids.
"I got into it because I saw the amazing impact it had on those kids," Gleijeses explained.
The sisters shared their experiences and eventually decided to both get certified through the world-renowned Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA). Then, when Gleijeses moved down to join her sister in North County last year— Miller lives in Rancho Santa Fe, while Gleijeses is in Del Mar — the time was right and they opened Reins of Change.
The work is done at Miller's home, a sprawling Rancho Santa Fe estate with several built-in arenas for equine therapy.
"We already had the horses and we were already certified equine specialists, so we just needed to find a therapist," Miller said.
That therapist is Vivian Rowe, a licensed marriage and family therapist who has a holistic psychotherapy practice based in La Jolla in addition to her work with Reins of Change. Rowe is certified in equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) and equine-assisted learning (EAL) by EAGALA and is the EAGALA networking co-coordinator for San Diego County.
During the sessions, clients (individual or groups) work with a therapist (Rowe), an equine specialist (Gleijeses or Miller) and the horse, which isn't trained specifically for this work to keep the interaction raw and unfiltered.
Reins of Change serves children, families, at-risk youth, veterans with PTSD, people in recovery, people needing work on emotional intelligence and more.
"It's for anyone that would go to traditional therapy, it's just a nontraditional therapy. It's an experiential therapy and I think that's the key to it," Miller said. "That's why it works.
"The horses have the innate ability to pick up on your energy. You can't lie to a horse. Things just come up when you are working with a horse because they are so big and powerful."
The equine therapy is a way to break through barriers because the therapist working with the client is always talking about the horse, so the client doesn't feel like they are talking about themselves.
"It can reach people that traditional therapy can't reach," Gleijeses explained.
So how does it actually work?
Clients can come to Reins of Change with a personal mental health goal or an obstacle they are trying to overcome, and the therapist and specialist work together to create a task, using props (such as balls, cones, hula hoops, etc.) for the client to complete with the horse in the arena. The range of activities is almost endless but one example could be the client building an obstacle course and then moving the horse through the course.
The therapist watches the interaction — how the client designs the course, how they lead the horse and the reaction when a problem arises like the horse gets distracted — and then talks to the client about everything afterward.
"The goal is to take what you learn in the arena and apply it to your life," Miller said.
Reins of Change has several pre-designed programs available, including Power Tools for Living, where children and adolescents practice life skills like respect, responsibility, relationship skills, empathy, boundaries and choices and consequences. Other programs allow clients to work on empowerment, parenting and even reading skills.
Miller spent many years teaching and volunteering and has an 8-year-old daughter named Grace. Gleijeses has two grown daughters, Caterina and Rosalba.
For more information, visit the website at thereinsofchange.com (coming soon), check them out at facebook.com/ReinsofChangeRSF or call 858-367-3762.
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