These animals can discern what humans sometimes can’t, and for this neighbor, that’s therapeutic

To learn more about Willerson and Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy, visit

When Lakewood resident Sara Willerson meets a new client, she takes him to a pasture to introduce him to her co-therapists.

Willerson is an Equine Facilitated Psychotherapist, a new type of therapy that uses horses to help people. In the evenings and on the weekends, Willerson meets her clients at the Aubrey Equestrian Center on a farm north of Dallas. After leading them to the pasture, she asks them to spend one or two minutes with each of the eight horses she works with. She then asks them to choose one. The horse, she says, often reflects the person’s personality or the feelings he needs to work on.

“The biggest thing about horses is that people say horses know if you are afraid,” Willerson says. “Well, they also know if you’re happy, sad or angry.”

Willerson is a licensed social worker and during the day works at Baylor Hospital with patients in rehabilitation. Her pony, Jingles, also works with her at the hospital in its animal rehabilitation program.

She fell in love with horses as a child, riding them on her grandfather’s ranch and at camp.

“I’ve always had horses in my life growing up,” Willerson says. “When I was 14, I met the horse that was truly my partner. I had him for 21 years. His name was Pooh, and he was my confidant, my friend … We just had a really special relationship.”

Several years ago, her father gave her “The Tao of Equus” by Linda Kohanov, a book about the connection between humans and horses. Willerson says the book put into words her relationship with Pooh. She attended a workshop on Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy at the Epona Center in Arizona, and shortly after that signed up for their apprenticeship program. She lived in Houston at the time and was able to set up a private practice working with horses and people. When she moved to Dallas in September 2006, Willerson opened her private practice in Aubrey.

“It’s very non-threatening, but it’s very open and honest,” says Sharon Scandrett-Hibdon, who owns the Aubrey Equestrian Center. “[Willerson] is excellent.”

Willerson says the horses help her to help clients quicker by mirroring feelings that her clients may be hiding or not in touch with. By watching how a horse responds to a person, Willerson is able to key into a person and ask him about what is happening.

“It’s easier to be outside and in nature rather than being in a cramped office with someone staring at you and asking, ‘How do you feel?’” Willerson says.

She works with all types of clients — children, adults and families.

“That has been the most wonderful part for me — finally figuring out what I’m supposed to do when I grow up,” Willerson says. “It combines everything I love.”

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