Animal-Assisted Therapy

At Centerstone, we use animal-assisted therapy to help children and youth in our care. We have been using pet therapy for several years in our residential homes (you’ll see some of our pets in the photos for The Lodge). Recently, we have begun equine-assisted therapy in Clarksville.

Equine-assisted therapy is an experiential form of treatment. Our model requires all of the work to be done with the youth on the ground; riding is not allowed. Youth are given specific tasks to do with the horses based on their care plan. These tasks are designed to help youth recognize problematic behaviors and to increase their communication, patience, self-control and problem-solving skills related to relationships with others. The tasks are not nearly as important as the process. Self-esteem is increased every time a child faces his or her fears and figures out a problem.

The relationship with the horse serves as a metaphor for the relationship between the child and the significant individuals in their life. Horses are used because of their size and temperaments. Many children have never been around animals and can be intimidated by the mere size of the horses. The horses act as a living, breathing picture for whatever issue is brought onto the field; anger, fear, frustration, sadness, respect and incompetency, to name a few. Horses react honestly, often mirroring the moods, fears and feelings of the child. The children learn how to approach the horse calmly. Sometimes they paint the horses, and if they scare the horses, their canvas walks away. The children learn to connect and relate to each other, as well as to the horses.

We have held many individual, group and family sessions, as well as staff team-building workshops. Each session is different because the horses respond to the moods and emotions of the participants.

Our equine-assisted therapy has generated a great deal of support and interest from the community. The facility is located in a neighborhood where local families and neighborhood children can come to pet and feed the horses, and a local day care has brought their children to meet them.

Children, adolescents and families have all provided very positive feedback about the effectiveness of the treatment and the experience they have in this specialized therapy, and we are very proud to be able to offer equine assisted therapy as a treatment modality at Centerstone.


Several years ago, Becky Garland, Kaye Westbrook and Cindy Long began using dogs in a pet therapy program at Weems Academy, Centerstone’s therapeutic alternative school. While completing work on her master’s thesis on pet therapy, Cindy Long discovered compelling research that had been done using horses.

At an AREA Reclaiming Youth conference in 2008, a therapist from Cal Farley’s Ranch for Boys and Girls gave an interesting presentation on equine assisted therapy. Seeing how effective and fun this treatment approach could be, Cindy began the quest to bring equine assisted therapy to Clarksville. Along with Becky and Kaye, she became certified through Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA), and our treatment therapy was on its way!

Today, this is implemented not only with the clients but is also used as a team building exercise with our clinical partners. More of our staff have become EAGALA certified and new opportunities for Animal Assisted Therapy are becoming available.

Centerstone is abundantly grateful to Dr. Cindy Long for the many ways in which she impacted the lives of everyone she touched. Not long after the implementation of this program, Cindy developed liver cancer and passed away shortly thereafter. A staff member and dear friend of Centerstone for many years, her loss was devastating to all of us but her legacy lives on through the Animal Assisted Therapy Program.

If you would like to observe equine-assisted therapy, please contact us at (931) 503-4600 to make arrangements.


Centerstone is now offering Animal-Assisted Team Building Programs.

Feedback from these exercises has been overwhelmingly positive. Participants not only have fun, they also have a chance to evaluate their group dynamics from a new perspective. Animal-Assisted Team Building is an excellent way to evaluate your current team building processes. These exercises push the team to think outside the box and meet challenges in new ways.

Please contact us at (931) 503-4600 to ask questions or to make arrangements for your group.



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