The Sentinel-Record

Connecting Hearts: Breath work, meditation through equine therapy


A new program at Sunshine Therapeutic Riding Center aims to bring participants a unique meditative opportunity through equine-assisted breath work.

The program, Connecting Hearts, relaunched in early May in honor of mental health awareness and has two sessions left this month on June 8 and 15.

Connecting Hearts is open to participants of all physical abilities who are ages 10 and older. No prior equine experience is required. The cost is $55 per session and lasts around two hours.

Participants can expect to receive a brief lesson on the importance of breath work in day-to-day life from facilitator Laurie Ellis-Young, and a horse etiquette safety briefing from Sunshine Riding Center’s Executive Director Katja Summerlin.

According to a news release, “this unique experience will help you to relax, reduce stress, and increase self-awareness.”

“When the brain senses stress it changes all of our systems in our body, this is when we enter fight or flight mode,” Ellis-Young said. “Horses are masters of reading our body language. They can sense and even smell our emotions.”

After the educational briefing participants will enter an outdoor space where they will be accompanied by four gentle, free-roaming horses; Sapphira, Steeler, Blueberry, and Scrim the Pony.

Ellis-Young provides soothing sound therapy while participants are seated and practicing their newly learned breathing techniques.

“Being in the presence of horses, when they are at liberty, can be incredibly healing,” Summerlin said. “It’s a safe space for both the participants and the horses. It’s truly a gift that you can come here and be vulnerable in that way.”

While seated, guests are encouraged to close their eyes to fully experience the relaxing and healing benefits of the meditative sound therapy. The horses are more likely to approach the participants who appear calm and are breathing steadily, as they have the capability to sense the humans’ energy. Participants are allowed to touch the horses, as taught in the safety briefing, and connect with them on a deeper level.

Under the direction of Summerlin, the center offers opportunities for differently abled bodies as well yearround. “Sunshine Therapeutic Riding Center offers Hippotherapy, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Speech-Language Therapy on horseback that utilizes the movement of the horse as a powerful treatment strategy.”

The business idea was brought to life after Summerlin and her husband Zach brought their son Aiden into the world, who was born with Down syndrome. The therapeutic powers of horses helped her son and continue to help citizens of Hot Springs and surrounding towns.

More information about the programs can be found at: