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Help is but A Hoof Beat Away

Help is but A Hoof Beat Away
PASCALLE BIPPERT Licensed professional counselor Carla Cheatham offers equine therapy for clients of all ages and a range of needs at A Hoof Beat Away in Adkins.

Imagine having to endure a childhood filled with abuse ...every kind of abuse. How does one cope? How does a child become a well-balanced, trusting, happy, productive citizen after having to endure such a childhood? Therapy on a couch with four legs? How about therapy with something else that has four legs, like a horse? That’s what Carla Cheatham, M.A., LPC, with “A Hoof Beat Away” offers her clients.

Carla endured a childhood that would have otherwise made her a sad statistic of society. After being removed from an abusive home by Child Protective Services at 14, she moved in with her stepsister and then was relocated to Boysville in San Antonio at the age of 16.

Carla had a hard time trusting anyone and was making plans to run away. Someone told on her and she was told to report to Mr. Hacker’s office. Mr. Hacker was in charge of the horse program at Boysville. From that moment on, Carla’s life was changed. She enrolled in the horse program and decided she was going to become a counselor. She had daily chores, participated in sports, and got to travel.

“I finally got to experience a normal life,” Carla said.

She made good grades and was awarded four scholarships, which helped her earn a bachelor’s degree in animal science with a specialty in equine science from Sul Ross State University. Carla then decided to pursue her master’s degree at St. Mary’s University. She holds a master’s degree in community counseling and is a licensed professional counselor, certified through the state of Texas. She also has 10 hours toward her Ph.D.

Now happily married and the mother of two, Carla offers therapy and equine-assisted counseling through A Hoof Beat Away. Her clients range from 5 to 80 years old with a variety of diagnoses, such as Asperger’s, autism, bipolar disorder, depression, anger, despondency, anxiety. and more. Clients come to Carla for one-hour sessions, through their insurance providers, therapists, psychiatrists, and Psychology Today.

Her ranch in Adkins has a stable of one miniature horse; two ponies, Blondie and Freckles; and two full-sized horses ...a sorrel named Penny and Misty, a flea-bitten gray. Mack, the miniature horse, specializes in working with autistic patients.

Therapy using the horses is a hands-on approach, which does not necessarily involve riding the horses. The sessions start with grooming the horses.

“It’s not just about the horses,” Carla explained.

Grooming the horse decreases the client’s anxiety, slowing his or her heartbeat and making them calmer. The horse senses the tension and nervousness of the client and reacts to that emotion. The client has to learn to relax so the horse trusts them.

Then the horse and client go into the circular corral to learn to further trust each other. Carla teaches her clients how to use the lead rope to control the animal’s movements, even though the horse is not wearing the lead rope. The client stands in the center of the circle and the horse mirrors the client’s emotions. If the client is manic or upset or tense, the horse is in full motion. When the client finally calms down and takes a breath, the horse relaxes and a bond is made between the two. Depending on how well the clients progress, they can start riding the horses under Carla’s guidance.

Carla put me to the test during our interview to demonstrate how it works. I had to learn to relax, too. It was pretty amazing to experience how the horse reacted to my actions.

Carla is hoping to expand her practice and help more people.

“We don’t have to be victims of our circumstances,” she said. “We can move forward from our past and be happy and healthy if we choose to deal with our issues. We can break the cycle. The choice is yours.”

Equine-assisted Counseling

According to literature from Carla Cheatham, equine-assisted counseling is part of a newly emerging field in which traditional counseling and equine interaction are combined to provide an environment in which individuals can learn about themselves, identify dysfunctional patterns of behavior, and identify healthy relationships. Clients participate in activities with horses, then process feelings, behaviors, and patterns. Horses provide the counselor with the opportunity to indirectly confront discrepancies that they may suspect, based on what the horse may be conveying.

This therapy can help adolescents, individuals with attention disorders, and more. Equine-assisted counseling can help clients develop skills in leadership, problem-solving, and communication, as well as teach responsibility, inspire confidence, and cultivate patience, among other benefits.

Learn more

View a video of Carla Cheatham’s equine therapy at

For information about A Hoof Beat Away or how to help yourself or a loved one with this service, call 210-777-1679.

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