Published in: St. Albans Messenger, February 2013

GEORGIA –– You’ve heard of therapy dogs.

How about therapy horses?

“They’ve been sitting around, waiting to help us,” says Samantha Marshall, from her Fairfax home, where she has lived since last fall. “And we finally figured it out.”

Samantha owns Equiserene, a unique-to-the-area business that combines her professional and personal passions: people, coaching and horses. Starting in April, with five horses on her 156-acre property, Samantha will practice equine gestalt coaching, which she discovered about three years ago while in Denver, Colo., with her partner, David.

There, Samantha met Melisa Pearce, founder of the Equine Gestalt Coaching Method. Ensuring Samantha’s safety first, Melisa put her in a 60-foot round pen with a 1,600-pound horse named “Fancy” – a lovely Gypsy Vanner. The horse leaned against Samantha and “downloaded its heart,” she recalled. “The energy was just unbelievable,” she said. “For the rest of that day, I was not walking on the ground.”

The equine gestalt method blends the natural characteristics of horses (intuitive, telepathic and sensitive, brilliant creatures) with the foundations of gestalt therapy (where there is a focus on human dynamics to identify interfering issues from the past, such as trauma, and bring them to the forefront for release). During a session the attuned, highly aware horse reads the client, while the coach (Samantha, in her case) reads the horse and client together, and then facilitates according to their evolving energy.

Certification training with Melisa takes 18 months to two years and includes business plan assistance, Samantha said; during her training, she saw cynics become believers. “You only have to watch this once and you think, ‘Holy mackerel,’” Samantha said. Possible clients for equine gestalt coaching range from a family with an unruly teen to a couple with rough patches in their marriage, or corporations that want to boost leadership skills among their managers – “really, just about anything that can use some assistance with making life better.”

Riding is rarely a component of equine gestalt therapy, so no experience with horses is necessary to benefit from the method, Samantha said. “Horses are aware of everything going on around them emotionally, for miles,” she explained. “When you combine that with someone that needs help, and a coach in the middle, amazing things happen.”

As a coach, Samantha specializes in relationships, especially family dynamics, youth and selfesteem empowerment and teambuilding. She wants to hold relationship retreats for individuals, families and groups via Equiserene. “What you want is someone who is positive and solution-oriented when you do this,” Samantha said. “My role is not to give advice; it’s to coach and facilitate what happens between horse and human.”

Samantha was a syndicated astrologer for 40 years, primarily in Arizona, but also in California; she’s also an author on the subject. She is originally from Portland, Maine. Horses have been a “love of my life” since age 9, Samantha said. She wrote her school papers on them and wanted to breed and train them, but she had a family first. She owned horses in the past, but the ones she will use for Equiserene this spring will be new to her. She is scouting the area, looking for the right ones to “put their hoof up.”

Samantha is eager to combine the raw and gritty power of gestalt therapy with the sensitivity and peacefulness of horses for the benefit of her clients. “My plan is to reach out to progressive people, schools and mental health professionals, to see how and where I’m needed,” she said.