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The h3 Pyramid Model

A New Advancement in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

What Makes h3 Unique?

The h3 Pyramid Model is built upon researched-based principles of human development.

These researched-based principles include a) neurobiology, b) psychosocial, c) cognitive, d) behavioral, and e) learning theories. The h3 Model has examined horsemanship principles and human development principles to merge a therapeutic relationship and therapeutic interventions that go beyond typical talk therapy.

The h3 human-horse relationship is built to forge the internalization of principles and the generalization of these principles into research-based skills that build resiliency.

While in graduate school, Dr. Ryan Tingey, Ph.D., LCSW heard the saying, “you can only take your client as far as you have taken yourself”.  In the h3 model, the saying is similar, “you can only take your horse as far as you are willing to take yourself”.

Equine Therapy
A New Model for Equine Therapy

The Difference!

Natural Horsemanship

Natural Horsemanship is a philosophy of working with horses based upon relationship principles, relevant science to the horse’s natural instincts, and methods of communication.  In addition, natural horsemanship is based upon the understanding that the horse does not learn through fear and pain, rather the horse learns through pressure and the release of pressure.

Horses are social-herd animals with evolved social interactions. The horse has a highly evolved communication system that is practiced through body language.  Understanding the subtle nature of the horse’s non-verbal communication patterns guides the handler to use body language with forms of gentle pressure to get the horse to respond and teaching the horse alternative ways of handling pressure.  The horse is willing to form relationships of respect with humans who treat them consistently in this fashion.

The objective is to keep the horse calm and to feel safe throughout the learning process. This objective has progressive steps and with each step, the horse increases the capacity to manage pressure by facing pressure. Natural horsemanship is about building a relationship foundation between human-horse. 

Natural horsemanship highlights the bi-directional relationship between human-horse that allows the human to see horses, and more importantly see themselves in a whole new way.

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

Traditionally and Historically, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is viewed as an experiential treatment model that incorporates horses for emotional growth and learning. EAP models use a team approach which involves a mental health professional and equine specialist to work together.

The mental health professional focuses on the human’s emotional safety, non-verbal communication, and relevant treatment application. Whereas, the equine specialist focuses on the client’s physical safety and the horse’s non-verbal communication. There are a variety of EAP models. Some models focus solely on unmounted activities, whereas other models incorporate both mounted and unmounted activities to help clients address treatment goals.

The h3 Pyramid Model

The h3 model takes a developmental perspective of human-horse. h3 considers the developmental needs of both human-horse. The experiential nature of h3 integrates principles of human development and horsemanship to meet the needs of both human-horse. Principles and skills of natural horsemanship are applied to both ground and mounted activities. Activities are used to build internal resources for both human-horse. The value of building a healthy foundation for both human-horse is vital to help human-horse reach their goals.

The h3 Model

Core Beliefs

  • Change is a Developmental and Relational Process that Takes Place Between Human-Horse.
  • The Work between Human-Horse is Guided from a Focus on the Organizing Principles of Natural Horsemanship, Human Development, Interpersonal Neurobiology, and Evidenced Based Treatment.
  • There is Dignity and Normalcy to Developmental Struggle for Human-Horse.
  • Everything We do with the Horse is to Benefit the Human-Horse.
  • Internalization of Foundational Principles takes place through the Human-Horse Relationship.
  • A Tangible Sense of Unity or Connection Takes Place when the Human-Horse’s Internal World is Shared and Felt.
  • Experiential Treatment Invokes Activity in Subcortical Brain Structures that are Directly Implicated in the Affective Dysregulation Associated with Trauma, Anxiety Disorders, and Mood Disorders.
  • Human-Horse Make Up a Relational System-Linking: Mind, Body, Sensations, Emotions, and Cognition.

Values and Ethics

Value:Worth of Each Human-Horse

Ethical Principle: h3 clinicians respect the inherent worth and diversity of each person and horse. Always interacting from a place of care and concern.

Value:There is Dignity in the Developmental Struggle for Human-Horse

Ethical Principle: h3clinicians understand that influence for change that takes place between human-horse. h3 clinicians engage human-horse as partners in the process of change.

h3 clinicians seek to strengthen this bond between human-horse to promote healthy relationships for the purpose to enhance the overall well being of human-horse.

Value:Accountability, Honesty, and Trust in Human-Horse Relationships

Ethical Principle: h3 clinicians understand the need for consistency in the second by second application of being accountable, honest, and trustworthy in working with human-horse

Value:Integrity to Consistently Acting in Trustworthy Ways with Human-Horse

Ethical Principle: h3 clinicians consistently strive to act in trustworthy ways. H3 clinicians endeavor to promote human-horse treatment with honesty and with the responsibility. To promote ethical standards of care and practices.

Value:The Capacity for Human-Horse Growth and Learning

Ethical Principle: h3 clinicians consistently strive to increase their personal growth, knowledge, and skills to apply in ways to enrich human-horse. h3 clinicians strive to contribute to the knowledge of human-horse.

Value:Natural Healing Environment between Human-Horse

Ethical Principle: h3 clinicians understand and respect the space of change between human-horse. h3 clinicians engage to support the healing environment to promote the wellbeing of human-horse.

h3 Responsibilities to Clients

Commitment to Clients

h3 mental health clinicians hold to the ethical standards as outlined in their professional codes regarding their conduct toward clients:

  1. NASW
  2. AAMFT
  3. APA –
  4. NBCC –
Evidence-Based Science

The Science Behind h3

h3 Developmental Perspective h3

A developmental perspective is at the core of the h3framework. Since all development takes place within the context of relationships, the bi-directional relationship between human-horse is no different. The context of the relationship interactions between human-horse is founded upon both researched based developmental principles, evidence based treatment principles, and developmental resiliency skills.

The valued context between human-horse is relational, active, and reliant upon bi-directional attunement. The reciprocal and dynamic relationship between human-horse becomes the soil upon which the growth of healthy internalized principles and skills can take root. These roots facilitate growth that validates the innate worth of both human-horse. Thus, revealing a main objective of h3, “all work with the horse is to benefit the human and horse”.


Bottom Up Treatment

h3 understands the brain to be a social organ. There is a needed ability to understand our own minds as well as gain the ability to sense the inner world of another. The relationship between handler and horse is the natural starting point to develop this ability. Exploring this domain allows for the development of self-awareness, empathy, self-mastery and social skills, essential to navigating life adaptively.

h3 recognizes the fundamental need for self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to monitor our emotions, as well as an adaptive way to build attunement with the internal worlds of self and others. We are each hardwired to connect with one another. When the brain acts as an integrative whole, relationships flourish; when the brain isn’t integrated, our relationships struggle.

h3 recognizes the power of the relationship context between client and horse. h3 appreciates how the human-horse relationship facilitates unity (i.e., attunement) or an integrated whole where one can learn to flourish.

Neurobiology of the Horse

Bottom Up Treatment

Nature has equipped the horse to survive after birth by being more ready for life than humans. This is evident in the development of the foal’s brain. For survival, the foal’s motor and locomotion pathways are the most critical and are the first to become fully myelinated (i.e., fatty substance that works like an insulator covering nerve fibers which transmit information).

The brain is a relationship organ that constantly anticipates and associates. The horse’s brain is malleable, and connections are always being developed. The horse’s brain develops in levels: brain stem (e.g., reptilian brain, fight, flight, freeze), limbic system (e.g., to include the amygdala-memory and instinctual-emotion center), cerebellum, and a primitive frontal lobe. h3 recognizes the importance of the handler’s understanding of the neurobiology and internal world of the horse.

For the handler, consistent self-awareness of the internal workings of the horse becomes vital in the application of evidenced-based natural horsemanship training. h3 holds true to the belief that when the handler can see and understand the mind of the horse, the handler brings attuned relationship qualities of being present, curious, open, and accepting.

Furthermore, when the handler has an attuned (e.g., sense of unity) relationship with the horse, the path is set for the handler to create a positive relationship within himself or herself.

The h3 Model

Therapeutic Alliance

The therapeutic alliance in h3 is composed of two models.

The therapeutic alliance in h3 is composed of two models. The first is the therapeutic triangle: Handler (client), Horse, and Therapist. The second is the diamond model of the therapeutic alliance: Handler (client), Horse, Therapist, and Horsemanship Specialist.

For both models, there must be a Horsemanship Specialist to ensure: a) correct teaching/instruction of horsemanship principles, b) safety in handling the horse, and c) the overall welfare of the human-horse. In the triangle model, the therapist must also be a certified horsemanship specialist. In both models, the horse creates and enhances the traditional client and therapist dyad. As in every therapeutic alliance, there is a need for a contract between handler, horse, therapist, and horsemanship specialist. Due to the dependency of the horse, it is important that the horse’s needs be included in the contract.

For a healthy alliance to be built (i.e., in both the triangle and diamond model), an alliance and positive bond with the horse must be built by handler, therapist, and horsemanship specialist. Creating a healthy therapeutic alliance between human-horse will provide a specific context for the development of trust, respect, courage, vulnerability, and support. The relationship between handler and horse becomes a safe space for the healing-growth process.

h3 recognizes the powerful nature of the handler and horse relationship for healing and growth. For many handlers, the relationship they forge with the horse is the first relationship of their lives that is 100% of their making. What is unique in the handler-horse relationship is touch and movement. Both are dominant aspects of this bond between human-horse. Touch and movement become natural parts of the relationship in both ground and mounted work with the horse.

The active, bi-directional, and experiential nature of the relationship between human-horse is unique. Human-horse relationships create concrete and tangible therapeutic processes, processes which have traditionally been abstract. The relationship between handler and horse gives value, voice, strength, ownership and the positive experience of finding strength through the caring of the horse in the treatment process.

The therapeutic relationship between handler and horse is an ongoing and flexible developmental process, not a singular event with a prescribed outcome. The human-horse relationship does not seek to fix deficits or problems, rather the relationship focuses on the process. The relationship is about keeping in mind the big picture and the natural order of change. Change is a developmental process, with incremental and layered growth.

The change between human-horse is a process that builds upon itself and leads to further changes. The relationship and developmental process that takes place between human-horse offer a needed opportunity to experience attachment both emotionally and physically. Furthermore, the dynamic relationship between human-horse goes beyond what is possible within a traditional therapeutic alliance (i.e., client and therapist).

An Evidence-Based Model

The h3 Data Collection

We believe the collection of data to be a vital process in treatment.

We believe in providing systems for administering and scoring outcome rating scales and session rating scales. These systems make it convenient to capture scores from clients, chart the results, and review with clients their scores compared to previous scores. We believe that the work being done is the client’s work. We view that through the collection of data the client is empowered to give needed feedback and gain insight into areas of treatment that are most effective and helping the clinician to target areas for improvement.

What is data collection?  Data is defined as “functional information used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation”. Data collection is the process of tracking or recording information regarding specific behaviors. These behaviors are often identified as the reason for entering treatment. These behaviors could include both behaviors the client would like to decrease (e.g., the problem behavior-aggression, self-injury, breaking or throwing objects) or behaviors the client would like to see increase (e.g., replacement behaviors-physical exercise, reading, journaling).

What is data collection used for? Data is used as the foundation for making decisions regarding the client’s treatment. Decisions and adjustments to treatment are based upon data.  We believe that data should also be collected regarding the horse’s progress and should be the foundation for making decisions regarding the horse’s training. 

Why is data collection important? With consistent data collection and analysis, the client’s treatment becomes more effective. More effective for client and clinician to understand behavior and to measure progress.  Data collection provides accurate and specific information to allow clinician and client to make informed and educated decisions. We believe that data collection is important for the client to see hands on the effectiveness and progress of both self and horse. Collecting data supports the adaptive process of reflection by improving the consistency of being more open, observant, and objective in working with self and horse. Data is collected related to both client and horse’s decrease in reactive-behaviors and increase in more receptive-mindful behaviors. 

Application in Context

h3 Generalization

Clients are able to apply relevant skills to vital context in their own lives.

The definition of generalization of learning is the ability to take skills or concepts learned in one context and apply them to problems in different contexts. Generalization is a common struggle in therapy. Specifically, the struggle to generalize the skills gained within the context of the therapist’s office to the application of new skills to contexts outside the therapist’s office. 

We believe that the horse provides an opportunity to make what is often abstract concepts in therapy and make it concrete. The client studies, learns, and consistently applies new principles to teach the horse new skills across different contexts. The work between client and horse coincides with a specialized client workbook. The client is challenged to further understand horse and self. Workbook activities seek to challenge and teach the generalization of skills.

The challenge is for the client to seek ways to help the horse generalize foundation skills in various contexts the horse will encounter daily.  Likewise, the client is working and being challenged to generalize relevant skills to vital context in their own lives. The relationship between client and horse hinges on the internalization of principles and the generalization of skills across contexts. Generalizing skills gives client and horse the chance to internalize new principles and truly master skills across various contexts.