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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Equine Therapy Transcends Species Divisions: The nonprofit Hunkapi organization provides horse therapy and garden therapy using a mindfulness-based approach.

Feb 25, 2016 08:06AM ● By By Martin Miron

The nonprofit Hunkapi organization provides horse therapy and garden therapy utilizing a mindfulness-based approach. In 1999, Arizona State University hosted the Alternative Interventions Research Clinic (AIRC) where Debbie Crews, Ph.D., found that horseback riding improved self-esteem and reduced depression and anxiety in children diagnosed with autism and ADHD. Hunkapi was formed to bring these discoveries to the community through their equine services. Since then, Hunkapi has worked from several locations and served thousands of clients across the Phoenix area.

Hunkapi provides therapeutic horseback riding, equine-assisted psychotherapy and garden therapy to clients from 3 years old to adults. Therapeutic horseback riding involves a licensed therapist or counselor, four-legged healers and a PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) certified riding instructor in either one-on-one or in a group lesson setting. The horses use their primal instincts to give clients profound feedback on thoughts, feelings and behaviors, while therapists help clients focus on building healthy relationships, regulating thoughts, behaviors and emotions and identifying personal strengths.

Clients with autism are typically placed in Therapeutic Riding. In this class, one to four students learn to ride a horse while incorporating therapeutic goals into the lesson. Goals may include speech development, eye contact and core strength. This enables participants to focus on learning and utilizing positive coping skills in each session. A space is provided for individuals to learn to connect with others by first connecting with a horse.

Director Terra Schaad says, “We also work with school groups from organizations such as Aurora Day School, Gateway Academy and Scottsdale Unified School District through a program called Horse Powered Learning. In groups as large as 12, we work on therapeutic goals such as following directions, positive peer and adult relationships, while learning horse care, horse anatomy and riding skills.”

“The inspiration behind Hunkapi is the horse and its power to connect us to ourselves and to connect us to others. A horse sees our clients for who they are without any judgment, in that particular moment, and accepts anyone that comes through our gates, creating a healing space for them. The horse responds intuitively to a client’s needs, whether one’s energy is high and close, or one is overstimulated or understimulated,” says Schaad.

Volunteers are needed. Location: 11250 E. Arabian Park Dr., Scottsdale. For more information, call 480-393-0870 or visit

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