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Meet Dr. Hallie Sheade of Equine Connection Counseling in Cleburne

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Hallie Sheade.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I grew up in the suburbs outside of Chicago, My first experience with horses was a pony ride that I begged my mom for at a local fair.

Because kids had to ride by themselves, I was the only one in my playgroup willing to go. After that, my fate was sealed – I was to become a crazy horse girl. At age 5, my parents offered to let me take riding lessons as a consolation for moving to a new town. I was hooked.

At age 9, I would spend hours at the barn doing chores in exchange for riding time. I just loved being around the horses – grooming, riding, even just sitting in the stall and talking to them. Eventually, I bonded with a horse named Cowman who had a reputation for having a bad attitude. There was something about this horse that drew me in. I found myself spending all of my free time with him. My dad tells stories of witnessing him grabbing the back of my shirt to pull me back in when I’d go to leave the stall. At the time, my relationship with Cowman felt like magic. I was fascinated by the strength of our interspecies bond.

Horses continued to be a part of my life as I went off to college at the University of Miami. I competed on the university equestrian team and trained horses for a local rescue. I especially loved working with the rescue horses and the bonds that I was able to form with them. I decided to become a counselor in order to provide equine assisted counseling. I moved to Atlanta where I received my M.S. in Counseling from Georgia State University. Horses continued to be a part of my life as I became a PATH Intl. Certified therapeutic riding instructor and taught lessons to individuals with disabilities while pursuing my masters.

I was still hungry to learn more. After graduating, I moved to Texas to pursue my doctoral degree in Counseling at the University of North Texas to study under a world-renowned expert in animal-assisted therapy, Dr. Cynthia Chandler. As I worked on my doctorate, I began working for an agency where I was able to practice equine assisted counseling with military service members and their families, and at-risk youth. In 2014, I decided to branch out and established my own practice, Equine Connection Counseling (ECC).

I have come full circle. My journey started with the mutually beneficial bond I made with Cowman that improved the quality of life for both of us. Now I am helping others tap into the power of the horse-human relationship to do the same.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I would say that our biggest challenge is also our best endorsement – our growth. Only five months after opening, my caseload was full.

Despite hiring more counselors as needed, Equine Connection Counseling’s growth has been explosive. We typically have a waiting list for our services due to the increasing demand. As a result of this, we are now in the process of expanding to be better able to serve more people.

Our second largest roadblock has been cost. Although we are very lucky to have formed many local partnerships with other nonprofits, we still receive many calls from people wanting services but can’t afford them and who don’t qualify for funding through our partnerships. As a for-profit enterprise, Equine Connection Counseling has been limited in being able to offer financial assistance.

The final challenge has been how to help support clients after counseling has ended. Many clients seeking mental health care have trouble maintaining progress once treatment has ended. Many people struggle and relapse can be a common problem.

To solve these problems, we have established a 501(c)(3), S.T.E.P.S. With Horses (STEPS). Through STEPS we seek to:

1. Expand our current work to serve more people.
2. Provide financial assistance to those who cannot afford services.
3. Broaden our current service offerings to provide post-counseling support.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Equine Connection Counseling – what should we know?
I established Equine Connection Counseling (ECC) in April of 2014. We specialize in providing an alternative to traditional office-based counseling: equine assisted counseling. Many of the clients who come to us seek our services because they haven’t felt comfortable with office-based counseling or have not been satisfied by the results of office-based counseling.

Our licensed mental health professionals and equine specialists help clients with mental health struggles partner with horses to achieve growth and healing. We utilize evidence-informed approaches such as Relational Equine-Partnered Counseling to assist clients in gaining increased awareness into their relationships with others and with themselves. We also work with young children starting at age 3 and provided a unique form of play therapy called Equine-Partnered Play Therapy. We specialize in working with military Veterans and families and at-risk youth. Clients come to us for a variety of concerns including trauma/posttraumatic stress, depression/mood disorders, anxiety, child behavior issues, ADHD, self-esteem issues, anger issues, family/couple concerns, and more.

Equine assisted counseling works! 90% of our child clients demonstrate improvement. 82% of military Veterans with posttraumatic stress show improvement. (For comparison’s sake, only 50-70% of military Veterans with posttraumatic stress show improvement in traditional office-based therapies).

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
There are so many important people in my life who have contributed to Equine Connection Counseling’s success. Even as young as 5 years old, my parents could see my passion for horses and were willing to nurture that passion. As a lawyer turned 8th-grade science teacher, my dad’s mantra for me was to always “follow your passion”. My dad’s continued help and support has been a tremendous help helping me manage the business aspects of ECC.

My husband (and STEPS co-founder), Paul, is my rock. He has been by my side through all of the ups and downs and shares my passion for horses. (We actually bonded over training the miniature horses for play therapy!). As a Marine veteran, Paul has helped me to really grow ECC’s military services.

I am also very appreciative of my University of North Texas professors, especially Dr. Cynthia Chandler. Dr. Chandler provided me with immense support and advice throughout the entire course of my doctoral program. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from her.

The ECC staff (both past and present) also deserve tremendous credit for their passion and excitement about our work. It may not always be glamorous in the manure, heat, and cold, but all of the members of the staff are truly devoted to our clients.

I also appreciate Wings of Hope for providing me with a place to launch my practice and work with the very best equine partners.

Finally, my clients deserve the most credit. It definitely isn’t easy to go to counseling and I am both privileged and honored to be a part of each and every one of my client’s journeys.

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