We had the good fortune of connecting with Dr. Hallie Sheade and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dr. Hallie, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
I think the most important factor behind our success is the emphasis that we place on our relationships. As people, we have relationships with everyone we come in contact with from those we are closest to in our personal lives to the cashier we have a fleeting moment with at the grocery store. At S.T.E.P.S. With Horses, we prioritize our relationships with everyone involved in every aspect of our organization. As the strength of the therapeutic relationship is the greatest predictor of success in any type of counseling, we have expanded this relationship to include the equines interacting with our clients. We recognize each and every equine as a sentient being capable of offering organic feedback and unconditional support to our clients. By including the equines in this way, not only do the people coming to us for counseling start to feel better, but the equines themselves often show improved behaviors as they become more trusting of people. The importance of building relationships also carries over to our relationships with our community partners. We almost continuously have a waiting list, despite the fact that we rarely advertise our services. This demand for our services is a testament to the relationships we have built within the community. Last but not least, we prioritize the relationships that our treatment teams have with their clients, recognizing each client as a unique individual capable of identifying what they need and possessing the inherent capacity for growth and change. We are proud to support and help guide our clients in this process.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
My husband (a Marine Veteran) and I co-founded S.T.E.P.S. With Horses in order to increase access to equine assisted counseling services for military service members and their family members, at-risk youth, and others with mental health needs. For many people, the thought of going to counseling can be really scary or uncomfortable. Our form of equine assisted counseling often seems much more appealing to people who are not comfortable participating in office-based counseling or who have felt dissatisfied with the results of other approaches. Our sessions take place in a tranquil outdoor environment among a healing herd of horses and donkeys. Our counseling approaches are truly on the cutting edge. They are evidence-informed, meaning they are grounded in counseling best practices and integrate contemporary research findings. These models are described in more detail in my recently published book, Equine-Assisted Counseling and Psychotherapy: Healing Through Horses. We also offer non-counseling services, such as therapeutic riding, to help our clients maintain and build upon goals made in counseling and, of course, to keep their connection with equines. Our program is unique in the “equine therapy” world in that all of our services are coordinated by licensed mental health professionals to ensure that we are meeting each and every client where they are, providing the highest level of care, and reducing the risk of regression. It has been a long road getting to where we are today. My horse journey started when I was just 2 years old, including riding lessons, training rescue horses, and competing on the University of Miami Equestrian Team. All of my horse experiences led to an interest in studying the human-animal bond. After graduating with a double-major B.S. degree in Psychology and Biology, I decided that I wanted to learn how to utilize that bond to help people. While pursuing my M.S. degree in Counseling at Georgia State University, I became a PATH Intl. Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor, teaching riding lessons to people with disabilities and special needs. However, I decided my education was not yet finished. I moved to Texas for my Ph.D. in Counseling at the University of North Texas where I could study under Dr. Cynthia Chandler, a world-renowned expert in animal-assisted therapy. After gaining some experience in equine assisted counseling at other agencies, I decided I was ready to branch out on my own and started my counseling practice, Equine Connection Counseling (ECC). A few years in, I realized that some of the people most in need of counseling, namely military service members and their family members and at-risk youth, often had the biggest financial roadblocks to accessing any type of counseling, let alone equine assisted counseling. In 2017, we started S.T.E.P.S. With Horses (STEPS) as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization to raise money to help solve this problem. Since then, STEPS has grown by leaps and bounds. We are currently transitioning all of ECC’s operations to STEPS. To support STEPS’ exponential growth, we are actively working to raise funds for STEPS to acquire its own permanent facility. While we have been fortunate to partner with several other facilities who have been immensely supportive of our work, we continually outgrow where we are and have embarked on a journey to establish a permanent home where STEPS can reach its full potential.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
As someone who lives with dietary restrictions, I really appreciate restaurants that go the extra mile to be supportive and accommodating. Some of my favorites are From Across the Pond, Elote, Oliva, Company Café, Kenny’s Italian Kitchen, and Ranchman’s Café. I really like to be outside so I think much of our time would be spent exploring cool outdoor places. I’d love to take a friend to visit the Fort Worth Water Gardens, Dinosaur Valley State Park, Cleburne State Park, the Fort Worth Zoo, and the Fort Worth Stockyards just to name a few.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
First and foremost, I’d like to acknowledge my parents’ role in my success for always supporting my crazy horse girl dreams. Having made a mid-life career change from attorney to teacher, my dad always encouraged me to follow my passion. He continues to provide immeasurable support as my “unofficial” business manager, helping manage the financial and risk management elements of my business. Both my own family and my husband’s family have been extremely helpful and supportive in countless ways. My equine assisted counseling mentors, Dr. Cynthia Chandler and the late Brooke Pitts, were instrumental in teaching me and nurturing my growth as a counselor. Our current facility partner, The Ranch at Windy Point, has played a crucial role in S.T.E.P.S. With Horses’ growth and given us the privilege of working with some of the most intuitive and sensitive equines I have ever been able to partner with. I would also like to give a shoutout to all of my equine “coworkers” who, without any prompting, provide empathic and nonjudgmental support to our clients. Finally, I’d like to acknowledge our clients and thank them for trusting us and allowing us to walk with them on their journeys.
Other: https://www.equineconnectioncounseling.com https://www.routledge.com/Equine-Assisted-Counseling-and-Psychotherapy-Healing-Through-Horses/Sheade/p/book/9781138571112
Sophie Alford, Jana Vinson