Origin of HorseSensing

HorseSensing was started in 2010 to help veterans with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder, now referred to as Post Traumatic Stress. Utilizing the EAPD equine knowledge system of Chris Irwin, from the start the horses and their welfare were given top priority in our sessions. We still operate in the same way today.

We started by offering day long Veteran Horse Activity Days 4 times per year. Once a month we did the same thing with a high end drug and alcohol treatment program in Sausalito.

The response for both groups was immediate and lasting, especially for the vets. We have continued to hold all day workshops for veterans and their spouses and partners several times a year and are having our biggest event so far on Sunday, May 5th, 2019. Valerie Marco is an exceptional trauma trained yoga instructor and leads us in a wonderfully grounding yoga session held in the main horse arena on the sand. Following that we take the veterans and other participants to meet the horses and spend the rest of the time working with them with the most potential for connection. I (Dr. Sally) teach folks about predator/prey dynamics and horse and human body language and then, along with our other amazing equine therapists, Marida Berlin, PATH and Lizbeth Hamlin, LMFT, the participants are guided to get the most out of their experience. We teach them to relieve their own stress and anxiety and lower their heart rate by connecting with the horses.

The chance to work with the horses on the ground and be taught basic grooming skills was good for them in terms of their PTSD etc. but it was also fantastic for their self-esteem and something most important-a sense of purpose. Each vet would be able to develop a relationship with a horse for that day and again the next time, and develop their skills in being a leader with their horse as well as basic grooming skills. Over the years, holding these groups but also being a former groom and then stable manager (for Bill Field in Rancho Santa Fe and Oregon) made me remember just how powerful and transformative the daily work with the horses can be.

Back Story

Way back in about 1977, I was 15 years old and answered an ad in the Penny Saver for a groom job in Rancho Santa Fe, working for a well-known Western trainer, Chet Apshire. Well, I got to the barn in the ad and he was not there. However, there was a man in the bull pen working the prettiest horse I had ever seen. It was a light chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail and shiny as could be. It turned out this 2 year old colt was an American Saddlebred. The man said that Mr. Apshire was not at the barn but that he could use some help himself if I was interested. His name was Frank “Poncho” Kibbee. He was trainer to Mrs. Bernice Neil (Saint and Sinner and other nice horses.) That began my journey with American Saddlebreds. I had lost my brother 2 years before and with just me and my mom at home now (he had died while living with us) life could be very sad at times. One day, I was rubbing on a horse’s leg and had started crying and Mr. Kibbee happened to walk up at just that minute. He said, “Sally go ahead and let down on the horses. They can take it.” And he was right. Although it was a painful time at home, at the barn I came alive in the joy of learning more each day about these magnificent creatures, the American Saddlebred! Mr. Kibbee sent me to work for Barbara and Sonny Cannon in 1980 at the Menlo Circus Club.After a year of working for them I moved to San Francisco to go to school. I ended up taking a wrong turn and going down a path of drugs and alcohol, much like my brother that had passed. I know now, as a psychologist, I was numbing the pain of that loss.

Years later at the age of 26, I ended up at an AA meeting and decided to stop all substances. I have now been sober and clean from all mind-altering substances since 1988. I was literally at an AA meeting shortly after when someone asked me, “Sally why aren’t you doing what you really love, the horses?”

I got on the phone and called a well known ASB trainer, Anne Speck. As luck would have it, World's Champion American Saddlebred horse trainer, Bill Field had newly established his barn in Rancho Santa Fe. Anne suggested I go out to Bill Field’s barn. He hired me. He tells a story of how he really didn’t need any help but he hired me anyway. I either looked super eager or desperate, not sure which. At that time, Mitch Clark’s barn was right behind us and we often had horses that directly competed with Mitch. Within 2 years Bill named me his stable manager and I was incredibly proud. That job gave me pride, self-esteem, a true purpose and a reason to continue in sobriety. An added benefit was to work on great horses like Warrick Warrior, El Presidente, Out Fox Em’ and many others. Bill Field was meticulous as they come and I learned from him every day.

After being with Bill’s barn for 4 years I was lucky enough to work for Bill and Nancy Becker for a brief time before deciding to enter college. With the confidence, skills and work ethic I had learned working with horses I received my bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree one upon the other. Being in the horse business taught me that when you have 20 horses at a show and you have 7 going in one morning and 7 that night, you better just put your head down and keep moving (figure of speech) there are tails to wash, feet to sand and tack to shine to perfection. This served me well through school. I went on to become a clinical psychologist, working for the NFL, training law enforcement, working for years helping veterans and finally incorporating horses into my therapy work. It all started with the horses. I have had this particular dream, our grooming education and therapeutic program, for a long time and the time is finally right.

The Strengths of HorseSensing, Kentucky Horse Caretaker Education Program

Now to why you might be interested in us as an organization to be involved with. We have many years of experience working with horses between all of our team members and a ton of passion.

Phillip Crittendon- Many of you know Phillip Crittendon, our Education director for ASB/Hackney horses and ponies. He started out with Helen and Charles Crabtree and continues to work for trainers at shows all over. John Field flies him down to Texas for shows rather than hire someone local because he knows what a great horse caretaker he is. He is meticulous and kind with the horses and doesn’t miss a thing.

Billy Bob Taylor- If you have not met him yet, I look forward to when you do. He is a walking history book of the racehorse industry and has worked with Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds for more than 60 years. He is the patriarch of the Taylor family of Taylormade Farm and brother to Daddy Joe Taylor. He is still very involved with Taylormade now and has been there in the winner’s circle with California Chrome at the Breeders cup and other races. California Chrome now stands stud at Taylormade. BillyBob was in large part responsible for Taylormade purchasing Lazurus, the Standardbred harness horse from New Zealand and was there when he began winning races in the U.S. such as the Dan Patch Stakes. He is a master horseman from foaling a horse to getting them to the track and will pass on what he knows to the folks on our program.

Dr. C. Reid McLellan and Groom Elite- To read the background of Dr. Mac I invite you to go here to take a look at all the information there including the specifics of the certification programs.  HorseSensing is teaming up with Groom Elite to create a comprehensive grooming education program. We are extremely fortunate and excited for this opportunity.

The Groom Elite Certification Program-101 will take approximately 9 months to fully complete. It is 40 hours of Dr. Mac’s written curriculum and hands on trainings including extensive safety and equine medicine skills that go far beyond what I have even ever picked up. It is a written manual with photos.

When our participants go through our program they will have the manual and be learning everything it on the job. They will be able to perform wrapping a bandage, be supervised while doing it, later on even being timed and graded and finally be tested on it before being able to move to the next thing or to do it on their own. This may seem like overkill but if you take one of our folks on at your barn as an intern or employee you will very much appreciate what they know.

Here are the areas of learning for the groom elite for the racetrack.

There will be entirely new sections of written curriculum for ASB and Hackney and Harness racing specializations. If you would like to contribute to the written material that participants learn from please let us know. We invite your input to make this as complete as possible.

There are 5 levels of assessment within the 101 curriculum and folks are assessed at each level before being passed through. More broadly speaking there is Basic, Intermediate and Advanced within the 101 level. Once a person passes all of these levels they can qualify to teach others themselves. That level will be something for our participants to choose to shoot for or they can go ahead and take a job.

All these skills will be taught by our two education directors and perhaps future experts that become part of our team. We are asking the training community to contribute clinics to help folks learn your specialty areas. This includes training skills that you may want to contribute. Of course, we will not put people in situations they are not ready for. We will schedule clinics in a step wise, linear fashion, increasing level of skill learned as they go along. Just like you would when training an assistant under you.

Utilizing the horses that we take in as retirement horses, young horses that may be donated to our program, rescue horses that are appropriate and our own horses, participants will be learning daily over time. We will be taking them to local Kentucky shows where they can practice putting horses in the ring and all things involved in the show.

In addition to the employment education aspect to HorseSensing, we are also an alcohol and drug relapse prevention program. What this means is that people who participate in our program will have random drug and alcohol testing. We will also have components built into the program that support sobriety. Not every single person that comes to HorseSensing has to have had a substance issue, however they will all have a chance to participate in these therapeutic components.

These components will be:

Process and check in groups

Relapse prevention groups

Mindfulness and meditation groups

Yoga and other exercise classes

12 step meetings


With the combination of a therapeutic environment, thorough education on horse caretaking skills, farm work, feed and barn management skills, we hope to help a lot of people find their new career in the horse industry while finding themselves and their confidence at the same time.


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