People of all kinds gather at Peace Ranch in Traverse City to participate in equine-assisted therapy, a.k.a., counseling with horses. We pick the mind of Jackie Kaschel and her time on the Northern Michigan Peace Ranch.

Jackie Kaschel grew up as a self-proclaimed “horse-crazy kid,” loving the classics like Black Beauty and Black Stallion. But she didn’t have much exposure to horses until she began volunteering at Horse North, a rescue program in Kingsley. Kaschel, who’d studied counseling, noticed a profound connection between horses with behavior issues and the volunteers working with them. “I wondered if anyone had ever used horses in a mental-health capacity,” Kaschel says. “It turned out that they did.”

Kaschel’s observations planted the seeds for Peace Ranch, a Traverse City facility that marries counseling with horse rescue and rehabilitation. Kaschel works with everyone from couples to at-risk kids; recently, the Northern Michigan ranch signed the first-ever collaborative contract with the Veteran’s Administration to offer equine-assisted psychotherapy to veterans with PTSD. But unlike most equine-assisted therapy programs, Peace Ranch’s therapy doesn’t involve any riding. We caught up with Kaschel to learn about Peace Ranch’s unique work.

What was the concept behind the Traverse City Peace Ranch?

Part of our vision was that we would take rescue horses and they would be rehabilitated at the ranch, and in turn, those horses would help rehabilitate humans. Because people are in need of rescue just like horses are in need of rescue.

So what is it about horses that can be? so healing?

Horses, by nature, are incredibly intuitive. So they’re very honest, very responsive. The other thing is that they’re herd animals; they interact with each other and use non-verbal language. As people, even though we can speak, we can be incongruent. I can say, “Yeah, I’m fine,” even though I feel really terrible. But horses respond to our nonverbals. So if I feel anxious, the horse will respond to that anxiety, even though I say, “Yeah, I’m fine.”

Tell us about your weekly “Hug and Groom” event.

It’s a two-hour program where our volunteers help people learn how to have a hands-on, safe experience with a horse. Some people come and talk the whole time. Some people come and put their hands on the horse and immediately they’re just in tears. It’s kind of amazing. Anybody can come; it doesn’t cost anything.

What about your counseling programs; how do they work?

In a session, horses and people are in the arena together. First we check in with the client. We share what their current concerns are and then we harness that in a metaphor with the horses. And then they have a hands-on experience.

Can you share an example?

This therapy really mirrors life situations in that it provides a real-time opportunity to work through a problem that seems large, intimidating, and like you don’t really have the tools to deal with it. It’s amazing how quickly the brain connects the things that we’re struggling with in life to the things that are happening in the arena. People find that they really do have what it takes.

For more information about Peace Ranch and its upcoming programs, visit

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