The Equus Effect at High Watch

Equine Assisted Learning Experiences

For more than five years, High Watch residential guests have had the opportunity to participate in The Equine Assisted Learning Program offered at Joy Farm. Equine Assisted Learning is an experiential process that involves activities with horses to promote human physical and mental health. The program aims to help the participants develop the necessary skills to become more emotionally agile. Through building resonance with the horse, the participant can learn to experience an emotion, identify what the emotion is telling them, change accordingly, respond rather than react, and return to a steady emotional state. This helps the participants improve impulse control, accountability, responsibility, self-confidence, stress tolerance, problem-solving skills, and self-control.

The Equine Assisted Learning Program consists of four three-hour sessions over two weeks. During each session, guests participate in a group check-in, a body warm-up and body scan, grooming of the horses, a didactic classroom session on emotional agility that covers fear/vulnerability, anger/frustration, depression, and sadness/grief, and an activity with the horses that builds upon connection and collaboration. Each session concludes with a group debrief and treats for the horses.

Why Horses?

As a prey animal, the way horses view and exist in the world is different than humans. They are constantly aware of their surroundings and changes in the environment and rely on their connection with their herd for safety and companionship. Horses have the largest eyes of any land mammal and can see 340 degrees around them. They also have ears that use ten muscles, and they can rotate each ear independently, up to 180 degrees, to locate, funnel, and magnify sound. Their sensitivity and awareness are impeccable. The most fascinating feature of horses is that they can sense heart rates, muscle tension, and respiration in other beings up to thirty feet away. In the equine program, this ability teaches guests to be congruent with what they feel on the inside, which matches their actions on the outside. Horses show us that “being true and honest” is essential to be present in the moment and grounded in our bodies rather than thoughts.


Our Facilitators

High Watch has five certified Equine Assisted Learning Program facilitators: David Sonatore, Donna Hoskins, Kim Cognato, Allison Gennings, and Sheree Surdam. The skilled facilitators are also joined by High Watch’s Hope House program participants who assist as horse handlers during the sessions and provide daily care for the exceptional herd of horses. The herd consists of Hiro, Victory, Star, Moon, and Beau. Guests who come to the program are also greeted by the lovely farm dogs Scout and Teddy, who bring joy and comfort to all who visit Joy Farm.

Donna Hoskins, APRN

Donna Hoskins, APRN
Facilitator, Coordinator of Equine Assisted Learning Program


David Sonatore, LCSW
Equine Program Lead Facilitator


Kimberly Cognato, LADC, LPC, EMDR, ESMHL, CTT

Allison Gennings

Allison Gennings
Barn Manager/Equine Facilitator


Sheree Surdam
Facilitator, Coordinator of Experiential Programs





“When I got to High Watch in 2006 I was dying on the inside and the outside. Truly the greatest gift I received in this life was going to the "Hill of Hope". They brought me back from the dead and taught me everything I needed to know to be successful long term and it was very simple that even I (who knew everything and nothing) could understand. Old school suit up...shut up...God Bless High Watch!”
-Cara B..