Rock Ranch, located west of Hills, recently joined 15 other therapeutic riding facilities in Arenas for Change and formed a local equine-assisted therapy team of (from left) barn manager Jessica Richters, office manager Staci Bundesen, Natasha Kellenberger, Lynne Hunter, Marie LaRock, Carissa Palmberg, Dolores Bundesen, Patti Swenson and Jill Jonnes-Kuca.

Rock Ranch joins Arenas for Change

Program expands local use of horses in mental health therapy

Rock Ranch, located west of Hills, recently expanded its equine-assisted psychotherapy services (EAP) and joined the nationwide organization Arenas for Change.

The therapeutic process uses horses as tools for improving mental health.

Rock Ranch founder Marie LaRock said Arenas for Change is a promising new resource to support and expand the Ranch’s EAP services.

“Therapy in this program is for everybody,” she said. “It is a matter of creating your story and working through it.”

The Ranch is already certified in Eagala equine therapy (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association), which uses horses as a safe place for clients to overcome specific trauma issues.

Arenas for Change is a network of mental health professionals who share insightful ways horses can improve health and facilitate discussion within organizations like Rock Ranch that assist therapists with clients’ personal growth.

The recent in-person EAP training showed four local mental health practitioners how combining horses and storytelling can be a useful tool in getting clients to discover and work through challenging areas in their lives.

Four Rock Ranch volunteers were also trained in horse selection and how to keep clients and therapists safe during the therapy sessions.

Not a horseback riding program, clients and their therapist safely watch from a distance as four to five horses interact freely in the arena or a pasture. The horses’ natural herd behavior provides opportunities for stories to be discovered and told. And, over time, for healing to begin.

Clients are asked to make up stories from the horses’ behaviors, and this can open doors to discussing actual mental health issues. The trained therapists and certified equine specialists are there to help guide clients through the process.

“We believe our stories change,” LaRock said. “And we change through working through those stories.”

ARCH founder Lynn Thomas and co-facilitators Amanda Graham and Lynn Moore spent two days training Ranch staff and local mental health professionals.

She said the technique offers clients an opportunity to step back, examine their stories and find deeper meaning and understanding to issues the clients need to overcome.

“Horses are the best story editors,” Thomas said. “They have a way of bringing out stories in a deeper way.”

As clients create stories from their observation of the horses, they begin to feel emotionally safe. “The magic (of healing) begins,” Thomas said.

Rock Ranch is one of 16 to join Arenas for Change, which formerly organized in July, after a year of planning.

The training is supported by various monetary gifts including the Southwest Initiative Foundation, Luverne Area Community Foundation and individual donors to Rock Ranch’s education fund.

“If we are going to have talented people on our team, we feel it is important to provide training,” said Dan LaRock, who began Rock Ranch in 2016 with Marie.

The Ranch allocates $8,000 a year for EAP training that includes a scholarship fund to help clients afford the cost of care.

Mental health practitioners completing the training at Rock Ranch include Natasha Kellenberger (LMFT), Lynne Hunter (MSW CSW-PIP), Carissa Palmberg (MS, LPC, LAC) and Jill Jonnes-Kuca (MC, MACL, FFT).

Equine specialists include Marie LaRock, Dolores Bundeson, Patti Swenson and Jessica Richters.

LaRock, Palmberg and Jonnes-Kuca are also Eagala certified.

Staci Bundeson was recently hired as the Ranch’s office and operations manager, and Richters is the Ranch’s barn manager and instructor.

In addition to EAP, Rock Ranch offers beginning riding lessons and a senior saddle program.

For more information, visit the Ranch’s website,

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