Horses help strengthen bond between moms and teens


LAKEWOOD, Colo.It’s no secret that adolescent years can be difficult for teens and parents alike. As teens start to come into their own, communication and understanding between them and their parents often suffers. That was the case for Diondra Archibeque and her 13-year-old daughter Daveah.

While looking for creative options to help the pair bond, Diondra heard about Equine Gestalt Coaching from a friend. 

The mother and daughter duo joined a group program, led by gestalt coaches Zoe Moraitis, owner of Mindful Harmony Coaching, and Daelyn Larché-Sigman, owner of Joyful Spirit Coaching. According to Moraitis, the word gestalt is loosely translated from German, meaning "wholeness." 

“The way that we use it through coaching is that we look at the whole person and their whole life,” says Moraitis. 

Diondra reflects on what lead them to the program.  

“Daveah had come to me [saying] that she was ready for therapy,” says Diondra of her 13-year-old daughter. “In our home we keep it very open that [therapy] is something to help us to heal, to communicate, to be good for us.” 

“I’m going to cry,” says Daveah, tearing up. “I felt like I was very lonely…before [my mom and I] weren’t communicating, we weren’t talking, we weren’t bonding. Now I don’t shut down. I’m able to talk with her and bond with her and that’s a great feeling for me.” 

Moraitis was inspired to become a gestalt coach after participating in gestalt coaching herself as a teen. She received her certification through a school called Touched by a Horse, created and operated by Melisa Pearce. Pearce is a teacher, author, psychotherapist and pioneer in the field of the equine-assisted therapy. The intensive training program takes two years to complete. 

In Equine Gestalt Coaching, “the horses are our co-coaches,” explains Moraitis. “They can feel things at different levels than we can, so they can understand where someone’s energy is…and by us coaches reading their body language and how they’re responding, it can help give us some insight into our clients.”  

In practice, this can look like each mother and daughter pair walking in a circle in the horse pen, and talking about something like “What’s the thing about yourself you most want each other to know.” Depending on the horses’ reaction and interaction with the pair, the coaches can tell if their clients are being their most authentic and genuine selves.  

A session also might include group healing, where participants take turns talking through their issues or emotions, and trust exercises. In this session, the mothers were blindfolded and lead around the pen by their daughters, trusting them to avoid obstacles in their path.  

“At first I was like, how are horses going to help us?” says mom Diondra. “But learning how they are attracted to our energy…it’s kind of crazy but when I notice that [Daveah] is holding back or not ready to say something, [the horses] notice that and it kind of calls us out.” 

Moraitis has spent a lot of time working with teenagers and saw a need for a program that could help teens and their parents create better communication.  

“There’s a lot of lack between teenagers and parents understanding each other,” says Moraitis. “We decided that this would be a really great way for moms and daughters to have experiences of self-discovery and understanding themselves and better understanding each other to be able to strengthen their relationship.” 

Alexis Kikoen is a multimedia journalist with Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at