Caroline LeBlanc grew up appreciating the deep emotional bond that horses and humans share.
Today, as a registered psychologist, she is harnessing the animals’ empathetic nature to help people in need of emotional healing.
Her Serene View Ranch offers equine therapy from a hilltop farm overlooking Pownal Bay.
"You can't help but be honest with a horse,” said LeBlanc, who was an experienced psychologist before becoming an early advocate of equine therapy. “Horses are a herd animal. They know when someone is calm and where they are agitated. They know when someone is scared or when they are confident."
She and her husband, Jim, built the ranch four years ago and have used programs, such as SkillsP.E.I.'s graduate mentorship program, to bring in and train needed staff. In 2017, they received $25,000 from Innovation P.E.I.’s Ignition Program, using the funds to help defray some of the costs of adding heat to their training facility and offering year-round riding programs.
Serene View Ranch includes 13 horses and a staff of therapists and equine specialists. LeBlanc says the animals help her clients become more aware of their emotional state and learn how to better respond to stress.
"Our clients are all from the Island and include a lot of people like veterans and first responders, people who are dealing with the impacts of trauma they have experienced," she said. "They'll say ‘I can't be agitated here because that will make my horse agitated,’ and they don't want to do that to the horse.
“The skills they learn here can be something that they can use to deal with the stresses of everyday life, like when someone cuts you off in traffic."
Since the Ignition fund was launched in 2014 it has supported 38 early stage Island companies with $950,000 in funding to help them develop their businesses.
For LeBlanc, that support is allowing her to bring together the animals she loves and the people she helps.
"You just see people open up and grow through the connections they can make with a horse here."