Horses help Sask. people heal through equine-assisted learning

Tanya and Todd McNeice are life skills facilitators at Double T Ranch. The place is open to people dealing with addictions, disease, relationship problems and other challenges brought about by life.

When Tanya and Todd McNeice help others, they are also helping themselves

Through equine assisted learning, people who come to Double T Ranch undergo skills programming designed to fit their specific needs. (Matt Duguid/CBC)

Christy Daae walked around the arena in time with Journey, coaxing the horse along with gentle whispers of encouragement.

She's not a "horse whisperer" in the way that term is sometimes used. Daae has been learning to work with the animals in order to learn about herself.

Daae came to Double T Ranch near Qu'Appelle, Sask., as part of her healing from a 20-year struggle with addictions. 

"What the horses have done for me is beyond anything that I've experienced," she said. "They understand in a way that I can't express with words. It touches you in the heart." 

Christy Daae was surprised by the emotional and spiritual connection she felt with the horse Journey. She was also surprised by how in tune the horse seemed to be, no matter what activity they were trying to tackle. (Matt Duguid/CBC)

'It heals us'

"We're not therapists and we don't ever claim to be therapists," said Todd McNeice, who operates Double T Ranch alongside his wife Tanya.

They're both equine-assisted learning facilitators who offer experiential learning and skills development with the help of horses. 

"What we have brought to the community is the ability to have the horses be our teachers," Tanya said.

They design programs to meet the needs of specific groups, setting up obstacles, goals, challenges and questions that might encourage a shift in perspective. The focus is life skills for all people, be it those struggling with disease, addiction, mental health or bullying. 

Double T Ranch recently partnered with Regina Sexual Assault Centre. Talks are also underway with Ranch Ehrlo, Pine Lodge Treatment Centre and correctional institutes. 

Both Tanya and Todd describe themselves as recovering addicts who now want to help others and make up for their past behaviour. 

Tanya and Todd McNeice are the owners and certified facilitators of equine-assisted learning at Double T Ranch. (Matt Duguid/CBC)

"I wasn't a good person back then and I can admit that today," said Todd, who has been sober for 18 years. 

Tanya, sober for six years, had came to the point where she couldn't trust herself to make the right decisions. She said it was hard to be a mom and even harder to get up in the morning. Her journey has been enlightening. 

"Now, living like this, I get to share that with people and let them find their light," she said. "The smiles that we see leaving here, the tears that we see, the releases that happen here: it heals us at the same time." 

The horses are billed as 1,200 lb teachers, available to help with leadership training, youth empowerment and beyond. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

The programming delves into issues of choice, trust, communication, relationships and empowerment. Tanya said the connection with the horses resonates with people long after they leave.

"To have that feeling and that emotion of, 'That horse loved me, and that horse I could trust and that horse took my secrets and never told anybody,'" she said. "That's something they've never gotten before." 

The programming was key for Daae, who said she feels as if she's found the right track. In fact, she's "bubbling over" with hope. She's now working as a house mom for a group of at-risk youth in Regina. 

"I'm giving back using the gifts that I gained through my previous experiences with trauma and addictions to assist people." 

Learning with horses at Double T Ranch

3 years ago
Duration 2:29
The horses have been called the best kind of secret-keepers.

'I couldn't believe I was talking to a horse'

When Keith Olberg came to the ranch to actually work with the horses, he was wracked with "what ifs" in the wake of a colon cancer diagnosis. 

Olberg had struggled with his own addictions in the past but it was the unknown of the illness that brought him there. It didn't take long for his anxieties to melt away with the horse. 

"I couldn't believe I was talking to a horse," he said. Despite his disbelief, he found them to be the best secret keepers.

He said he's not scared anymore but the first day he worked with the horses he was terrified. Olberg said he's often expressed his fear as anger but with the horses his genuine fear emerged.

Keith Olberg said said he first came to work with the horses just after having 32 staples removed from his abdomen. He was skeptical at first but found what he needed. (Matt Duguid/CBC)

"The what ifs started coming out and I left a lot of worry out in that arena there that I'm not going to go back and pick up."

Todd said that he'd be happy if the ranch helps one person. 

"But it's helped more than one person," he said. "Pretty much everybody that comes through these doors leaves different."


Kendall Latimer


Kendall Latimer (she/her) is a journalist with CBC News in Saskatchewan. You can reach her by emailing


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?