Equine Therapy Comes to Tombstone

Lilla DeLuca, owner of the Rocking R. Equine, pets her horse Buttercup at the stables at the stables in the assisted learning center.
Lilla DeLuca, owner of the Rocking R. Equine, pets her horse Buttercup at the stables at the stables in the assisted learning center.

The city of Tombstone will soon be the home of a new horse therapy program that caters to people seeking to improve their lives through animals.

“It’s almost a spiritual experience to watch somebody work with a horse,” said Dr. Lilla DeLuca, who owns the Rocking R. Equine Assisted Learning Center, “Everything they do is very metaphorical.”

The center is set to open at 1566 N. Bent Barrel Trail in early April.

Equine Assisted Learning is horse therapy that does not involve riding.

“You’re working with folks on using nonverbal communication and how to expand their problem-solving abilities, be accountable in relationships, build confidence and adjust attitudes,” DeLuca said.

Equine therapy works well for a variety of age groups and difficulties, she said. Clients from Child Protective Services, families that have communication difficulties, people with attention deficit and poor social skills all can benefit from this type of therapy.

“This particular program is all about building confidence,” said Rocking R. Clinical Director Gayle Eaton. “We don’t really have anything else like that.”

DeLuca said she would like to expand her business to cater to victims of domestic violence and women and children who live in shelters.

The therapy focus is on ground activities and clients are taught to apply social and coping skills when they work with the horses, according to the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, EGALA, website.

DeLuca recently retired from her job as program director of Arizona Children’s Association. She is now in private practice as a doctor in clinical psychology in Sierra Vista and is expanding the business to include equine therapy.

Rocking R.’s clients can choose from one of the eight horses on the property including a pair of miniatures and six full sized Appaloosas, Arabians and Tennessee Walkers. DeLuca said that each horse has its own personality.

DeLuca’s business partner is her husband, Kenn Barrett, an organizational psychologist and an avid historical re-enactor.

“I’ve worked with most of the mental health agencies here so I already have folks and agencies like the Southeast Arizona Behavioral Health Services, court system and folks that refer directly to me,” DeLuca said.

DuLuca and Barrett have owned the Tombstone ranch for more than 10 years. The property consists of more than two acres devoted to horse stables, a 70-foot pen and arena and an additional three acres of property where the horses relax.

Inge Detweiler, a coordinator with the Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning network, said, “Practitioners certified through (the network) are relatively few. There are plenty of people out there doing equine therapy who are not certified, and maybe don’t even have a mental health background.”

Detweiler said she thinks Tombstone has amazing potential for this industry, especially for the local youths.

“It’s very exciting that they’re doing this in Tombstone because it provides access to a resource that wasn’t there before,” Detweiler said.

The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, — Arizona’s Medicaid plan — will cover part of therapy costs for clients who are eligible, but Detweiler said she does not know of any private insurance companies that cover equine therapy.

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