What is equine therapy? This paradise island promises healing through horses

A woman sits on the beach as horses gallop past.
A woman sits on the beach as horses gallop past. Copyright Nihi Sumba
By Hannah Brown
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‘Horses, in our experience, simply speed things up, a little bit like how an art therapist uses their paint.’


The Indonesian island of Sumba is home to pristine wilderness and stunning beaches. There you’ll find Nihi Sumba, a hotel that’s won all sorts of awards, including being voted the Number One Hotel in the World in Travel + Leisure’s 2016 and 2017 World’s Best Awards.

Situated on the island’s south coast, the beach is home to a herd of semi wild horses.

“This is probably as close as you can get to horses in their natural habitat,” says Dr Andreas Liefooghe, a psychologist and therapist specialising in equine assisted psychotherapy.

This is why he chose it as the perfect spot to found Retreat and Conquer, a four night retreat helping people to reconnect with themselves through horses.

Globally there’s a rising trend in horse-related travel and wellness activities, from cowboy ranches to horse-sleigh rides and horseback safaris. Here’s why combining an equine retreat with your next beach holiday might be for you (even if you don’t love horses).

Are horses a good means of therapy?

“Why horses? Horses, in our experience, simply speed things up,” Andreas explains, “a little bit like how an art therapist uses their paint.”

Some theorise that it’s to do with connecting with a living creature but with the comfort of knowing they can’t tell anyone your secrets.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to be a pro-rider in order to take part. In fact, there’s no experience required and you don’t even have to ride a horse if you don’t want to.

Through two daily interactions with the horses, participants learn how to better understand themselves and those around them. Activities include swimming with the horses and playing football on the beach.

“It's always useful to see who people identify with. Do they identify with the rugged little guy or with the injured noble sort of thoroughbreds who've done the racing and all of that?,” says Andreas.

“In those choices, we get a lot of information about what people actually bring. Where do they see themselves in the horse? How are they reflected back at themselves through their choice of partner to work with?”

The retreat welcomes small groups of people at a time. The activities are a range of one-to-ones and group work.

As well as this, there are more traditional wellness activities such as yoga and massages. And the group often spends evenings on the beach.

Who can benefit from an equine retreat?

“When you arrive at the top of this hill and you see this sweeping beach in front of you, it's a real heart stopping moment,” says Andreas.

The island’s remote nature teamed with the long journey to get there make up part of the experience. Andreas thinks this helps people to feel so far away from their normal reality that it readies them to open up.

“Our business is not to change people, but to help people get a deeper understanding,” he adds.

Retreat and Conquer is for anyone who feels stuck or wants help dealing with change in their life.

“We have people who have been stuck because of very complex losses that they've experienced, like losses of parents, life changes and couples who split up.


“And we have had people who have had children leave home and felt that all of a sudden they don't have a purpose anymore and they're wanting to find a purpose around that.

“We've had people who've been made redundant at work who again feel that there's this loss. And ultimately, every change has a loss at its heart because you have to leave something behind before you get into something new.”

Where do Retreat and Conquer’s horses come from?

The horses at Nihi Sumba are a combination of Sumbanese sandalwood ponies that are semi wild and were first brought to the island in the 13th and 14th centuries as well as some rescued ex-race horses.

“The racing industry churns out quite a lot of horses and then there are some horses who don't make the grade. And typically that don't really have a lot of options,” explains Andreas.

Nihi has adopted a whole herd of them from neighbouring islands and has retrained them. They live at the Sandalwood Stables at the hotel where each morning they are let free to gallop along the beach.


The next Retreat and Conquer will take place 25 - 29 November. Prices start from €8,936 all inclusive excluding flights and transfers.

Watch the video above to learn more about Retreat and Concur.

Video editor • Hannah Brown

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