Equine therapist, Sue Court. Photo by Ruth Gilmore.

Sue Court, Equine Therapist


Horses have always been central in Sue Court’s world, but it wasn’t until she was made redundant that she decided to turn her passion into a career.

After decades working as a professor of music and classical guitarist, Sue retrained as a counsellor and joined her partner Sarah – also a trained counsellor –  in establishing EarthHorse, a small practice for counselling and equine assisted therapy.

In the picturesque Waitetuna valley in rural Waikato, the EarthHorse 11-acre farm is home to an equine team of seven horses, including two miniatures, Johnny and Pippin.

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Sue Court working with one of her therapy horses. Photo by Ruth Gilmore.

It’s here where Sue, Sarah and their team offer a unique brand of counselling, working with a range of different people.

“We have clients suffering from trauma, from sexual abuse, from depression and other mental health issues. We have clients who might feel as though they've lost their way in life… We can help with finding direction. 

“Working with horses is also fantastic for people with autism, both young people and adults. I've had a couple of clients who initially couldn't look any human in the eye. But when they realise they can have a direct relationship with a horse in a safe environment, gradually they learn to trust you and communicate better.”

The structure of each session depends on the individual, and can include grooming, leading the horse around, or simply standing with the horse and observing its behaviour.

“Many people find it easier to make a connection with an animal, with a horse, than they do with a human. It provides a lovely healing environment for whatever a person is experiencing.

“Horses reflect the sort of issues that humans have in society, only they do it much more subtly and compassionately because they've evolved as herds where they've had to get on with each other, in ways that human beings haven't quite got yet. We can see how they interact with each other in an honest and healthy way.

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Horses have a unique ability to sense human emotions, Sue Court says. Photo by Ruth Gilmore.

The magic of horses, Sue asserts, lies in their unique ability to sense and reflect human emotions.

“They're very, very sensitive creatures. As a prey animal living in a herd, they are constantly aware of everything in their environment. Their sense of smell is so much better than ours, like 40 times better. They've got 360-degree vision, they can hear our heartbeats, [and] they can smell adrenaline, so they can pick up on somebody pretending to be confident, but inside they're fearful, and reflect how they're actually feeling. They're like a perfect mirror.”

Because of this sensitivity, the EarthHorse horses often choose the clients, Sue says, rather than the other way around.

“We have one horse who lost her foal and was suffering from grief. She's the one that will automatically approach a human with grief – she’ll always go to somebody who has lost a parent or had a miscarriage or something like that. They're just willing to help, you know. They want others to feel good.”

Alongside individual therapy, Sue and Sarah also provide personal development, workshops, public presentations, and professional training. Sue has noticed a recent uptick in New Zealanders looking to become equine assisted therapists.

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Working with horses has been a life changing career for Sue Court. Photo by Ruth Gilmore.

“It’s definitely a growing thing. When I started out, I think there were one or two that I knew about in New Zealand. People would say, equine assisted therapy? Are you giving your horse psychotherapy? Now people have heard about it."

For Sue, there is no doubt that overhauling her career and lifestyle was the right decision.

“It's been a life changer. It really has. On a massive emotional and spiritual level as well, because when I work with a client, I also feel transformed by it. It’s such an honest connection that you're making with both an animal and a human being. It's transformative for sure. It's very beautiful work to do.”


Story by Emily Draper for the Autumn 2024 issue of AA Directions Magazine. Emily Draper is the Deputy Editor of AA Directions Magazine.

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