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Galloping Toward Recovery: An Interview with Dave Beck of Cirque Lodge

Cirque Lodge Director of Experiential Therapies Dave Beck Cirque Lodge Director of Experiential Therapies Dave Beck Many recovering alcoholics and drug addicts feel powerless and shameful.  When they first enter Cirque Lodge, a residential addiction treatment center, they may struggle to open up to other people and often prefer to be alone.  However, working as a team with a 1,200 pound horse to overcome challenges and develop a bond can provide these individuals with the empowerment and confidence necessary to conquer other challenges in their lives.  Dave Beck, Cirque Lodge’s Director of Experiential Therapies, strongly believes in the power of the horse as a recovery tool and partner.

Located in Sundance, Utah, Cirque Lodge is an organization that helps individuals begin the recovery process.  The organization utilizes a 12-step addiction treatment program that is coupled with cognitive therapy, experiential therapy, and multi-systemic family therapy.  Residents live at the facility for a minimum of 30 days in order to get stable and start the process of recovery.  Currently, Cirque Lodge has 40 residents living in their Lodge facility and 16 residents living in their Studio facility.  Each resident is assigned an individual counselor and a temporary sponsor while in the program.  Along with taking part in many activities at Cirque Lodge, residents may also take part in some outside activities such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.  

A 1,200 Pound Recovery Tool

Cirque Lodge prides themselves on being a robust program that offers a variety of experiences for residents, including working with horses as an experiential therapy.  Throughout residents’ time at Cirque Lodge, they rotate between experiential therapies and have the opportunity to take part in the training of horses at the facility’s indoor and outdoor arenas.

Incorporating horses into the Cirque Lodge program was Beck’s personal decision, knowing the impact that the animals have had on his own life.

“I knew that working with horses was much more about me than the horse,” said Beck.  “They are powerful teachers.”  

A horse expert, Beck works with residents to train and care for the eight to 15 horses that may be living at Cirque Lodge at one time.  He purchases young, well-bred horses and then brings them to Cirque Lodge to be trained by residents before selling them.  Beck does not consider the work with horses to be equine therapy because he wants residents to feel that they are part of a project and not the target of another form of therapy.

“It is important for residents to feel as though they are an essential part of the equation,” said Beck.  Cirque Lodge residents have the opportunity to work with horses as an experiential therapy.Cirque Lodge residents have the opportunity to work with horses as an experiential therapy.

Residents often feel comfortable interacting with horses because horses only see people as they are currently.  A horse cannot judge a person’s past and does not care about a person’s future, so the residents must learn to be in the moment and focus on themselves as they are presently.

Impact of Animal Interactions

When residents first enter Cirque Lodge, some are scared of horses and do not want to interact with them.  However, Beck encourages these people to at least give the horses a chance, and they almost always find that horses are gentle giants who can change human lives.  Some residents even use their free time in the afternoons and evenings to be with the horses because of the special connection they feel with the animals.

“Sometimes the residents just want to go and talk to the horses,” said Beck.  “I’ve had residents tell me they’ve told the horses secrets no one else knows.”

When the residents begin working with the horses, they learn that they must earn a horse’s trust.  When the horse is facing a challenge, the resident must figure out how to communicate and work with the horse to overcome it.  As the horse’s teammate, a resident must learn to take full responsibility for the horse’s progress.  Since the horses start out at Cirque Lodge as foals, residents witness change and growth and clearly see the impact of their honest and straightforward interactions with the animals.  Working with the horses helps residents develop important skills that they can use when interacting with people as well. 
Interactions with horses help people learn about themselves.Interactions with horses help people learn about themselves.Success Stories

Beck recalls one resident who was always used to being in charge of everyone in his life.  When this man first walked up to the horse he was paired with, the horse became afraid and was driven away.  Beck helped the man understand that this mirrored the way that he drove people in his life away too.  Once he recognized the reason that others often felt pushed away from him, the man began working to soften himself and change his mind set and demeanor.  He was able to begin forming a relationship with the horse and realized that he needed to take responsibility for his part in other relationships in his life.  After working with the horse, the man was in the right mind set to call his wife and have a conversation with her that helped them begin repairing their relationship.

In another instance, Beck was working with a sexual assault victim who was very intimidated by the horse.  She was afraid to even approach the large animal at first, but eventually got the courage to touch the horse.  Once she had experienced this first interaction, her fear subsided and she felt comfortable enough to begin working with the horse.  By working as a team with such a large animal, she realized that she did have the strength and energy to be powerful.  The horse was the catalyst that helped launch her acceptance of who she was and who she could become.

“People deserve to have power and strength,” said Beck.  “When they are working with the horses, they are allowed to have control but maybe only 51 percent instead of 99 percent.”

Beck is continually impressed by how hungry people are to make connections with other living beings and how quickly they can make connections with the horses.  When people are open and willing to let horses into their lives, they often discover that there are many parallels between working with horses and other aspects of life.


For more information about Cirque Lodge and their use of horses as experiential therapy, visit their website. 


  1. Drug therapy
  2. Horseback riding
  3. Horses
  4. Rehabilitation
  5. Residential treatment
  6. training of animals
  7. treatment program

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