Delta Equine Center opens doors in Minnesota

SPICER, Minn. -- With their new business venture, a husband and wife seek to tackle health issues through what might seem an atypical avenue, horses.

Delta Equine Center
Doug and Tammie Knick at their Delta Equine Center, located between Willmar and Spicer. “A delta, for which the center is named, is a horse or person, who strives to live in a state of peace harmony, balance and justice.” (RAND MIDDLETON | TRIBUNE)

SPICER, Minn. - With their new business venture, a husband and wife seek to tackle health issues through what might seem an atypical avenue, horses.

Tammie and Doug Knick co-founded Delta Equine Center, which will offer equine-assisted psychotherapy for various conditions, ranging from anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder.

The couple is certified through the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association.

Brenda Hunter, clinical director for the association, said the training model requires at least two people to be a part of sessions, a licensed medical professional and a equine specialist.

She said the ground-based program - there isn’t any actual riding of a horse during the sessions - strives to help people find their own solutions to problems with the assistance of the horse and the trained staff.


The association has been certifying groups in equine-assisted therapy since 1999. Currently, there are 4,500 members in 50 countries.

Doug Knick, who is an equine specialist, said the sessions are almost completely self-guided, which allows for spontaneous interactions between a patron and horse.

Participants are told to set up a physical representation, with simple objects such as barrels and pieces of wood, of a problem they are facing. Depending on the person’s comfort level with the horse, he or she might be asked to bring the horse into the space that they have arranged.

The person is asked questions by Tammie and Doug or simply left to interact with the horse. Throughout this time, Doug Knick watches the horses’ behavior for subtle changes.

“Horses know when people are lying,” he said. “We can then step back and ask why the horse is acting that way.”

This is because horses are a fight-or-flight animal, they are very attentive to people and their emotions, said Tammie Knick, a licensed social worker.

Though the sessions usually last about an hour, Doug Knick stressed that the client sets the tone and speed of the meeting. Many times, he said, participants take large steps forward during their session, unbeknownst to him and his wife until a later time.

Horses’ keen instinct allows them to interact more fully with participants than other more passive therapeutic animals, such as dogs, Tammie Knick said.


“They can be very gentle and mold what they are doing to a certain person,” she said.

Doug Knick said the number of horses in a session varies depending on the number of participants, as Delta Equine Center also offers exercises for groups or families. And even those who are afraid of horses usually end up interacting with the animals because the horses often will approach people who are not participating.

Fear of horses, often of their size, is a vital component to the sessions, he said. Many people are initially afraid of the horses and when they become relaxed with the animal, it helps them become comfortable with the whole session.

The horses have names at home, he said, but their name and gender are not shared during the sessions. Participants are allowed to name the horses if they would like, but it isn’t required, and the gender of the horse may play a role in someone’s therapy.

There have been many times when participants had been having troubles with the opposite gender and all of the horses that they have had troubles interacting with are the opposite gender.

“Most people don’t know how to tell the difference,” Doug Knick said. “Someone may be having issues with males in their life and so they have issues with male horses.”

The couple currently has eight horses, including a younger one going through what they called some “sessions of his own.”

To the two of them, starting a equine-assisted therapy business had been a longstanding goal. They believe it represents the opportunity for conversation, reflection and healing.


“Trust the horse,” Doug Knick said. “It’s a powerful thing.”

Residents from the Willmar area can see it for themselves during an open house Friday and Saturday. The two-day event will offer attendees a glimpse into how a horse can be a partner and conduit during therapy.


  • What: Delta Equine Center Open House
  • Where: 6620 60th St. N.E., Spicer, MN
  • When: 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday with demonstrations at 3:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.; and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday with demonstrations at 10:30 a.m., 12 p.m. and 1 p.m.
  • Cost: Free
  • Info: For more info call 507-276-4015 or go to
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