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Certified EAGALA Therapists and Equine Specialists

Shawn Rodrigues, LPC

EAGALA Certified Professional since 2006


Shawn is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is the founder and clinical director of The Heart of the Matter, PLLC. Soon after realizing that she never belonged in an office setting, she found herself with a terribly abused horse named Boise who was afraid of people, life, and the world in general. As she nurtured Boise back to mental and physical health, she found herself becoming a better therapist – more attune and empathic to the needs of her clients, better able to guide them in processing their trauma  – and so the search began to find others of like mind and practice. She found EAGALA and The Heart of the Matter was born. Shawn is certified as a mental health professional and equine specialist in The EAGALA Model and is the local Eagala networking coordinator. 



Brendan Rodrigues

EAGALA Certified Equine Specialist

Pulled into the world of horses by Shawn and Katrina, Brendan comes to us from a 25 year career coaching swimmers (and their parents).  From itty-bitties to the elite athlete, he brings to the arena skills for team, relationship and communication building and adds a much needed male element to our otherwise female staff. Brendan is also the ranch manager and tend to the daily care of the horses. 



Karen Gerdes, LMFT

EAGALA Certified Professional since 2009

Karen is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She began her EAGALA journey in the spring of 2009 and began volunteering in our program immediately. Karen's background in crisis intervention, trauma healing, and family systems brings added versatility to our therapy team. Karen is also trained in EMDR, Accelerated Resolution Therapy and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. 

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Deanna Kiester, MC, LAC

EAGALA Certified Professional since 2011


Deanna Kiester has over 10 years experience in counseling and personal development.  She holds a Masters Degree in Professional Counseling from Grand Canyon University and is trauma informed.  After many years of experience working with horses she became dually certified through the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association as both a Mental Health Professional and Equine Specialist.  She has spent the last three years working with one of the best equine therapists in the SE Valley and has worked with a variety of populations.

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Jessica Breznak-Higgins, MA, MC, LPC, NCC  

EAGALA Certified Professional since 2008

Jessica offers over 12 years experience working with children, adolescents, and adults.  She holds two Master’s degrees in Clinical and Humanistic Psychology and Professional Counseling. As a fully licensed practitioner, Jessica works with a variety of therapeutic issues, including complex trauma/childhood trauma, depression, anxiety, or just generally feeling "stuck!" Jessica uses humor, as well as a variety of experiential therapy techniques to assist clients in processing through their struggles. Jessica believes it is important to engage both the right and left sides of the brain, in order to help clients of all ages to more freely open up and process through difficult emotions and issues and utilizes experiential techniques to help clients process through their issues.  Jessica has been utilizing the EAGALA Equine Assisted Psychotherapy model for 13 years.  Jessica brings a unique point of view to this therapy as she is both a fully licensed therapist, as well as an experienced and active member of the equine community.

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Dale King, LMSW, Equine Specialist

EAGALA Certified Professional since 2008


Dale has over 12 years of experience with EAGALA and has been involved with horses for a significant portion of her life. She has worked with groups, individuals, and in family settings. Over the years, Dale has assisted all age groups through her profession. While she has been EAGALA certified since January 2008, Dale has hosted several EAGALA trainings.

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Jessica Burns, LCSW

EAGALA Certified Professional since 2020




Jessica is a Licensed Clinical Level Social Worker since 2021. She holds a masters and bachelors degree in Social Work. She began her EAGALA Equine Assisted Psychotherapy journey in the winter of 2020. She has experience working with children, adolescents and families with a trauma informed approach in individual, group and family therapy settings. She believes in identifying and enhancing the strengths in clients and letting their experience guide the sessions. She has a passion for the outdoors and working with horses. She loves how healing and powerful Equine Assisted Therapy can be and believes in letting the process happen in a natural and cathartic manner. 



Katrina Rodrigues,

Equine Specialist

EAGALA Certified Professional since 2010

Katrina’s love and connection to horses was apparent at a very early age as did her involvement with EAGALA.  Her intuitive, observational style made the EAGALA model an exceptional fit for her abilities and a logical venue for her talents.  

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Kasey Estes,

Administrative Assistant 

Kasey was born in Arizona & grew up around horses. She attended Marcos de Niza High School & received her undergraduate degree at New York University. Before joining the Heart of the Matter team in 2020,  Kasey spent the first part of her professional career in the insurance industry. Kasey provides administration & support services to the practice and fondly embraces her title of “Girl Friday”.

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