“I think this idea of combining somebody who is a mental health counselor or a social worker with somebody who is an equine expert ... Who could make that stuff up? Seriously, I would never have thought about that, but it sounds to me like they’re really onto something." -- Gov. Jack Markell
Little did Rosemary Baughman know the effect that horses would have on her life when she took her two-year-old daughter to her first horseback riding lesson a decade ago.
Baughman, a licensed clinical social worker, quickly became enamored with how her daughter and others interacted with the horses. She could sense a certain calmness and healing power between the two.
That set the wheels in motion. How could Baughman harness this power and treat mental health disorders through horses?
MORE ABOUT COURAGEOUS HEARTS
ADDRESS 8848 September Way, Lincoln
WEBSITE www.courageoushearts.us She accomplished that when she opened Courageous Hearts Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Learning Center in Milford four years ago.
Courageous Hearts has since moved to 10 acres in Lincoln, and celebrated its first anniversary at its new location April 26 with a ribbon-cutting before Gov. Jack Markell and other dignitaries.
Baughman said her association with equines seems like it was “just meant to be.”
“Over the years as I watched [people and horses interact], we could just tell,” Baughman said. “One of my [daughter’s] first riding instructors was Linda [Muncy] and we would sit there and watch her horses. She had geriatric horses and we thought we have to be able to do something with these horses in mental health.”
So Baughman and Muncy, an equine specialist, researched several different models and finally selected Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, in which they both became certified.
Courageous Hearts clients do not ride the horses in the EAGALA model. Rather, the horses interact emotionally with their clients.
Since opening in 2013, Courageous Hearts has had more than 1,000 clients. About 50 people take part in their programs throughout the week. They come from schools and businesses or as individuals.
Baughman now has seven certified therapists and equine specialists on staff who make up three full-time teams.
“We always require two facilitators in the arena – a licensed mental health person and an equine specialist – and we are always grounded. We don’t ride,” Baughman said. “It’s solution-focused and we believe that our clients have their own answers. They just need to be provided the opportunity to find them.”
Muncy said the comfort the horses provide never ceases to amaze her.
“It’s just been amazing because usually kids do not open up and talk to a therapist in a typical environment, they just shut down,” said Muncy. “It may take a couple of times [with the horses] but most of the time they just open right up.
“We ask them questions about the animals, not about themselves, so it doesn’t put them in a defensive mode. Then they just kind of feed us a lot of information that we don’t even have to ask for, it just kind of flows out of them. It’s been really good.”
Equine assisted psychotherapy and learning has proven helpful for treating problems affecting all ages, including behavioral issues, ADHD, relationship issues, depression, communication issues, anxiety and addiction.
The therapy focuses on role play and a horse’s ability to react to a client’s emotions and mannerisms and vice versa.
Baughman said horses read and respond to the nonverbal messages people are always sending and are known to begin to act in ways that parallel other relationships or dynamics in a person’s life.
The horses become that person’s spouse, partner, colleague, children, dreams, fears or addictions, she said, giving people the chance to work through those relationships and issues.
Dr. Kimberly Gerardi, who works at Dover Behavorial Health, has a 13-year-old son who has been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
She said Courageous Hearts has really helped. As an added bonus, she said, it works with most insurance plans.
“It took some time,” Gerardi said. “It wasn’t one or two visits, but at least he didn’t mind coming. Before he was just very polite but he wasn’t going to talk to you about it. And all of a sudden, life is good.”
Markell seemed taken aback at how the treatment center, which will receive more than $100,000 in state grants and funding this year, came to be.
“I think this idea of combining somebody who is a mental health counselor or a social worker with somebody who is an equine expert ... Who could make that stuff up?” Markell said. “Seriously, I would never have thought about that, but it sounds to me like they’re really onto something.
“What we all know for sure is that there is a huge need for it. The challenges that so many of our young people face in their lives, the trauma and the other difficulties that so many in our society face ... We all know people who could benefit from something like this.”