‘A sense of peace’

Nonprofit rescue partners with foundation to offer equine therapy for veterans

Christine Harkinson/The Sun
Micke Stafford, licensed clinical social worker and board-certified diplomate (left to right); military veteran Cassandra Stevenson; Darlene Supnick, founder of Forgotten Angels Equine Rescue (FAER); veterans James Whiteside and Tom MacPherson; and Kathleen Van Stine, senior director for community relations at SpectraCare Foundation, with two of FAER’s rescue horses.

Forgotten Angels Equine Rescue (FAER) in Medford not only saves horses from slaughter auctions and negligent situations, the nonprofit also offers equine therapy for veterans, a program that’s in partnership with the SpectraCare Foundation in Lindenwold.

The effort started in 2021 and is conducted by Micke Stafford, licensed clinical social worker and board-certified diplomate; and MaryAnn Brewer, therapeutic equine specialist and president of In the Company of Horses Inc.

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“MaryAnn is … she’s so excellent with reading horses,” Stafford said. “I’m not, but it’s my job to be careful of my people. What she and I do, we stand together, and we observe as they (veterans) go out into the arena, but even before that we usually sit and we chat a little bit to see how comfortable they are.

“Then we observe …” she added. “I observe how my people are reacting to those horses and I guess I’m trained to pick up little nuances if I see there might be a little fear, a little hesitation, what it might take to help get them more comfortable with that horse … Over time, they (veterans) connect with certain horses and certain horses will connect with our people. So far, all I’ve ever seen is a growth in that connection that is so exciting for us.”

In the Company of Horses has been in the world of equine assisted psychotherapy and learning since 2006. Brewer explained that she partners with mental-health professionals – in this case, Stafford – to help people learn about themselves through interactions with the animals.

FAER’s veteran equine therapy program practices the Eegala (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) model, which also incorporates a licensed mental-health professional and a qualified equine specialist working together with horses and clients as equal partners in a process that empowers life-changing outcomes, according to the FAER website.

“It’s not a teaching model, but an experiential learning model, so we might set up a subject or a topic and have people interact with the animals,” Brewer pointed out. “And then let them kind of paint their story and their picture and whatever it is that they get onto the animals in the session.

“Rather than us teaching them anything or telling them what the animals are thinking or what the animals are doing,” she added. “It’s really about them finding their own solutions, and what we do is we provide the safe, physical and emotional space for people to have those experiences.”

Veterans James Whiteside, Tom MacPherson and Cassandra Stevenson shared how the program has impacted their lives.

“These animals are so majestic and they’re so intuitive and they can sense fear in us, they can sense anxiety, pain, on a level above and beyond …” MacPherson observed. “There’s something about the horses that their psyche and their mental abilities show that they’re on a different level.”

“ … What it is that’s bothering you slowly starts to dissolve,” he continued. “Now you’re realizing what it was that was attacking you internally or from the outside, and with this program, you get to a point where it’s not bothering you as much, and to a point where it’s not bothering you at all, that you’re now in a beautiful moment and you finally get to that moment and you’re grounded, and you feel a great sense of peace.

“That’s what I felt personally.”

“I think that the equine therapy here, and especially the fact that the horses are rescues themselves and prior service animals, is absolutely incredible,” Stevenson said. “It was an amazing experience for me.

“Every being is made up of energy, and horses being the incredible creatures that they are … horses are very strong, fast, amazing creatures, and to have that trust, to be like, ‘Okay, this horse isn’t going to hurt me and I’m not going to hurt them because it’s an exchange of trust,’ it was an amazing experience for me.”

“People tell me all the time, ‘You’re so regimented,’ because I want to know what I (have to) do right now, and then I want to know what I’m going to do next,” Whiteside related. “This has helped me a little bit to know that the world goes on. You don’t need to have rules for everything – and that’s helped.”

Kathleen Van Stine is senior director for community relations at SpectraCare Foundation, which offers support services for veterans and other groups. She pointed out a similarity among Whiteside, MacPherson and Stevenson.

“They’ve all come from different generations, different war times, different periods of their lives, and what I’m picking up as a social worker, the common theme for all three veterans is that they’re working from within,” she observed. “And that to me, I think, is beautiful.”

To learn more about FAER’s veteran equine therapy program, visit https://forgottenangelsequine.com. For information on the SpectraCare Foundation, visit https://spectracarefoundation.org. To learn more about In the Company of Horses Inc., go to https://maryannbrewer.com.

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