The HS Groom Elite Education, Certification and Job Placement Program
is a residential program for veterans and men in recovery from addictions. The individuals that come here primarily come out of Isiah House’s residential drug treatment program, Drug Court, and the VA substance abuse programs. They come to us with an average of 60 days abstinent from drugs and alcohol. Some have just come from an extended VA trauma treatment program. Our program provides the structure needed after treatment to build a new life without substances.
Participants live in the residence here on the farm and come to the HorseSensing barn each morning. They feed the horses, clean the stalls and proceed with their daily education. Our education director, Phillip Crittendon, teaches them the hands-on skills of a professional groom. This is very detailed work. We have a written curriculum as well that each participant studies and is tested on. Each day a horse trainer comes to train the horses and he also instructs our participants in essentials such as: how to properly tack up a horse, how to cool one out after working, how to maintain legs with leg wraps and liniment, how to spot signs of colic, and how to be a good “ground person”. The goal is for them to be well prepared for the job with a professional horse trainer and for the trainer to take what they have learned and extend it to be able to do things their way. In the show horse industry, we all know that every single trainer does things just a little bit differently. The basics are the same but the particulars are different.
This daily education simulates what their future job will ask from them.
We have 3 Phases-Phase 1, Phase 2 and Phase 3.
Phase 1-Participants live in the Phase 1 house at the HorseSensing Farm which houses 4. The first 3 months consist of daily grooming skills and equine education training by Phillip Crittendon our Education Director, 6 recovery meetings per week, random drug testing, weekly psychotherapy sessions with our doctoral psychologist interns from Spaulding University, drug and alcohol testing, and constant support from our staff led by a licensed psychologist specializing in substance use disorder and treatment. After approximately 2 months each participant has an internship with a local professional horse farm, Harper Stables, after which they are tested out on their skills, certified as a Groom Elite Groom, and placed in a job at a show barn in Shelby County. Some participants have stayed in Phase 1 longer to be sure they were ready both skills-wise and recovery-wise to move on to Phase 2.
Phase 2- The next 6 months. Once we place them in a job, they move to the Phase 2 house on Cropper Road (houses 4). This is fully remodeled house that we bought at auction. It has 4 bedrooms and is beautiful and serene, out in the country. In Phase 2 the guys are going to work every day. They carpool in a HorseSensing car to and from work. They have no overhead to pay for and can save their money. They continue to work on their sobriety goals and attend 6 meetings per week, carpooling with the Phase 1 and Phase 3 guys.
They also attend to their real-world needs. These real-world needs include completing any legal system requirements that encumber them such as drug court, being licensed to drive, and any fines or restitution they need to pay, including child support.
They also continue to address their mental health and physical health needs, including medications for issues like depression and PTSD. Because we are led by a licensed psychologist, we understand that mental health medications are sometimes necessary for full functioning and long term sobriety, even for preventing suicide.
Another top priority for us is the mending of family problems and reunification with their children. Because we are a horse farm we are the perfect place for long broken bonds to heal, and for trust to once again be built among the families of our participants. We encourage family visits on Sundays.
Phase 3-When a participant has been in the Phase 2 house for approximately 6 months (for a total of 9 months in our program at this point) they move to the Phase 3 house. In this phase, they begin to pay rent and utilities themselves of $400 per month. This is paid to the owner of the building (an 8 unit apartment building). They guys in Phase 3 are in charge of one HorseSensing car and are responsible for 5 of them getting to work. One of the residents in Phase 2 now has a car and another uses a 2nd HorseSensing car to get back in forth. The guys in Phase 3 also pick up the guys in Phase 1 and 2 to take them to recovery meetings. The beauty of all of this is the support that ALL of them get from each other. The Phase 3 guys mentor the Phase 1 and 2 guys on recovery, work, getting back into society and meeting all of your responsibilities. Being a productive member of society, of your family, of your work team and your HorseSensing family. They can continue to live here indefinitely. They are still a part of the program and are randomly drug tested.
Other HorseSensing Programs
In addition to our residential programs, we have been able to provide the Shelby County community many day long programs each year, making HorseSensing a family setting for the whole community. Programs for Veterans, Gold Star Families, First Responders, people in recovery and the general public.
Origin of HorseSensing
HorseSensing was started in 2010 to help veterans with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder, now referred to as Post Traumatic Stress. Utilizing the EAPD equine knowledge system of Chris Irwin, from the start the horses and their welfare were given top priority in our sessions. We still operate in the same way today.
We started by offering day long Veteran Horse Activity Days 4 times per year. Once a month we did the same thing with a high end drug and alcohol treatment program in Sausalito.
The response for both groups was immediate and lasting, especially for the vets. We have continued to hold all day workshops for veterans and their spouses and partners several times a year and are having our next Horse and Yoga Activity Day on October 27, 2019. Valerie Marco is an exceptional trauma trained yoga instructor and leads us in a wonderfully grounding yoga session held in the main horse arena on the sand. Following that we take the veterans and other participants to meet the horses and spend the rest of the time working with them with the most potential for connection. I (Dr. Sally) teach folks about predator/prey dynamics and horse and human body language and then, along with our other amazing equine therapists, Marida Berlin, PATH and Lizbeth Hamlin, LMFT, the participants are guided to get the most out of their experience. We teach them to relieve their own stress and anxiety and lower their heart rate by connecting with the horses.
The chance to work with the horses on the ground and be taught basic grooming skills was good for them in terms of their PTSD etc. but it was also fantastic for their self-esteem and something most important-a sense of purpose. Each vet would be able to develop a relationship with a horse for that day and again the next time, and develop their skills in being a leader with their horse as well as basic grooming skills. Over the years, holding these groups but also being a former groom and then stable manager (for Bill Field in Rancho Santa Fe and Oregon) made me remember just how powerful and transformative the daily work with the horses can be.
Way back in about 1977, I (Sally Broder, Psy.D.) was 15 years old and answered an ad in the Penny Saver for a groom job in Rancho Santa Fe, working for a well-known Western trainer, Chet Apshire. Well, I got to the barn in the ad and he was not there. However, there was a man in the bull pen working the prettiest horse I had ever seen. It was a light chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail and shiny as could be. It turned out this 2 year old colt was an American Saddlebred. The man said that Mr. Apshire was not at the barn but that he could use some help himself if I was interested. His name was Frank “Poncho” Kibbee. He was trainer to Mrs. Bernice Neil (Saint and Sinner and other nice horses.) That began my journey with American Saddlebreds. I had lost my brother 2 years before and with just me and my mom at home now (he had died while living with us) life could be very sad at times. One day, I was rubbing on a horse’s leg and had started crying and Mr. Kibbee happened to walk up at just that minute. He said, “Sally go ahead and let down on the horses. They can take it.” And he was right. Although it was a painful time at home, at the barn I came alive in the joy of learning more each day about these magnificent creatures, the American Saddlebred! Mr. Kibbee sent me to work for Barbara and Sonny Cannon in 1980 at the Menlo Circus Club.After a year of working for them I moved to San Francisco to go to school. I ended up taking a wrong turn and going down a path of drugs and alcohol, much like my brother that had passed. I know now, as a psychologist, I was numbing the pain of that loss.
Years later at the age of 26, I ended up at an AA meeting and decided to stop all substances. I have now been sober and clean from all mind-altering substances since 1988. I was literally at an AA meeting shortly after when someone asked me, “Sally why aren’t you doing what you really love, the horses?”
I got on the phone and called a well known (now Hall of Famer) ASB trainer, Anne Speck. As luck would have it, World's Champion American Saddlebred horse trainer, Bill Field had newly established his barn in Rancho Santa Fe. Anne suggested I go out to Bill Field’s barn. He hired me. He tells a story of how he really didn’t need any help but he hired me anyway. I either looked super eager or desperate, not sure which. At that time, Mitch Clark’s barn was right behind us and we often had horses that directly competed with Mitch. Within 2 years Bill named me his stable manager and I was incredibly proud. That job gave me pride, self-esteem, a true purpose and a reason to continue in sobriety. An added benefit was to work on great horses like Warrick Warrior, El Presidente, Out Fox Em’ and many others. Bill Field was meticulous as they come and I learned from him every day.
After being with Bill’s barn for 4 years I was lucky enough to work for Bill and Nancy Becker for a brief time before deciding to enter college. With the confidence, skills and work ethic I had learned working with horses I received my bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree one upon the other. Being in the horse business taught me that when you have 20 horses at a show and you have 7 going in one morning and 7 that night, you better just put your head down and keep moving (figure of speech) there are tails to wash, feet to sand and tack to shine to perfection. This served me well through school. I went on to become a clinical psychologist, working for the NFL, training law enforcement, working for years helping veterans and finally incorporating horses into my therapy work. It all started with the horses. I have had this particular dream, our grooming education and therapeutic program, for a long time and the time is finally right.
The Strengths of HorseSensing and our
HS Grooming Education, Certification and Job Training Program
Now to why you might be interested in us as an organization to be involved with. We have many years of experience working with horses between all of our team members and a ton of passion.
Phillip Crittendon- Many of you in the show horse world know Phillip Crittendon, our Education director for American Saddlebred/Hackney horses and ponies. He started out with Helen and Charles Crabtree and continues to work for trainers at shows all over. John Field flies him down to Texas for shows rather than hire someone local because he knows what a great horse caretaker he is. He is meticulous and kind with the horses and doesn’t miss a thing.
Dr. C. Reid McLellan and Groom Elite- I invite you to go to here and look at all the information there including Dr Mac’s background and specifics of Groom Elite certification programs. HorseSensing is teaming up with Groom Elite to create a comprehensive grooming education program. We are extremely fortunate and excited for this opportunity. The HorseSensing Groom Elite Certification Program (HSGrooming) will be customized for our purposes from Basic Grooming 099, Groom Elite 101,Groom Elite 201 and portions of Farm Groom Elite. HSGrooming will take approximately 36 weeks to fully complete and will include over 40 hours of classroom instruction and over 80 hours of hands on practical application. Participants will have opportunity to learn extensive safety and equine therapy skills that go beyond what I have picked up from my extensive learning experiences.The curriculum is accompanied by a full color textbook and classroom instruction will be complemented by comprehensive power point and video presentations. World Champion Horse Trainer, Bill Field went through the entire curriculum and was VERY impressed by the detail, the photos, the veterinary aspect and the thoroughness of terminology.
Participants in our program have the advantage of such detailed learning materials as they apply the principles in hands on practice. This curriculum begins with how horses are designed to survive and how to use basic principles of horse behavior in catching, walking, grooming, bandaging, tacking and even riding a horse. Qualified instructors as well as industry professionals will provide instruction and guide practice sessions. Participants are evaluated periodically with minimum competencies required before moving to a more advanced lesson. At the conclusion of each phase of HSGrooming each participant is given a “Certification Assessment’ which includes an industry approved written exam and practical exam stations including Behavior, Feeding, Health, Bandaging and Tacking.
Participants have access to a variety of horses including those we accept as retirement horses, young horses donated to our program, rescue horses that are appropriate and our own horses. In addition to daily and weekly learning and practice opportunities at our farm, participants benefit from “training field trips” to local Kentucky shows where those that have demonstrated an appropriate skill level may have an opportunity to practice putting horses in the ring and other horse show activities. Participants are also taught "Soft Skills" such as
- Being dependable-showing up to work on time or early
- Having a good attitude
- Being willing to do whatever is needed
- Dressing appropriately
- Speaking up whenever necessary-anything from seeing mold
- in the grain to a horse with a slight swell in a pastern to asking for what they need.
- Being able to work as a team.
- Working through conflict-Resolving things in positive ways.
In addition to the employment education aspect to HorseSensing, we are also an alcohol and drug relapse prevention program (NOT a treatment program). What this means is that people who participate in our program will have random drug and alcohol testing. We will also have components built into the program that support sobriety. Not every single person that comes to HorseSensing has to have had a substance issue, however they will all have a chance to participate in these therapeutic components.
These components are:
Process and check in groups
Relapse prevention groups
Mindfulness and meditation groups
Yoga and other exercise classes
12 step meetings
With the combination of a therapeutic environment, thorough education on horse caretaking skills, farm work, feed and barn management skills, we have been able to help individuals find their new career in the horse industry while finding themselves and their confidence at the same time.