The last few weeks have been nothing short of heartbreaking as we grieve the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, Tony McDade, and Ahmaud Arbery. The loss of their lives underscores the countless Black people who have been murdered and marginalized in our country for generations. It is a sad truth that the extensive, oppressive system of racism continues to survive in our most valued institutions. The issues now being exposed in our justice system did not develop in a vacuum, but are bolstered by systemic problems: cyclical poverty, lack of affordable housing, and inaccessibility to high- quality education, jobs, and health care.
As we reflect on our roles both individually and as an organization, we feel it is important now more than ever to share the organization’s history, vision and values, and plan for a brighter future.
In 2012, I started a for-profit company that spearheaded equine-assisted psychotherapy and equine-assisted learning. The volume of inquiries we received made it abundantly clear that innovative mental health tools were sparse in the community. Yet so many who reached out for sessions could not afford our services. While we never turned anyone away, it was not until a probation officer approached us to develop a program for the justice- involved women in Chester County that we felt compelled to adopt on a new mission – making this ground-breaking mental health treatment accessible to anyone who needs it. In 2015, we started the nonprofit, Gateway HorseWorks.
While the research in this animal-assisted field is compelling, it is limited. Small studies demonstrate strong positive effects, but there has only been one meta-analysis. Therefore, insurance companies have yet to cover equine-assisted psychotherapy with meaningful reimbursable rates, if at all. Thus, the people best-served by and most in need of these trauma-informed services, i.e. those with high ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) scores, lack the means to access them.
Over the years, Gateway HorseWorks has strived to circumnavigate this hurdle. We have designed and developed seven trauma-informed community programs, free to participants, in collaboration with an amazing group of like-minded donors, foundations, organizations and government institutions. In collaboration with Dr. Buck and Dr. Bean, we published a white paper in a mainstream peer-reviewed journal, Advances in Social Work, with an intention to introduce Social Workers to equine-assisted psychotherapy as an emerging trauma-informed intervention. We continue to explore partnerships with local universities & health systems that further our goal in contributing to the global research base on equine- assisted psychotherapy with an eye towards accessibility for all.
While we feel like we have made progress in tackling a few of the external obstacles to accessing equine-assisted psychotherapy, we also recognize we have so much more work to do from within the organization. Our Board of Directors does not yet adequately represent the clients and communities we serve. Our recently completed micro-consulting project with Compass puts forth a Board development strategy to recruit, engage, and empower new diverse leadership within Gateway HorseWorks. Additionally, we are designing and developing an internship program aimed at training the next generation of Equine Specialists and Mental Health Professionals, focused on empowering Black, Indigenous, and People of Color to break into this field.
As we commit to creating a culture of inclusion from within, we will continue to learn from our community and our horses. It is no secret that horses are an elite experience. And yet, horses don’t know that they are part of the leisurely, privileged lives of predominantly white people. Our herd of mostly rescue horses continues to meet people where they are, as they are, and provide a clean slate for our clients to explore healing relationships through metaphor.
As Gateway HorseWorks continues expanding, we are committed to dismantling the lack of accessibility to equine-assisted psychotherapy with sustained intention. It is clear now more than ever that we need to secure a “forever farm.” Last fall, when the farm we were working out of sold and we were forced to rent a temporary farm, we were turned away from several viable properties. This reinforces the need to purchase a farm to ensure our work can continue, and we can come together in support of our clients' inherit, earned right to heal from unimaginable trauma. We are grateful to all of you who continue to support our work and stand with us as we make this vision a reality.
We invite your ideas, suggestions, and feedback as we listen to Black voices so that we may continue to grow and develop as an organization. We each have a responsibility to do better, and we are grateful for your help in doing so.