Courageous Hearts: Horsepower empowers people

4 HORSES kassidy Brown kissing horse

Kassidy Brown of Milton, a volunteer at Courageous Hearts, plants a kiss on the nose of one of the horses in the equine assisted psychotherapy and personal development therapeutic model.

LINCOLN — Horses at Little Bit Acres do not pull plows.

They are not groomed for racing.

In a metaphorical role, they are the four-hoofed animals whose healing power encourages human participants to grow emotionally, spiritually and soulfully.

“It is a mental health program,” said Rosemary Baughman, executive director of Courageous Hearts: Where Horses Empower People. “We do not ride our horses at all. It is not about horses at all. They are used completely as a metaphor. The reason being for that is horses are very much like humans and they are very intuitive.”

Equine assisted psychotherapy and personal development is a solution-focused, strengths-based therapeutic model. It incorporates horses experientially to facilitate emotional growth and learning.

“We bring folks out into the arena to address treatment or learning goals, such as possibly ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), relationship goals, trauma and resiliency skills,” said Ms. Baughman. “We do team discoveries with businesses as well.”

The mission Ms. Baughman says is “we create specific activities to address whatever the goal is. And then we analyze it and we chat with our participants so they can find their own answers.”

On April 26, Little Bit Acres celebrated its first year at the 10.5-acre pasture/barn ponderosa via September Way off Fitzgerald Road near U.S. 113. The operation previously was based at Agro Corners in Slaughter Beach.

4 Courageous Hearts ribbon

Courageous Hearts last week held a ribbon-cutting in celebration of its first year at its Little Bit Acres location in Lincoln.

Since 2012, Courageous Hearts has assisted more than 1,000 people, both youth and adults throughout the state of Delaware.

Among those sold on Courageous Hearts’ results is Dr. Kimberly Gerardi, a psychiatrist with Dover Behavioral Health.

In just a few months her 13-year-old son has experienced noticeable progress in dealing with oppressive compulsion disorder that surfaced when he was 11, she said.

“We tried various other things. We took him to one of my colleagues and a couple counselors. They were very kind but he wouldn’t engage with them,” Dr. Gerardi said. “OCD has been very crippling to our family. It is very difficult, because I practice psychiatry. I found Rosemary in December of 2015. We’ve been coming since then. They are a true blessing.”

Ms. Baughman, a licensed mental health clinician who has been in mental field 25 years, said the one piece that is really important is “that what we adhere to is the EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) model. What that model adheres to is there is always two facilitators in the arena. One is a licensed mental health clinician because it is a mental health problem. And there is an equine specialist who is very skilled at what they do and has had training. And a horse or horses. We are trained in the model as well as experts in our own particular field.”

The Baughman family’s connection with horses stemmed from their young daughter’s desire to ride horses.

Gov. Jack Markell attended the ribbon-cutting at the one-year Little Bit Acres celebration.

“One of the things I love most about my job is that I get to learn something new every day. And I am learning something new in connection with what you are doing,” said Gov. Markell, whose mother, now 90, was a social worker for 30 years. “All of us have to be humble. If we approach life and our lives with sense of humility and we are open to new ideas and new things it is amazing what we can learn. And it’s amazing what we can accomplish. I think this is a great example.”

4 Courageous Hearts rosemary with horse

Rosemary Baughman with one of the horses at Courageous Hearts.

Courageous Hearts began in 2012 as a part-time operation, mostly after-school programming. Then the state of Delaware came on board.

“The state was super excited. They took a chance on us in 2013. They gave us a very small after-school grant. They loved what we did in four months and renewed the grant for three years,” Ms. Baughman said. “We went from three afternoons a week to five afternoons a week, roughly 50 students a week at that point.”

Courageous Hearts has now graduated from grant funding to a contract with the state.

“We contract for outpatient counseling. We are now seeing kids,” said Ms. Baughman. “The Department of Developmental Disabilities now contracts with us for mental health, equine assisted psychotherapy as well.”

So does the Criminal Justice Council, in efforts to reduce recidivism rates.

“We have programming in all three juvenile detention centers. We bring the horses to them,” said Ms. Baughman.

Criminal Justice programming includes resiliency, boundaries, cooperation, respect, responsibility, choices and consequences,” she said.

Courageous Hearts has also teamed with Delaware Hospice, local businesses and Dover Air Force Base.

“Don’t pigeon hole us because we also do team resiliency and that is a big piece: women’s retreats, couples’ retreats, parenting things,” said Ms. Baughman. “Dover Air Force Base came down, their mortuary unit, and it was really powerful for resiliency skills. They did a day retreat. That is not mental health. That is a learning goal, a resiliency goal.”

Therapy addresses fear factor.

“The horses are always loose. Often fear is involved. Walking into an arena with a horse can be fearful. And as you walk through that experience it helps empower you in other times of your life where fear is part of your life,” said Ms. Baughman.

Little Bit Acres is home to six horses and two donkeys. Some were donated. Some are rescues.

“Some of them have a history of trauma. They are rescues for different reasons. That is why we think they are good healers because they have their own stories to tell,” said Ms. Baughman.

Those animals are now on the other side of the fence.

“Horses are very healing in their own right. However, we are holding everything to a much higher standard in this model,” Ms. Baughman said. “We believe our participants that come to us have their own answers and our role is to help them find them.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at

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