Meet Judy Hendon, Director of Equessense Therapeutic Horse Play.
Way back in 1975 Judy’s experience working with individuals with a wide variety of special needs began. Her educational background includes a Summa Cum Laud B.A. in Social Work/Sociology with an emphasis on counseling and methods of intervention. She also earned a Summa Cum Laud Master’s of Education in Special Education with an endorsement in behavior disorders and autism. Her educational accomplishments are the direct result of what began as an apparent tragedy. In 1974 she had a son, Jeremiah Daniel, who was diagnosed with profound brain damage and wasn’t expected to walk, talk, learn or even sit up unless he was strapped in a wheel chair.
The attending medical community discarded her son initially because his condition seemed “hopeless” and he was not expected to live more than a few years. Being the maverick that she is, she refused to accept that prognosis and launched an all-consuming search for alternative models of intervention. It was these life-altering events that lead her to the work she is doing now. Among other activities and therapies, the horses helped Jeremy develop balance, strength, stamina, coordination, right-left symmetry, reflexes, self-confidence and endless other benefits.
Today he is a functional single-parent who lives independently, works and supports himself and his family without social-service assistance of any kind. Obviously, Judy believes in miracles. Although she had witnessed the positive role that horses played in Jeremiah’s life she had never considered launching a program to help other people until 1990.
It was then that she allowed a gravely emotionally disturbed pre-adolescent girl to get on one of her horses against the misgivings of the child’s care taker. To the surprise of everyone present a mysterious and miraculous transformation took place as they watched. The child’s whole demeanor changed from frenzied to calm, from defiant to compliant. This little girl’s emotional disturbance was so severe that she had a full-time care-giver and required home-bound educational services because she was a danger to herself and others.
Judy and the horses began to spend time with this young woman for whom multiple models of intervention had failed. Within a year she was able to attend public school at a self-contained campus. The following year she returned to her home campus with a few special education classes.
Judy Hendon discovered, quite by accident that horses make wonderful therapists that can offer a specific, healing solution for virtually any special need a rider might have. To learn more about therapeutic horsemanship, she apprenticed for three years at the Saddle Light Equestrian-therapy Center from 1991-1993. In 1994 she began to use her own horses to operate a therapeutic riding program from her home. Since then Judy testifies that she has been humbled and blessed to have been a part of innumerable life-changing experiences.
The staff at Equessense has seen language-impaired kids develop communication skills; victims of child-abuse emancipate a repressed memory to begin healing from early childhood trauma. The horses teach emotionally disturbed individuals to control their temper and express their feelings appropriately. Kids with behavior disorders learn discipline from these natural behaviorists. They give unconditional acceptance to those who feel rejected. They help tactile-defensive children learn that it is okay to touch unfamiliar things.
Parents watch in amazement as their child defied medical prognoses and can sit independently. A child with autism uses a first person pronoun for the first time–he finally has a “ME”. The group work done there fosters communication, trust and team building with kids and teens that have emotionally and mentally “checked out”. They build rapport with teens that are resistant to traditional therapeutic models. These heroic animals have even brought riders from the depths of despair to change their mind about committing suicide. Under the supervision of a trained facilitator, the horses become gifted teachers, sensitive therapists and trusted friends.
Equessense is a grass-roots program spawned out of a growing need for alternative therapy and inclusive recreational opportunities for atypical individuals. Their purpose, their focus and their very mission is to utilize our horses to enhance the lives of exceptional people and give them opportunities to shine. The trained and dedicated staff of volunteers are extremely invested in helping every rider reach his or her highest potential while engaged in a rewarding, rich experience. The horses there are gentle and loving. The country atmosphere is very therapeutic. The healing potential of this work is beyond limits.