WRITER | LISA BECKER CAMPBELL
PHOTO | NORTHERN MICHIGAN EQUINE THERAPY
Horses, hope, and healing. These three things live in harmony at Northern Michigan Equine Therapy, an outpatient rehabilitation facility in Boyne City that harnesses the unique healing power of horsemanship as a therapeutic tool. The nonprofit, which started with one woman and one horse, will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2022.
“Looking back at all we have accomplished over the last decade, we are so excited for what lies ahead,” stated Courtney Sumpter, founder of Northern Michigan Equine Therapy (NMET).
“Our staff is extremely dedicated to the future of NMET. Our goals are to provide services to larger numbers within our community by adding additional therapy service staff; to provide leadership development opportunities; and to empower and educate those interested in providing services with horses on a larger scale.”
“Horses are magnificent creatures, and interacting with them can bring hope when all seems lost,” said Sumpter. “Horses give us purpose. Without judgment, horses allow us to practice working through anxieties and stressful situations that can relate to everyday life with calm and confidence.”
The occupational therapy and hippotherapy services are evidence-based and performed by licensed professionals. They benefit many health issues, from autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, traumatic brain injury, Down syndrome, scoliosis, and more. Often, individuals who have not found success with other treatment options succeed beyond expectations at NMET.
“We have seen amazing response with clients meeting their goals in significantly less time than with traditional therapy,” Sumpter continued. “Some people are surprised to learn that even individuals who are visually impaired benefit from equine therapy just as much if not more than those without a visual impairment. The farm and horses provide a multisensory experience while building an emotional bond with a powerful animal that can sync its heart rate with ours.”
In addition to the occupational therapy services, NMET provides a mental health program, HorseSense. HorseSense provides social-emotional therapy from anger management to coping skills. The program aids in alleviating anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Through the agency’s Sexual Assault Victim Advocacy, NMET helps to ease inner struggles for these victims.
A dedicated board and a few staff members spearhead the organization, so volunteers are always needed. NMET offers a variety of volunteer activities depending upon a person’s interests and abilities, as an individual or as part of a group. Service clubs, youth groups, school groups, church groups, and other organizations are encouraged to participate in community service projects. Volunteer opportunities include the hands-on tasks of cleaning stalls and paddocks, performing facility repairs, and more.
Those interested in assisting directly with equine-assisted therapy sessions can volunteer as side walkers, who assist with mounting/dismounting and walk beside the rider (one on each side) to maintain balance and control. Side walkers also help to interpret the directions given by the therapist. Training is provided and required for all volunteer positions that work directly with clients and horses.
For those interested in helping by donating, there are several ways to make tax-deductible charitable contributions. Gifts can be made to fund the vital scholarship program or even to sponsor a specific horse.
Facts to consider when donating:
-The average yearly cost of caring for one horse is $2,804. The cost of hay alone is $552 (one horse eats about 125 square bales a year).
-The average cost of a HorseSense therapy session package is $400, and a Hippotherapy session package costs $750.
“We ask our clients to contribute what they can, but no one is turned away because of the inability to pay. Sponsorship support is available.” Sumpter said.
NMET holds several fundraising events throughout the calendar year, including the beloved annual Sleigh Rides to the North Pole in December.
“We always encourage visits to our social media pages for current news and event updates as well as a lot of fun horse content!”
A Brief History
Courtney Sumpter, M.S., a licensed and registered occupational therapist, was determined to make a difference in her small community and began offering an alternative treatment using a horse‘s movement to enhance therapy. With her horse, Tank, and their first physician-prescribed client, Northern Michigan Equine Therapy began work out of Shadow Creek Stables in Petoskey.
A Detroit-area native, Sumpter began her career with horses teaching therapeutic horseback riding lessons at the nationally recognized Cheff Therapeutic Riding Center in Augusta (near Kalamazoo), one of the founding centers for equine-assisted activities and hippotherapy.
Northern Michigan Equine Therapy
502 Church Road, Boyne City MI 49712
(231) 881-5590 l NMEquine.org