A beautiful fall day in November took me to a magical place where horses help heal people. EquiTeam Support Services is a farm tucked into the beautiful countryside of York County and it is where horses help to restore health and well being.
EquiTeam Support Services is a non-profit organization that is the vision of Ellie Williams. She runs this highly successful farm that offers Eagala model equine therapy in Pennsylvania and the northern areas of Maryland just over the Pennsylvania border.
Ellie’s background as an equestrian and her love for helping others became the blueprint for this wonderful organization. She has an advanced degree from Shippensburg University and is a board certified professional counselor. She is also ADVANCED-certified in EAGALA Model Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy/Learning (EAP/EAL), and an EAGALA Military Services Provider, EAGALA Mentor and a certified Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy Practitioner.
It was my distinct pleasure to spend time with Susan Scott who is a therapist that works with Executive Director, Ellie Williams.
Susan found her way to EquiTeam as a college intern from Millersville University and after graduation, continued on as a full time team member. Highly credentialed and well educated, she continues to learn from her teacher and mentor in Williams.
She explained that education and certification is an ongoing requirement and necessity in this position and funding for it is very expensive. They are always actively working on grants and fundraising opportunities for the farm and as individuals to be able to provide the top notch level of care and assistance that they do with the Eagala model equine assisted therapies.
Before therapy can even begin, it must start with the right team and the horses that make the best fit for the program.
They currently have three mini horses and five other horses that make up the equine team for the program. Of the five horses two are relatively new and being evaluated to see if they will make the grade. After seeing them together in the paddock, it seems that the potential does exist!
Susan explained that it is necessary for the horse to be healthy and of calm demeanor and personality. The ideal horses usually come to the farm through connections that Williams has in the horse industry with some coming to her for second or even third careers. The care and training that they receive at EquiTeam is of the highest standards. They receive hoof care, dental and vet care at regular intervals and when it is time for them to retire from their role at the farm they are all rehomed to a proper forever home. Horses working day to day in the therapy world and that are trained for use with the Eagala equine therapy model, experience days that are intense. They deal with so many types of clients with varying backgrounds and skill levels and they put in very full days so it is a priority that they all receive only the very best of care.
The facility itself is situated in the rolling countryside of York County. Mountainside views and a quiet private setting provide an ideal backdrop for clients. Confidentiality is a must and staff that work there go through very rigorous background and security checks plus and also need to have the education and experience to be part of the team. Eventual certification in the therapeutic modalities is required. Maintaining privacy and client confidence is crucial and is strictly observed and adhered to.
The barn, the paddocks, offices, client areas and kitchen are all immaculate with not a blade of grass or straw out of place. The owners of the property are part of the Board of Directors and live on site. They play a major role in keeping the farm operations and administration well managed. From the farm administration, horsemanship, housekeeping, barn standards, pasture keeping and beyond are all done so expertly by this team.
The team also includes a seasoned stable manager with an extensive background in horse experience and knowledge to keep things running smoothly.
The clients they serve come from many walks of life and this also includes a highly effective program that they have for the military. EquiTeam offers services to private companies and groups and the groups are welcome to come for tours and/ or private retreats. The retreats have been proven to be highly effective for dealing with employee burnout.
Another segment of the population that is served is those that are dealing with or suffering from the effects of the opioid crisis. The trauma that has arisen in people that have been affected by this crisis continues to grow at alarming rates. The use of the Eagala model equine therapy been proven to be a prized resource of assistance for clients that have suffered as a consequence of the crises.
The priority for communities to keep the opioid crisis at bay or at very least – manageable is a huge task and it takes a tremendous amount of resources to keep it from growing and manifesting more than it already has. The first step is to recognize and seek avenues of assistance that can help. EquiTeam offers specialized services that can be used to offset the trauma that many have suffered from as a result of this formidable crisis.
Services offered are customized for the client. Communication and trust are the cornerstones for the effectiveness and success of the program. In addition, training is provided for the caregivers of the clients so that work done on the farm with the horses continues in the home environments of the client. This is to assure continuity of the treatments. Caregivers that have an insight and awareness into the problem and how to respond appropriately can greatly help to keep the treatments intact in the long range.
The organization specialty is primarily groundwork therapy for the clients and horses. Horses are “humanized” in their role with the clients to help them identify the problem through a series of steps. The hardest part is identifying the problem and then moving toward the end goal which is to take the necessary action to solve the problem that the client has or is suffering from. Clients observe the horses and then choose the horse that they identify most with. Therapists then help the clients work using different therapy techniques and scenarios to get closer to the action stages once problem identification has taken place. As the therapy moves forward, roles the horses take on may shift and change.
EquiTeam therapists are certified and trained to use the EAGALA Model Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy/Learning (EAP/EAL) and this model is also the world wide standard.
EGALA Model Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy involves the therapist, client and horse working together. Using the four pillars : (Pre Problem) Problem Awareness (Preparing to Act) Taking Actions toward the end goal.
EAGALA Model Equine-Assisted Learning is a hands-on experiential process that allows natural interaction between humans and horses.
Another modality used is:
DDP– Dyadic Development Psychotherapy (DDP) is a specialized treatment for children diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) or who have experienced developmental trauma.
Neurofeedback – Technology that uses computers to measure brain waves. Seeing the waves on a screen helps identify where the unbalanced reactions may be. Susan demonstrated the placement of the electrodes and showed the computer screen images of the brain waves.
Securing funding for the programs offered is vital to the success they enjoy. The team under Williams actively participates in fundraising efforts to help with the costs. They do extensive grant work for funding and work with Federal and State resources for assistance too. Private donations and sponsorship are needed and welcomed. By working very closely with agencies in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania under the Governor’s office they can assist with client referrals. Performance measures that are successful are a requirement for receiving funding so they are continually improving and learning to keep the bar set high.
Awards and Recognition:
EquiTeam is one of only eleven organizations in more than 700 EAGALA programs worldwide that have been awarded the Distinguished Program Member designation, and they are an official EAGALA Military Services Provider.
EquiTeam was also included in a documentary – Journey Back to Normal A Look at Complementary Therapies to Combat PTSD. There was a screening of this award winning documentary in Harrisburg in September 2019. A huge honor and the event was well attended.
Most recently, EquiTeam’s therapy horse Bulletproof, was recognized as the award winning 2019 Therapy Horse of the Year by the Pennsylvania National Horse Show Foundation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Bulletproof set the highest standard of excellence in his role as an their equine therapy horse. His ability to interact so well with his clients while learning the techniques that embody the EAGALA Model Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy/Learning (EAP/EAL) process second to none. The value that Bulletproof beings to the program and services offered is tremendous and of great importance to the community he serves.
This special honor is awarded in October each year and is coveted by many. Bulletproof only on the job for short time and was able to work with new techniques suggested by Temple Grandin.
Left: Ellie Williams – Right: Temple Grandin
Ms. Grandin had visited Equiteam and made a suggestion to try something new with their clients. They gave it a try with Bulletproof and he did an outstanding job and this has helped his clients. Bulletproof is also a personal favorite with military clients as well. He excels so strongly in his job and does so with quiet distinction. Very attentive in all the ways that make a difference.
It was an honor to meet Ellie Williams, spend time with Susan Scott and meet the entire equine staff!
The work they do is crucial and serves many. They face challenges and work hard to meet them head on as they move forward. They have big plans to expand their network so that they can continue to increase the needed support to the community they serve. Anyone who wishes to help support them in their mission may do so through voluntary donations of funding, equipment and helping them spread the word about all the wonderful things they do.
They also have therapy bunnies, a therapy cat and a therapy dog that round out the team. The services that these animals provide are so vital.
If you or anyone you know is in need of their services simply contact EquiTeam at:
EquiTeam Support Services
1200 South Pleasant Ave.
Dallastown, PA 17313
Ellie Williams, MS, NCC, LPC, BCPC
Phone: (717) 309-2873
Fax: (717) 244-7184
An online referral form is available at this link too:
My visit to EquiTeam is a valuable learning experience. My impression of equine therapy and what it actually is has opened up a new door to learning. Horses give so much to the human connection. Bulletproof has made an everlasting impression on me!
Horses spend their entire lives learning and doing for their owners and never missing a beat in the process. We owe them so much. I love horses and seeing how they learn and help others takes my love for them to a whole new level.
Many heartfelt thanks to Ellie Williams for allowing me to have this personal and inside look into the world of Eagala model equine therapy and to Susan Scott for all the time she took to explain everything in detail.
I would also like to thank Susie Webb with the Pennsylvania National Horse Show who suggested helping the Horse Show Foundation with the Therapy Horse of the Year Award when I was interested in sponsoring. The road has led to such an incredible journey that I can only continue to learn from!
I express my sincere gratitude to my talented friend and photographer, Beth Hovenstine who offers her services for the blogs that I share. Beth is a Dauphin County resident and she is the devoted Mom to two precious cats. She retired from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from her position in the Office of Developmental Programs and assisting with blog projects that show the wonderful things that animals can do and her love for them is dear to her heart.
Bulletproof – Pennsylvania National Horse Show’s 2019 Therapy Horse of the Year!
Congratulations on your fine achievement!!
Photography credits for the farm areas, Equiteam staff, animals and 2019 Pennsylvania National Horse Show Award ceremony: Beth Hovenstine
Photography credits for photographs of Ellie Williams shown with Temple Grandin: York College.
Sources: Ellie Williams, EquiTeam Executive Director, Susan Scott, Therapist, EquiTeam
Internet resource: https://www.equiteam.org/