In the past 15 years, STAT Ligonier Therapeutic Center, Inc. has grown from helping families find funding for equine therapy to providing year-round equine assisted learning (EAL) and hippotherapy.
Continuing that growth, Catherine Markosky, executive director of STAT, has been working to expand who it helps with its own program – the STAT, Inc. EQuine Affect(TM).
The EQuine Affect program was developed by Catherine and Dr. Mel Jenkins-Fernández, and is based on the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck. The six-week adolescent program provides individual and small group classes working with horses to promote a positive mindset and emotional intelligence.
Catherine said EQuine Affect’s adolescent program will serve between 100 to 150 kids during the year. STAT is also working to adapt the program to serve its other clients, including adults and veterans.
When STAT began, its focus was on medical rehabilitation, hippotherapy – hippo being the Greek word for horse.
But over the past few years it has offered more and more services related to mental health. All of the staff is trained in trauma informed care.
Along with helping people recover from the effects of past trauma, the staff at STAT regularly assists those with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Today, STAT employs six mental health specialists, two speech therapists, one physical therapist, a psychologist and it just hired a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) certified therapeutic riding instructor.
“We have become so busy we have outgrown our 24 Stom Road location,” Catherine said.
In need of a bigger place, STAT purchased the soon-to-be Pleasant Meadow Ranch, a work and event venue for continued classes and rehabilitation. The space, just down the road from where they are now, will also provide an enclosed space for fundraising events for STAT or be rented out for corporate and personal events, providing the local nonprofit organization with a revenue stream outside of donations and grants.
While the shell of the building has been up since March, Catherine estimates it will cost another $600,000 to finish everything.
And it’s not just space that STAT needs.
Earlier this month, STAT put out a call for more horses. To keep up with its growth, Catherine said she needs three more horses that can work well with the special populations STAT helps.
In a matter of days, people from all over reached out to her and during the past few weeks she’s been evaluating horses that could possibly join the 15 other equines STAT has.
Although Catherine said some of her business plan for STAT is “pie in the sky,” with the help of others, the organization has been able to meet goals and grow – exceeding her expectations.
Over the years, STAT has not only helped the hundreds of people but Catherine and her family as well.
She was introduced to equine therapy when it was recommended for her son Mason, who has cerebral palsy from a traumatic birth injury and was diagnosed with Costello Syndrome, a rare genetic disease, when he was 10 years old.
“(Mason) was stiff from the trauma he endured, he couldn’t bend at the waist,” Catherine said.
Her family had been told Mason would never walk but after getting him on a horse as part of his physical therapy, he began taking steps with the assistance of a walker.
Mason, now 22, still rides every week, Catherine said. Her son Max, who is autistic, also rides. His first words – “Go faster,” – were on a horse when he was 6 years old.
And when her teenage daughter, Maggie, was still suffering from the effects of a concussion and Catherine couldn’t find a physical therapist available, it was STAT’s therapist and horses that helped Maggie recover.
Seeing what equine therapy has done for her children, Catherine tells families coming to STAT her story in an effort to give them hope.
“It’s not an impossible hope either,” she said. “Mason is a great example of that hope.”
Even Catherine has been helped by the equines at STAT and throughout her training.
While at one certification program, Catherine and her classmates were roleplaying a mock session. Catherine took on the role of the patient. When asked what had been troubling her the most, she replied honestly.
“I said, ‘I feel like I am suffocating,’” Catherine said.
She explained to them she felt like her life was raising her kids and nothing much else outside of it. Her classmates told her it sounded like she wanted freedom.
“They said, ‘Go out and find your freedom,’ and pointed to the donkeys and ponies,” she said.
Catherine didn’t know what they were talking about but she went out, first walking up to a “sweet and fuzzy” pony who just listened to her “talking silly” to it.
The next equine was a big, black mare. No matter what toy Catherine picked up to play with, the mare wanted nothing to do with her.
She moved on and found one in need of scratch. Taking care of the scratch, Catherine began giving little tickles. When she was done, she turned and started balling.
“They all had a trait, like my kids,” Catherine said.
Mason was the super sweet one and Maggie, now a teenager, was the mare who didn’t want the attention even though she was trying to play. And Max always enjoys his mother’s tickles.
Catherine said she was crying because she realized she was the one causing that suffocating feeling.
“Since then, I have never felt that feeling of suffocation ever again,” she said. “All those bad, resentful feelings before was gone.”
It’s a moment that is personal to Catherine but something she hopes the horses at STAT can replicate for others.
“It’s the horse, we are merely facilitators” Catherine said. “That’s what I want for people who come to STAT … leave your pain here.”
Catherine said she has been on a path with many difficulties in life – from living with the stress and worry of raising two children with special needs, to surviving breast cancer. But all she has come to experience has prepared her for what she is doing with STAT.
“God has set me up to do this, to put me on this path,” she said. “And my son is the reason I found my path.”
Joe Wells can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-537-3351 Ext. 30.