Hoof Prints on the Heart

N.J. therapy program leaves 'Hoof Prints on the Heart'

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Above: Maverick, a Shire horse and member of the Hoof Prints on the Heart, equine therapy team is shown from the left with, Jacki Huntertpfund, Jennifer Tevlin, Jim Boehm, Nicholas Streltsov and Walter Cooper.

By Jane Meggitt | For NJ Advance Media 
on May 31, 2016 at 10:16 AM

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     Those who have been around horses for years know that they leave hoof prints on the heart, but now individuals working through personal and emotional challenges will learn what horses can do for people therapeutically through the Hoof Prints on the Heart program.
     Based at Golden Gait Farm in Millstone Township, Hoof Prints on the Heart's program is designed for veterans, and adults and children experiencing feelings of depression, anxiety and isolation, according to executive director Jenni Tevlin.
     Tevlin is a nationally and New Jersey-certified counselor, with master's degrees in animal science and psychological counseling. She became certified through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International as an equine specialist in mental health and learning and a therapeutic riding instructor in 2013. She  developed and taught the first graduate course in animal-assisted Therapy for Monmouth University's psychological counseling program in 2014, and continues to teach her course, 'Animal Assisted Therapy in Counseling', as an adjunct professor, each fall. Tevlin also developed and teaches a similar class, 'Animal-Assisted Therapy' as a part-time lecturer in the Rutgers University undergraduate animal sciences department
       Last year, Tevlin lost her "dream horse," Daisy, when the 15-year-old mare collapsed and died of an aneurysm when being brought in from the field. Jacki Hundertpfund, the owner of Golden Gait Farm, said that Tevlin went into a funk after the mare's death, so she and Tevlin's husband Bill hatched a plan. They found a young Shire gelding online, had the horse vetted, bought it and gave "Sir Maverick" to Tevlin as a surprise. The 5-year-old is now 17.3 hands tall, and Tevlin's goal is to eventually compete at the beginner novice level in eventing with him.
     Tevlin trains with Wendy Lewis, who is based at Golden Gait. Maverick is also in training as a therapy horse for Hoof Prints on the Heart. "He has a docile nature," said Tevlin. "He's massive, but gentle." The other therapy horses currently in the program are Blue, a 22-year-old paint gelding whom Tevlin adopted from the therapeutic riding organization Special People United to Ride (SPUR) after he could no longer handle riders. Hundertpfund owns Kodak, a 7-year-old paint mare who just adores people.
     As the program expands, Tevlin plans to use horses no longer capable of riding or showing but who have the temperament necessary to make a good equine-assisted therapy animal. She notes that many of these horses end up at auction and bad ends when no longer useful for riding, but they can still have an important job as therapy horses. "Their only job is to teach people how to love them and cope with individual problems in a peaceful serene environment," she said.
     Tevlin's son, Nicholas Streltsov, 11, has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Nicholas, a sixth-grader at Eisenhower Middle School, had a school essay assignment in which he had to describe a person or an animal. He chose to write about Blue, describing the two of them as soul mates.  Nick was bullied in his earlier years at school, but Blue helped him get past that. "He accepted me," said Nick. "Now I'm not bullied and school is great."
Vietnam War veterans Jim Boehm, 67, of Howell, N.J. and Walter Cooper, 66, of Jackson, N.J. both suffer from PTSD.  They were two of six participants in a five-day program run by Tevlin at SPUR, in Middletown. The program was the result of a grant from PATH, Rutgers University, Monmouth University and SPUR.
     Cooper said that since he's been working with horses, he's sleeping better and less agitated and angry. "I never realized before how big and strong [horses] are, but gentle and they know what you're thinking," he said. Cooper adds that he needs both knees replaced, but when he was with the horse, he could walk it in the ring for an hour. Boehm said that being around horses helps control his anxiety, and alleviates his sleep disorder. "In the five days I was seeing the horses, I slept soundly and fell asleep quickly," he said.

For more information about Hoof Prints on the Heart, visit their website . The organization is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit, and all donations are tax-deductible.

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