On the first day of summer, the four stars of the show at Melissa Hamlett’s new horse therapy business, Unbridled Potential, try to beat the heat. Ringo is at the fence looking for a snout rub. Denali is on the left, while the pony Silver and her big friend TJ also enjoy the shade during last week’s hot weather. Darin Wipperman/The Littleton Courier. (click for larger version)
June 27, 2012LITTLETON — Melissa Hamlett, Founder and Director of Unbridled Potential, likes to empower clients one hoof at a time. Her new horse therapy business will work with clients to serve recreational and therapeutic needs. Use of horses to help humans in such ways is often referred to as equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT).
Horses become the partners of people who use EAAT services. The therapy offers ways to improve emotional well-being and health in both children and adults.
Hamlett intends to have an open house next month so the community can see the property – and meet the horses.
The horses are set to provide EAAT services at Hamlett's location, 429 Old Partridge Road. Earlier this year the zoning board unanimously approved Hamlett's request for a special exemption to establish Unbridled Potential.
With degrees in Social Work, Hamlett has long thought about melding her academic training and love of horses into an EAAT business. The planning stage has taken several years, but she looks forward to offering equine therapy to the North Country.
Hamlett currently plans to use four horses as part of the business: TJ, Denali, Silver, and Ringo. Hamlett owned Ringo before college. She repurchased him after college, and is really happy to have him back.
Denali, a rescue horse, matches Ringo's friendly demeanor, but seems to have more of a shy personality. Hamlett noted that Denali is "very, very sensitive to your emotions." This is considered an asset in offering EAAT opportunities to people.
Hamlett considers TJ, the biggest of her horses, a "gentle giant." He spent his early days working and competing. Hamlett said that TJ "loves trail riding."
The pony Silver was bought for the third birthday of Hamlett's daughter. Silver is a "typical pony," Hamlett said. "She's mischievous."
Hamlett said that each of the horses has unique characteristics. This helps to offer different types of therapy opportunities. "They all have distinct personalities," she said, "but they work well as a group."
Hamlett said that the first step for a potential client is an assessment of needs. This initial meeting allows for individuals to meet the horses. She would also use the opportunity to discuss their interests. The consultation is designed to identify the individual's particular needs.
In some cases, medical clearance may be necessary. Hamlett said she wants everyone to have the best therapy experience without risks. "I don't want it to be unsafe for them," she said.
Horse therapy can work for many people. Young children can receive great enjoyment from the self-esteem that can be gained from time with horses. This can include kids who have been bullied, who suffer health problems, or who need morale boosts for any reason.
Hamlett believes her business can serve diverse client needs. Veterans are a particular group she hopes to reach through EAAT services. With a father and brother with Air Force service, she wants to help the veteran population who may be interested in the therapy potential of her horses.
Although riding can be a key type of therapy, Hamlett said that some treatments amount to "using the horse as a tool." These types of sessions could teach children or adults how to perform tasks that build confidence and offer emotional development.
Since town approval, Hamlett has found support from the community. "We've got great neighbors," she said. She respected the concerns that some had about the possible environmental impact of the business. "It's definitely a beautiful area, and we don't want to compromise it," she said.
She also hopes to offer some creative ways for people to fund their therapy experience. There may even be potential for use of bartering in certain cases.
Although only using private payment options in the beginning, Hamlett plans to set up billing arrangements with insurance plans. She noted that EAAT can be a covered medical service. Some physical or occupational therapy treatments can be done with horses, Hamlett said. This is called hippotherapy.
Plans for property improvements are also in the works. Within a few years, Hamlett intends to build another structure to facilitate certain therapy sessions.
Her main focus, though, is starting to provide services without worrying about building a large operation right away. Hamlett said she "would rather start up small and offer a quality program . . . We'll start off slow and build it."
There is potential for volunteer work at the property. Volunteers can help around the barn or perform some services with the horses, like walking or grooming. Hamlett hopes to work with schools to facilitate community service opportunities for students.
Individuals can also sponsor horses. This would provide funds to feed and care for the animals.
Hamlett noted the assistance she has received from WREN and other organizations. This helps with "learning the business piece," Hamlett said. She hopes that in a year Unbridled Potential will have non-profit status.
Hamlett is also working on the certification program from the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH). This entity's certification focuses on safety and creating the best possible outcomes for clients. Hamlett said that the certification includes numerous steps. The standards that must be met are part of a 130-page manual.
Unbridled Potential's website is http://unbridledpotentialthp.com. Those interested in learning more about therapy possibilities or volunteering can contact Hamlett at 496-2852 or Melissa@UnbridledPotentialTHP.com.