Deven Welch, a student at Western Foothills Regional Program in Rumford, prepares to work with a horse March 8 at Boondocks Farm in Canton while owner Mary Wainwright watches. Six students from the school receive equine therapy lessons weekly from Wainwright, a licensed clinical social worker. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

CANTON — Six middle school students at the Western Foothills Regional School in Rumford are learning about emotions, trust, physical boundaries and assertiveness through equine therapy at Boondocks Farm in Canton.

“Equine therapy is a research-based therapeutic model to support people recovering from trauma and learning emotional awareness and self-regulation skills,” Crystal Duguay, director of the alternative school in Regional School Unit 10, said March 7. The weekly sessions since mid-January have helped two students make “significant progress,” she said.

Farm owner Mary Wainwright, a licensed clinical social worker, said students are “working on their skills base, mindfulness, emotional regulation, and trust and connections.”

Middle school student Zoey Cothron from the Western Foothills Regional Program in Rumford receives instruction March 8 from Shay Sayer, an employee at Boondocks Farm in Canton. Cothron is one of six students attending weekly equine therapy sessions to support people recovering from trauma and learn emotional awareness and self-regulation skills. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

On March 8, students Deven Welch, Zoey Cothron and one who did not want to be identified, begin lessons with Sammy, a gentle palomino. Farm employee Shay Sayer encourages them to stroke the large 16-year-old and notice how they are feeling and how the horse appears to be feeling.

Sayer asked Welch which of the farm’s four horses is his favorite. Phoenix, a rescue horse in his 20s, is his favorite “because I trust him, and I think he trusts me.”

The unnamed student said trust comes from bonding and connecting with the horse.


Cothron described how the horse’s chewing and ears tell her Phoenix feels calm.

Another horse, Jax, helps them learn about physical boundaries and how and when to be assertive, Wainwright said.

As the students take turns giving commands to gallop around the arena, some are met resistance.

“Jax will challenge you guys,” Wainwright reminded them.

The equine therapy program is funded by Friends of the River Valley, an organization founded in 2021 by John and Darby Beliveau. It focuses on providing community-based, tangible solutions to help improve nutrition, wellness and education for children and families in western Maine’s Androscoggin River valley. It provides funding through grants, sponsorships, direct donations and more to help address the most urgent needs.

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