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Project Horse Empowerment Center Equine-assisted mental health services

Providing custom tailored, equine-assisted mental health services

Project Horse provides custom-tailored equine assisted mental health services to neurotypical individuals, ages 6 to 86 years old. Through a unique and engaging non-riding approach, where horses and clients are partners, the Center has supported the emotional needs of thousands of children, teens, adults, groups and families since 2008.

 

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What We Do

Therapy & Mental Health Services

We provide therapy services for individuals, families and groups. For those already seeing a therapist or psychiatrist, our clinicians will collaborate to meet treatment goals. Partnering with horses in therapy is extremely effective for a variety of challenges including:

  • PTSD and trauma recovery
  • depression and anxiety 
  • eating disorders
  • substance abuse
  • self harm
  • emotional and behavioral modification
  • attachment disorders
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
  • ADD, AD/HD
  • selective mutism
  • assertiveness and boundary setting
  • social skills / peer relations
  • family reunification and reintegration
  • transitioning to civilian life (for warriors and their families)

Wellness Programs

Horses are very effective coaches and teachers, helping facilitate personal growth and change in a fun, engaging way. Our programs, tailored to specific ages, cover a variety of themes such as:

  • mindfulness
  • parenting support
  • summer camps and after school programs for kids and teens
  • navigating transitions
  • teamwork & leadership
  • customized programs for clinicians and counselors

Community Outreach

We created the Mobile Minis™ outreach program in 2013 to reduce barriers that limit access to our unique services. The Mobile Minis™ program gets our miniature service horses out into the community, working with groups such as special education students at local schools, residents of group homes and shelters, or court-involved youth in treatment programs. Not only does our Mobile Minis™ program build awareness of the power of equine therapy and learning, but it also provides services to a variety of groups that would otherwise not have access.

Our highly regarded Mobile Minis™ School Enrichment Program provides our innovative services to students with special needs, including intellectual and developmental delays, cognitive impairments and emotional disabilities. We work with various functioning levels of special ed classes, on school grounds during school hours, and are able to provide both outdoor and indoor programming. Our mini service horses help students improve interpersonal skills, increase self-confidence and foster a sense of well-being.

Thank You to Our Community Partners & Sponsors

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Meet Our Facilitating Team

Darcy Woessner, CES

Founder & Executive Director

Darcy grew up riding and competing horses, then left for other pursuits as a young adult. Darcy holds an MBA in International Business and has worked for large multinationals like Michelin Tire Corporation and Colgate-Palmolive. She has also worked as a marketing and development consultant in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors.

During a period of professional soul-searching, Darcy returned to her passion for horses. It was at this time that Darcy came across the horse, now known as Reeses, who could no longer be ridden due to an untreated injury and found her in desperate need of care. Rescuing and rehabilitating Reeses strengthened Darcy’s long-time belief that horses are powerful healers, and together Reeses and Darcy founded Project Horse in 2008.

In addition to running the organization, Darcy is very involved with client services. She is an EAGALA-certified Equine Specialist and co-facilitates many individual and group programs. Darcy is currently in the certification process as an Equine Specialist in Trauma Focused-Equine Assisted Psychotherapy™. Darcy also leads the Mobile Minis™ community outreach programs off-site. Darcy and Fiona Fudge, one of the Mobile Minis™ team, have appeared on NBC News Channel 4 and ABC/News Channel 8’s The Pet Show with Dr. Katy.

Leslie Roberts, LPC, CSAC

Leslie Roberts, LPC, CSAC is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with over 25 years of experience as a clinical supervisor, program administrator and direct service provider. Leslie specializes in substance abuse and mental health treatment, family therapy, relapse prevention, continuing care services, and trauma.

Leslie has been a certified equine assisted therapist for 10 years with EAGALA and PATH International, serving a variety of populations including adolescents, veterans, families and adults in recovery. Leslie has worked as an equine assisted therapist at Spirit Serving Veterans and the Project Horse Empowerment Center, both in Northern Virginia, and continues to provide direct services to a variety of clients at Project Horse.

Additionally, Leslie has been a trainer for Mental Health First Aid – Adult and Youth Versions for the past five years. She also is a trainer for Person Centered Treatment Planning for the Fairfax – Falls Church CSB Youth and Residential Divisions for Commission for Accreditation for Residential Facilities (CARF). Leslie has provided Person Centered Treatment Planning trainings at Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute, which is the state psychiatric hospital serving civil and forensic patients in the Northern Virginia region. Leslie has won an Outstanding Performance Award from Fairfax County for program redesign, implementing Stages of Change and Motivational Interviewing. She has also been awarded A Team Excellence Award for teaching Mental Health First Aid in her community.

For five years Leslie produced a benefit concert, The Recovery Road Show, for clients in the Fairfax County CSB residential divisions. Leslie has received awards for Team Excellence for CARF accreditation and Most Creative Counselor.

Eliina Stephenson, M.Ed., LPC

Eliina has a Masters degree in Counseling and Development from George Mason University and a Bachelors degree in Psychology from John F. Kennedy University. Eliina is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Virginia and has a private practice in Loudoun County. Eliina is an EAGALA-certified Mental Health Professional as well as a EAGALA-certified Equine Specialist. Additionally, Eliina is a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional through the International Association for Trauma Professionals. Eliina is also EMDR Trained through an EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) approved training program.

Eliina’s clinical experience spans over 10 years and includes experience working with children, teens and adults in a variety of settings, including inpatient residential treatment programs, outpatient community mental health programs, outreach counseling, and groups.

Eliina has also presented nationally and internationally in the field and has been invited to speak on several different platforms.

Kelly Cregan, LCSW, SEP, RCST®

Kelly Cregan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, and a Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist. Kelly has an office-based therapy practice in Silver Spring, Maryland.  For 15 years, Kelly has developed a specialty in partnering with adult clients healing from a variety of traumatic experiences (including physical & sexual abuse, accidents, medical trauma, PTSD, and Complex PTSD).

Kelly supplements traditional talk therapy with body and sensation-based (including Somatic Experiencing and Craniosacral Therapy) approaches to healing trauma. In 2015 Kelly attended two Women’s Wellness workshops –-one in Colorado and one at Project Horse. New to the horse world (though a life long animal lover), Kelly was deeply drawn to the grounded, intuitive power of these sensitive prey animals.

In 2016 Kelly began volunteering with Project Horse to get hands on experience in the care and welfare of horses. Shortly thereafter (and to her great surprise), she was introduced to Gracie, a 14 year old thoroughbred mare who was in need of a new owner and home. It was love at first sight for Kelly and Gracie. Gracie is now a member of the Project Horse healing herd and was adopted by Kelly in March 2017.

Kelly is trained in Natural Lifemanship’s Trauma-Focused Equine Psychotherapy. Kelly is also trained as a facilitator in Systemic Family and Nature Constellations. She enjoys working with individual adult clients as well as groups.

ALLISON SWISHER, LPC, RPT, NCC, NCSC

Allison Swisher is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Registered Play Therapist, National Certified Counselor, and National Certified School Counselor. She has enjoyed many years working with children in private practice and public schools. She became interested in play therapy while working with children who had been impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Allison’s interests in therapeutic approaches/interventions for children has grown and led to experiencing the usefulness of Equine Assisted Psychology (EAP). She believes EAP can be beneficial as the primary therapeutic approach or as adjunct therapy for clients. Allison continues to learn more about EAP through experience at Project Horse, self study, and consulting with her professional colleagues.

Liz Moran, LCSW

Liz Moran is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with over 25 years of experience working with children, teens, young adults, and families in a variety of settings. Liz has extensive knowledge working with clients who suffer from depression, anxiety, school-related issues, grief, and trauma. She has been a certified equine assisted therapist through EAGALA for 7 years, has volunteered with therapeutic riding programs, and helps facilitate a dog therapy program in the schools. Liz works in Fairfax County Public Schools as a school social worker and has an office practice in Fairfax City where she works mostly with teens in a more traditional talk therapy modality.

At Project Horse, she currently assists part-time as a co-facilitator of the Teen Empowerment Group. Liz values partnership with animals in a therapeutic setting, and believes the client-centered and creative approach of animal assisted therapies and activities is what makes it such powerful work.

Maria Kimble, CES

DIRECTOR, Equine Wellness

Maria left a successful management career in telecommunications to immerse herself in her lifelong passion of helping animals, with a specific focus on horses.  She has volunteered with horse rescues, dog rescues, avian rescues, and more.

Maria served on the Board of Directors of an organization that rescued wild horses and burros from horrible circumstances, rehabilitated them and then secured lifetime sanctuary for each.   She is a citizen lobbyist, making many trips to Richmond and Capitol Hill to advocate for equine welfare.  Maria’s dedication to equine welfare led to her starting her own non-profit, an organization that advocates for and provides a safety net for at-risk equine in Virginia.

Since 2010, Maria has been a full time volunteer with Project Horse Empowerment Center.  While her intent was to serve the horses in her care, Maria soon found herself drawn to the therapeutic work and wanted to help humans through the power of the equine spirit.   Maria is a Certified Equine Specialist under the EAGALA model, co-facilitating individual and group sessions at Project Horse. She also co-facilitates Mobile Minis visits in the community and is certified in Mental Health First Aid for Adults and Military.   Maria is pursuing an Equine Specialist certification in Trauma Focused-Equine Assisted Psychotherapy™ and is also pursuing her EAGALA certification to work with the military.

Maria is a Certified Equine Sports Massage Therapist and is trained in the application of kinesiology tape for equine.  She regularly donates her services to equine rescues and sanctuaries, and also has several equine athletes as clients.  The horses at Project Horse also enjoy massages on a regular basis.

Martha Briggs, CES

Martha has been with Project Horse since 2014, taking care of the horses as well as participating in sessions as a Certified Equine Specialist. She grew up in Vienna, Virginia and has been involved with horses since the age of 8. The youngest of nine children, she learned at an early age how to be part of a herd.

When Martha wasn’t with her family, her favorite place to be was at the barn with the horses, where she found solace and peace. As she became an adult, her life steered her away from the barn, and into becoming a mother and raising her children in a loving, supportive household.

After working in the legal field for 18 years, she decided to return to her true passion of working with horses and exploring their relationship with people. This experience has resulted in her EAGALA certification as a Certified Equine Specialist. She and her family currently reside in Purcellville, Virginia.