By: J.L. Shirley
Like many young girls, Maureen Coultas always dreamed of owning her own horse. Though her wish did not come true until many years later, Coultas was able to find a way to shape her dream and life experiences into a mission which changes the lives of children every day.
“I started saving when I was eight,” says Coultas of her horse fund and her determination to own a horse, which set her on the winding path that led her to her quaint little farm tucked on the back roads of Chester.
Coultas is now the director of Hope’s Promise Farm which offers therapeutic riding and equine assisted activities for children ages two to high school age with special needs or learning disabilities.
The idea for this farm was realized when Coultas, then an adult dealing with PTSD from a past experience, decided to finally buy her horse. She became the proud owner of Chief, a grey gelding who helped her let go of some of her stress while in the saddle and cope with the past.
In recognizing the huge effect Chief was having on her life, Coultas decided she wanted to find a way she could become a part of helping others who would benefit from a little horse therapy.
During her research into this field, Coultas discovered the huge movement of therapeutic riding used to assist children with different special needs. After receiving a certificate in therapeutic instruction from Centenary College in Hackettstown, Coultas opened Hope’s Promise in the spring of 2012.
The name for her business came simply from the promise of hope she found offered by the connection made between horse and rider.
In starting her company, Coultas acquired another riding sized horse, Justice, a Friesian sport horse and also some miniature horses referred to in the business as “minis.” Minis can be as small as waist high and became perfect companion animals to bring on visits, giving a whole new meaning to a “little” horse therapy.
With six animals currently on the farm, three riding horses and three minis, Coultas is able to balance the business between offering private and group riding sessions while also brining the minis on visits to places such as nursing homes and schools.
Hope’s Promise has an LLC but also has a non-profit, which assists in the care of the therapy animals so they can continue on their visits while also going towards riding “scholarships” for children whose families cannot afford the sessions.
“Each lesson is tailored specific to that student’s needs,” states Coultas as she describes what a session includes.
For groups, Coultas begins by letting the children learn to lead the minis. “Horses are herd animals and always look to the leader,” Coultas explains, therefore when a child learns to lead a horse they learn how to become a leader. “Students that start off intimidated become empowered,” says Coultas, “it’s a huge deal for them.”
Miracles seem to happen for these children when they are around horses, “we had never heard a student say a full sentence before but they said the horse’s name,” Coultas remembers.
Therapeutic riding, Coultas explains helps the students with core strength and balance as well as posture and following directions and, as with any animal therapy, it is bound to help put a smile on their face too.
Coultas and her husband appreciate assistance with group therapy sessions and other barn chores and the farm will be looking for volunteers next year for their March orientation, once the visits and sessions start up again after the winter.
What the farm most needs is donations both itemized and monetary. Coultas notes that their outdoor ring needs a new layer of rubber mulch which costs around $5,000 for an inch of coverage. The minis wear Build-A-Bear sneakers for nursing home and school visits and those are needed often as they wear out.
The farm also needs picnic tables for student groups to have their lunch and Coultas is also looking to create a “sensory trail” along a trail that is on the property, where students can locate items in birdhouse like structures along the horse path that will help students to learn about following instructions and observing the world by utilizing difference senses.
Coultas published a book entitled “Michelangelo: The Little Therapy Horse,” which is the touching story of a mini currently working for Hope’s Promise.
One-hundred percent of the proceeds of the purchase of this book goes towards the care of the horses. Another book, titled “My Friend Chief,” also by Coultas, is soon to be printed.
The books will both be available for purchase on the website at www.hopespromisefarm.com. More information about the program can also be found on the webpage or by inquiring at firstname.lastname@example.org. For donations, checks are most appreciated and can be sent to 34 South Rd., Chester, NJ 07930.
Part of the mission of Hope’s Promise, as outlined on the website, is to “provide access to therapeutic riding and equine assisted activities to everyone in need, without regard to their ability to afford these services,” making the donations given to the facility go towards supporting the dreams of many children who set foot on the farm. For many of these students they are finally finding an accessible avenue where they can stand tall and take the lead and Hope’s Promise gets them there.