Peer Support

Stress Management Team Assists First Responders

Pictured from left are Chautauqua County Sheriff Jim Quattrone, Linda Richards, Mary Rollinger, Dawn Samuelson, Nancy Pickut, Marcia Kent and Pete Dawson gather for the CISM Team summer picnic. It was held at Homestead Stables with a demonstration by CISM member Samuelson. Submitted photo

Two organizations are teaming up to help first responders and emergency workers deal with the stress and trauma of a critical incident.

The Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Team is a sub-committee of the Chautauqua County Department of Emergency Services that help emergency workers deal with particularly bad events in a healthy way. The National Educational Institute of Growth through Horses (N.E.I.G.H.) is a not-for-profit organization that helps individuals and especially veterans overcome depression, guilt, PTSD and other challenges in life through the use of horses.

“The CISM Team is made up of 25 volunteers who all happen to be firefighters,” said Marcia Kent, an EMT on the team. “We help firefighters, police officers and even nurses, and it helps when the people helping them know what they’re going through since they (the volunteers) also come from the same profession.”

The CISM Team offer services that help emergency workers deal with traumatizing events through one-on-one interventions and group meetings, crisis management briefing and “powerful event group support.” Every service offered is free of charge and strictly confidential.

Normally, when someone is going through a crisis, a person goes to his boss about it and the boss will call Albany, who will then call the CISM Team. Unfortunately, that’s not how it always goes.

Heather Payne, Dawn Samuelson and Marcia Kent pose with Cookie the horse. Samuelson is the founder of the National Educational Institute of Growth through Horses. Kent works for the Critical Incident Stress Management Team. Payne is manager of the Homestead Stables barn. P-J photo by Carly Gould

“People are so embarrassed to talk about these things because they’re afraid that others are going to think less of them,” Kent said. “We have a higher rate of suicide among veterans and emergency workers. Something is not working.”

N.E.I.G.H. provides support to those same types of workers through the use of horse interaction.

Dawn Samuelson, the founder of N.E.I.G.H. and also a volunteer for the CISM Team, said that simply petting and caring for horses helps lift the weight off of people’s shoulders. She also said that horses provide a way for emergency workers to get their worries off their chests.

“Horses don’t communicate verbally,” Samuelson said. “They don’t tell anyone your secrets. I’ve seen people unload all their troubles to one of our horses, and they don’t have to worry about the horse telling someone else.”

Equine Assisted Therapy, Samuelson said, is very effective and very quick. The program takes the body language of horses as feedback in terms of how people react and respond to work through different stresses. The program has dealt with warriors right in the middle of battle, never been deployed and living with the guilt of not being deployed and those suffering from PTSD.

The program has developed the first equine assisted therapy mobile units in the country. N.E.I.G.H. has been raising money that Shultz has been matching to donate a pick-up truck to the mobile unit. Once they have both the trailer and the truck, Samuelson said, they’ll be able to bring the horses directly to active military bases, VA hospitals and fire departments to work with the people who can’t come to the organization.

Samuelson is hoping to franchise N.E.I.G.H. and make it a national program. Their first step is partnering with CISM and keeping the programs free. There are already four programs, including the Constance Project, Beyond the Reigns, Horse and Handler and NEIGH University.

“People come to (N.E.I.G.H.) because they think that nothing else has worked and they don’t want to use medications,” Kent said. “They know they’re going to connect with someone.”

The horses used for the program are kept at Homestead Stables, a place built not too long ago by Heritage Ministries. The stables also help clients deal with stress through the use of horses, as well as offer boarding services for individual horses. The stables offer lessons in training and riding horses as well.

“There was a veteran who came in who had severe PTSD and anger issues,” Samuelson said. “The very first day, I start him in the pen and brought my horse Lily in and started discussing with him what was going on. Next thing I know, Lily goes over to him, puts her head over his shoulder, pulls him in, and he starts sobbing. Later, he said that she took 500 pounds off his chest.”

To find out more about the work the CISM Team does, go to chautcofire.org. To find out more about N.E.I.G.H and its programs and services, go to theneigh.org or check out its official Facebook page.

Homestead Stables is located at 4633 Damon Hill Road, Gerry. To find out more about the services they offer, go to homesteadstables.org.


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