WBAY Cares: Healing power of horses

An organization on the outskirts of Neenah uses horses to serve people of many different ages and many different needs.
Updated: Jun. 6, 2023 at 6:45 PM CDT
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NEENAH, Wis. (WBAY) - On the outskirts of Neenah, you’ll find a peaceful place that’s harnessing the healing power of horses.

BEAMING Inc., 2692 County Road GG, was founded in 2004 and has evolved and expanded over time to improve the quality of life of people of all ages and diverse abilities.

“It keeps you feeling young,” Dorothy Last, who rides horses at Beaming, said, “so anything that does that is good.”

At nearly 96 years young, Last is back in the saddle.

“Makes me feel very joyful inside,” she said. “I feel like I’m all one with the horse when I’m on him. I just love it.”

“Mom has dementia and loves horses, as you can tell,” daughter Linda Christensen said.

Christensen knew Beaming’s “Riding in the Moment” dementia support program -- where participants can groom, walk, and ride horses -- would enrich her mother’s quality of life by exercising her mind and body.

“I can tell when she’s up on the horse she’s very happy, and it’s not just riding the horse but it’s the other activities they provide as well. They’ve had some painting activities, and mom used to be a watercolor painter, so getting back to that again was good for her,” Christensen said.

Riding in the Moment is one of about a dozen programs Beaming offers at little to no cost.

The nonprofit also serves people living with unique physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges, such as cerebral palsy, autism and mood disorders.

Center director Katie Samuelson says horse therapy has numerous benefits, like improving strength, balance, hand-eye coordination, and more.

“Reduction of stress, anxiety, a place to belong,” Samuelson continued to list. “How powerful is that to a little kid -- 4, 5, 6 years old -- that’s in a wheelchair can get on a horse and control a thousand-pound horse. It’s just magnificent to see that happen.”

Trauma survivors, veterans, and children and teens struggling with self-image or mental health issues can also find support here, like 10-year-old Mariana, who experiences pandemic-related anxiety.

Interaction with the horses and staff has given Mariana more tools to work through stressful situations.

Mom Andrea Aragon said, “She’s practicing deep breathing, but it seems things just don’t bother her as much, which has been great. So we’ve noticed that working with horses you have to kind of regulate your emotions so that the horse doesn’t pick up on it, so she’s been able to apply that in the classroom as well, so we’ve seen a big change.”

New to Beaming, there’s the “Pony Power Academy,” where children with learning difficulties can improve their literacy skills by reading to horses. And “Steady Strides for Parkinson’s” also just launched. In addition to horse therapy, there’s a sensory walking path and other special spaces and events.

“We’re really good at responding to the community’s needs, so if we see something that’s out there that we could help with the program, we look at creating something that responds to that need,” marketing and outreach director Emily Anderson said.

“To me, it’s about including everybody in our community and having this magical place where people can come and enjoy,” Samuelson said.

It’s all made possible through partnerships with school districts, donors, and dedicated volunteers.

“Our horses, I always say, are our backbone, but our volunteers are the heart of our organization,” Samuelson said.

Changing lives one ride at a time.

“How they blossom and grow here, it’s just such a positive experience,” Anderson said.

Participants and their caregivers say Beaming provides a great opportunity to socialize and learn from others who are on the same journey.

CLICK HERE for BEAMING Inc.’s website