Max Denning

Brittany Hersom and her husband, Wyatt, have big dreams for the Clover Haven Equine Center near Union. The center currently has what they consider small indoor and outdoor arenas where they offer equine-assisted mental health work, therapeutic riding, horsemanship and riding lessons, and overnight horse camps.

In the next five years, they dream of expanding their outdoor arena by about 100 feet and covering the space so it can be used in the winter. They also want to turn Clover Haven’s converted metal silo, which now holds four bunk beds, into a more suitable sleeping area for overnight campers by adding an ADA-accessible bathroom and ramp, plus a porch that leads right to a horse enclosure.

Brittany and Wyatt may have big plans, but that doesn’t get in the way of the work they’re already doing to better the lives of the participants who come to Clover Haven, a nonprofit “dedicated to bringing horses and humans together to promote learning, personal growth and healing,” according to the organization’s website.

Brittany, who graduated from Eastern Oregon University in 2014 with a degree in sociology and anthropology with a concentration in social welfare, has been the director at Clover Haven for two years. There she works with patients, most of whom are children, and takes them through equine-assisted activities as a form of therapy.

Brittany works with licensed clinical social worker Melissa Over on all cases. Brittany said Over, who is retired, contributes about 10 hours a month. Brittany, on the other hand, works 60-80 hours a month with patients. Brittany is certified with the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association. She said she has seen between 60 and 70 individuals this year, many of whom are recurring participants. Brittany works alongside 17 horses that help facilitate the therapy.

Clover Haven is one of the few equine therapy locations in Eastern Oregon. There is another business in the
La Grande area that facilitates equine-assisted learning. Brittany mentioned a similar business in Bend.

Brittany at times works with individuals who have developmental disabilities or behavioral problems that they see a mental health professional for. For instance, she said she works with one boy who has Down syndrome to address goals with life skills such as communication, taking direction and understanding personal boundaries.

Wyatt, who helps train horses on the property and works as a farrier, said horses help individuals with developmental delays.

“Sometimes it’s all the clearer with the horses,” Wyatt said of trying to communicate.

Brittany also gave an example of work she does with a high-schooler who is on the autism spectrum. She said she works with the student on how to handle social situations in school.

“It’s like life coaching a little bit,” Brittany said.

Brittany said horses are willing to accept people for who they are.

“Horses are completely authentic,” she said, noting horses will know if you are angry, upset or afraid.

One type of equine-assisted therapy Brittany facilitates is called “liberty work,” in which an individual learns to use his or her body language and motions to lead a horse around the arena. Essentially, the individual is learning how to communicate without words, and the horse, who is at liberty, chooses to follow. It can seem almost magical. Brittany does it seamlessly, getting a horse to trot around the arena, then stop in its tracks and reverse direction.

Brittany and her clients also play the “taking space game.” Participants walk around the arena with their horses and try to stand where their horses are standing in order to teach themselves about boundaries.

Clover Haven has a policy of not turning away participants because they are unable to pay.

The organization is partially funded by sponsors and client fees, and Wyatt said he and Brittany are also willing to donate their time.

“As long as you can make it out here, we’ll make it happen,” he said.

Clover Haven operates on Lloyd Ranch on High Valley Road between Union and Cove. Lloyd and Linda Reagan own the ranch and have lived on it for 42 years. On Lloyd Ranch, the Reagans and Hersoms together own approximately 40 head of cattle. Linda was a founding member of Clover Haven.

Brittany said selling calves helps pay for the equine center.

For the extra funding Clover Haven needs to remodel their bathroom to make it accessible to individuals with disabilities, the equine center is hosting “Boots-n-Lace,” a gala fundraiser that includes dinner, live music, an art auction and an informative presentation on Clover Haven. Brittany will be cooking the meal herself, and attendees are allowed to bring their own bottle of wine. The gala will be held at 6 p.m. Aug. 25 at the Sheehy Barn, 61111 High Valley Road.

Tickets are $30 for adults, $15 for ages 5 to 14, and children younger than 5 may attend for free.

Wyatt said both he and Brittany have lofty aspirations for the equine center and stressed the need for donations and volunteers.

“We have a lot of ambition and the will to expand and grow,” he said. “We’d love to be the headliner for this half of the state.”