Growth and Learning Association, www.eagala.
org) in 2014. 

 The EAGALA Model of Equine Assisted 

Therapy uses a tandem therapeutic team 
consisting of a Licensed Mental Health 
Professional and a Certified Equine Specialist. 
The sessions do not include any riding. All 
of the activities occur on the ground with the 
horses, usually with the horses being loose. The 
horses can participate freely in the way they see 
fit since they can free roam during the sessions. 
This experiential way of learning and processing 
creates powerful results for each person in their 
way. “The horses always meet 
the people where they are. As 
prey animals, Mother Nature 
designed them to be hyper-aware 
of their surroundings at all times 
for survival; very similar to 
what veterans experience during 
combat situations. Horses only 
live in the present; they have to. 
They don’t care about your past 
where depression lives or your 
future where anxieties are rooted. 
In our busy lives, humans live by 
lists, calendars, and unrealistic 
expectations of the world around 
us. Horses can re-ground our 
thinking without even saying a 

Growing up in Northwest Florida, she knew 

the importance of honoring and serving our 
military community. She discovered that there 
was a lack of support options in the area for 
those struggling with the mental and emotional 
effects of combat.  The decision to move the 
family back home and offer equine-assisted 
therapy in our community was an easy one to 
make. Her business and marketing background 
told her that an easily accessible location would 
be a vital key to the success of an emerging 
concept in the area. Unlike, most horse-ready 
properties that are over the river and through 
the woods, she chose a location that is 5 miles 
East of Crestview and a ¼ mile off the main 
road. “The rest we can build in time,” she said. 
Healing Hoof Steps found its forever home at 
3922 Jace Drive in Crestview, Florida, in late 

Like most non-profits, it was an agonizingly 

slow start. Healing Hoof Steps needed a 
Licensed Mental Health Counselor who knew 

that they would not be just out brushing horses 
in a field with clients. This search would prove 
to be one of the most challenging activities to 

In 2017, Narissa received an email through 

the website. It 
was from an EAGALA Military Designated 
Therapist and Licensed Mental Health 
Counselor named Connie Baldwin. Connie’s 
husband was recently stationed at Eglin AFB, 
moving across the country from Oklahoma, and 
before that Texas. During her years in Texas, 
she was a Team Leader for the Lone Survivor 

Foundation. The Lone Survivor Foundation 
was founded by Marcus Luttrell to provide 
therapeutic retreats, at no cost, for service 
members and their families affected by Post-
Traumatic Stress, mild Traumatic Brain Injury, 
Chronic Pain, and Military Sexual Trauma. In 
2013, Mark Wahlberg played the role of Marcus 
Luttrell in the biography, Action and Drama 
movie, Lone Survivor. Connie was an integral 
part of building their success and helping 
hundreds of veterans and their families. At the 
time of their move to Florida, Connie no longer 
owned any horses of her own and realized 
that she was giving up her passion for Equine 
Assisted Therapy. Then, late one evening on the 
computer she found Healing Hoof Steps. The 
rest is history.

Since their serendipitous meeting in 2017, 

Healing Hoof Steps has experienced some 
incredible growth. They currently contract 
with the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation 
to serve the at-risk youth in the Juvenile 
Detention Center. Healing Hoof Steps will be 

offering Personal Enrichment Courses through 
Northwest Florida State College this Fall in 
addition to their individual and group clientele. 
Through a large private donation in early 2018, 
a barn with a finished office and bathroom were 
constructed on the property. “The completion 
of the barn marks the end of the 1st Phase of the 
Healing Hoof Steps Plans,” said Narissa. The 
second phase entails grant writing and fund-
raising efforts to construct a covered arena to 
serve larger groups in any weather conditions. 
The 3rd and final phase would be to be able to 
provide overnight housing on the property to 

offer multiple day retreats for 
intensive therapy. In addition 
to the Equine Assisted Therapy 
program, one day we hope to 
provide rescue services for horses 
in our area that are in need.

“What I’ve learned is that 

most horse-people are not 
business marketing people. That 
said, most business marketing 
people are not horse-people. My 
goal as the Executive Director 
of Healing Hoof Steps is to 
provide the facility, marketing, 
and business operations support 
for those who share the passion 
for helping people improve their 
lives through interactions with 

horses. We want to have qualified professionals 
serving the populations that they are passionate 
about without the stress of the operational 
side of running a business. When people are in 
roles that they are passionate about, everybody 

If any local Licensed Mental Health 

Counselors or horse owners would like 
to become certified in Equine Assisted 
Therapy, Healing Hoof Steps will be hosting 
the Fundamentals of the EAGALA Model 
Training this December 5-9 at the Baker Arena. 
To register and for more information visit www.  EAGALA is a worldwide 
organization who facilitate the certification, 
ethics and continuing education of Equine 
Assisted Therapy professionals.

Never give up on your dreams; no matter 

what life throws at you. It might have taken 
nearly 35 years to understand, but that little 
girl’s dream of working with horses and helping 
people has blossomed into a beautiful reality.

July 2018   |   37

Never give up on your dreams;

no matter what life throws at you. 

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