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Community Outreach Visit Recap: Kindle Hill Foundation

by Emily Girard | Jul 9, 2024, 11:46 AM

Saly Glassman, the president and founder of Kindle Hill, said she prioritizes her clients' mental health and self-esteem in every workshop. Photo: Avery Wallace/US Equestrian

The Kindle Hill Foundation website states that the charity’s mission is to “support members of our community who can benefit from equine assisted learning and therapy, to relieve stress, anxiety, depression, and PTSD.” Located in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, Kindle Hill’s facility provides EAL (Equine Assisted Learning) and EAT (Equine Assisted Therapy) programs to clients.

Kindle Hill President and Founder Saly Glassman elaborated that the foundation offers both individualized programs and group training depending on client needs.

“People who are challenged by anything—anxiety, depression, autism, OCD, addiction, difficulty in their marriage, difficulty with their parents, trouble adjusting to college—come and work with horses on the ground and learn how to self-regulate, how to have better communication with others, how to accept oneself,” Glassman explained. “Then, we have programs for law enforcement. Many of those are closer to training.”

Kindle Hill also focuses on training and treatment for first responders, as they recognize the unique mental health benefits for the law enforcement community. The first responder programs cover Equine Assisted Learning, Training, and Therapy.  

The Kindle Hill FREATr (First Responder Equine-Assisted Training) program focuses on de-escalation, negotiation, and stress management skills that are useful in a first responder’s career.

“The comparable stress responses between horses and police officers offer an opportunity to study the management of stress responses in challenging situations. The horse can be a reflective mirror for the officer to self-connect and build self-regulating strategies,” explains a Kindle Hill brochure about the FREATr program. “In addition, the horse can represent the frightened or hyperaroused subject that exhibits the threat of danger for the officer on duty.”

Glassman explained that she started the first-responder-based program after conversing with first responders in her home county and noticing their need for resources and individualized programs.

“The point was to make the training relevant…It was important that they would say, ‘Wow, this adds to my repertoire,’” Glassman said. “Officers tell me anecdotes about how they were on the street, and something came up, and they remembered something they learned from being with the horses, and they changed their strategy, and it worked. No one got hurt.”

In addition to teaching practical skills, these equine-assisted programs offer team building opportunities to first responders.

 “One of the agencies told me that they were surprised and really impressed with how the experience brought their squads together in a way that no other training has ever done. The effect was fairly immediate,” Glassman said. “When you get to know this population the way I have, it's the most compassionate, caring, receptive, listening group of people that I've ever been around.”

Kindle Hill uses competition horses in their equine therapy programs, providing clients with an increased sense of responsibility.

“When a law enforcement professional comes in to do a session, they're often working with a horse that's jumping a 1.25m in competition, or doing second-level dressage,” Glassman said. “That horse might be a little fresh sometimes…It’s always safety first, but also, it's good for (clients’) self-esteem. The fact that we work with these competition horses is very unique.”

US Equestrian recently visited Kindle Hill, a USEF Community Outreach Organization, to profile the organization and its therapeutic strategies.

“They take very good care of their horses. All of the staff were so kind. You could really tell that it's the kind of organization that leads with their heart,” said USEF Producer and Editor Lizz Walker. “Saly is all about mental health and helping people in unexpected and holistic ways through horses.”

Clients often leave Kindle Hill’s workshops with increased confidence, optimism, and self-management skills.

“I like to say that people arrive like lasagna in the box, and they leave as if the noodle has been cooked,” Glassman said. “They come in kind of hard, stoic, stiff, holding, and they leave loose and relaxed.”

Glassman founded Kindle Hill in 2017 after working with Merrill Lynch for approximately 40 years.

Kindle Hill provides workshops to a variety of clients, with the end goal of increasing confidence, optimism, and self-management skills. Photo: Avery Wallace/US Equestrian

“This gave me an opportunity to do something a little different with my life. I always loved psychology; that was my background. I went to Cornell, where I studied psychology, and I've been involved with horses for more than 60 years. So, I thought, this is a great opportunity. I can combine my interests in psychology, horses, business, and helping others,” Glassman said. “I could provide something that the public really needed.”

Glassman explained that her initial staff “kind of fell out of the sky.”

“I was able to form an incredible team of some young people who wanted to go into the mental health profession and were in school to become counselors and therapists, and who loved horses,” Glassman said. “It was a great fit for them, and, of course, they were a great fit for me.”

Walker specifically pointed out two employees: Keira Fischetti and Alyssa Friedenberg.

“Keira has a background working with trauma victims, and Alyssa has a background working with autism spectrum disorders. It was just so cool to me that they have employees there who are able to really specialize and help people,” Walker said.

“The facility is very big. Half of it is a lesson barn, and the other half is dedicated to the Kindle Hill Foundation,” said USEF Digital Marketing Manager Avery Wallace. “It's just a very cool environment, because in almost any situation, all those different working bits of the equestrian industry wouldn’t be combined in one place.”

Glassman also possesses a unique interest in providing mental health support to law enforcement and other first responders. Glassman and her staff are technically trained in law enforcement mandates and procedures in order to provide the best possible support.

“Working with law enforcement, what I’ve found is that they often don't think they need the help, because they're so focused on helping other people,” Glassman said. “They keep putting themselves to the bottom of the list, and one of the things that has come out of this program is that we can put them at the top of the list and let them know how it feels for someone else to take care of them.”

“One of the really unique aspects I witnessed was their work with the police, and the training that was developed specifically to help them interact better within their jobs so that they can learn to de-escalate situations and communicate with the right energy and perspective,” added USEF Chief Marketing and Content Officer Vicki Lowell. “It’s really special to see how horses can teach people. It is just incredible what people can accomplish with horses.”

Walker explained that her favorite part of her visit was an exercise in which blindfolded clients guided a horse through an obstacle course, assisted by verbal guidelines from non-blindfolded participants.

“You had to be right beside the horse; they would touch his face and neck occasionally to remember where it was positioned,” Walker said. “It's just the teamwork between the humans, but also the teamwork between the human and horse, and then the trust that the horse must have to even be willing to be led by a blindfolded person. It was just so cool from every angle.”

Lowell said she enjoyed bonding with a miniature horse named Kiri, as well as seeing Kindle Hill’s development.

“It was one of the best days of the year to see what Saly has been able to build with her husband and her community. She has brought in a number of volunteers that she's met over the course of her life to support what she's trying to accomplish,” Lowell said. “She really has created an incredible situation for people and horses.”

In 2022, Kindle Hill expanded, founding a public charity in addition to the existing private operating foundation. In the wake of that expansion, Glassman said she has the goal to keep growing the foundation and providing mental health support to as many people as possible.

“We can add more clinicians. We can serve more clients, because we know that it works. This can be a supplement or a catalyst to traditional talk therapy, and by the way, we see a lot of people who are nonverbal, so they can't do talk therapy,” Glassman said. “You put that person with a horse, you give them an avenue to feel free to communicate. They may start talking or be less anxious.”

Glassman also hopes that Kindle Hill’s first responder program will continue to expand, especially since the foundation has recently constructed a defensive tactics studio to provide more specialized training.

“We're offering training to Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware, and Chester County. We bundle the DT training with the equine assisted services,” Glassman said. “Our goal is to keep growing and accommodate a larger population.”

Glassman explained that people always have the opportunity to learn from horses, as their point of view is “antithetical” to humans’ view.

“Just to stand and look at horses is relaxing. Horses don't hold grudges, and they don't worry about the past. They have a memory, but the memory is about the facts of the occurrence, so they don't hold the stress,” Glassman said. “We teach humans: Look at how the horse releases stress and think about how you can do the same thing for yourself.”

“A lot of people that are thrown into these situations are quite intimidated by horses. At a place like Kindle Hill, you can almost view these horses as service animals, and it's very cool to see them (in that role),” Wallace said. “The horses can really change their moods based off who is next to them and who is in charge of them. The staff and people like Saly are informing (clients) on how to adjust their body language to make sure that that horse is connected with them and listening to everything that they're trying to tell them, whether it be verbal or nonverbal.”

Overall, Glassman most enjoys seeing progress in her clients.

“For many years, I helped people manage money. I was very successful. I saw the results. I could see that someone could send their kids to college. They could buy a vacation home. They could retire. I got to see the results of that work, but it took. 20, 30, 40 years,” Glassman explained. “Here, working with horses in the mental health world, I get to see people transform right in front of my eyes.”

“It's all kinds of people in different walks of life that they're helping out, which is incredible. They’re helping people who are dealing with pretty extreme situations every single day and providing them a safe space to de-escalate situations and de-escalate their own feelings and emotions, because they have the opportunity to be around animals that are so soft and kind to people, as long as they're kind back,” Wallace said. “It's just an incredible facility. They really have their arms open to anybody that needs what they provide.”