BEAMING was founded in 2004 by an occupational therapist and a small group of compassionate horse lovers who wanted to improve the quality of life for veterans and children with physical, cognitive and behavioral disabilities. The programs were run primarily by veterans and volunteers, using the founder’s and her friends’ horses. In the first few years, they averaged approximately 30 riders.
Katie Samuelson joined the BEAMING team in 2010 as the Center Director, and formalized the Horses, Hearts & Heroes veterans’ program and the Saddle Up for Success children’s program. She also added the Partners in Riding program, a partnership with area school districts to serve elementary and middle school special education students with adaptive physical education opportunities with horses, and LAUNCH, a hands-on mentoring program to help troubled and hurting teens by addressing basic skills essential for managing conflict, utilizing effective coping skills, developing positive social skills, and learning to engage in healthy self-care. Many of the participants showed their horses locally and through the Wisconsin Quarter Horse Association (WQHA) during this time.
As demand for equine-assisted services and programs increased in the community, Ms. Samuelson created new programs to respond to these unique needs. The physical benefits of riding horses are undeniable for children with autism, and many parents of autistic children struggled to find activities that catered to their children’s special needs. Ms. Samuelson began to offer Autism Camps every year in the summer in 2014, which provides emotional and cognitive benefits that have improved the overall well-being of hundreds of autistic children over the years.
In 2018, BEAMING began offering Hold Your Horses Teen Camps, which are geared toward helping teens hold their emotions in check before acting or reacting. Participants learn the skills to stop, think, listen, then act, resulting in making better choices, improving mental health, and forming healthier relationships. Due to high demand, BEAMING began offering two weeklong sessions of these camps in 2021.
In response to the sharp rise in individuals diagnosed with dementia in the state of Wisconsin, Ms. Samuelson and BEAMING Board President Walt Zerrenner partnered with the Fox Valley Memory Project to begin offering Equine-Assisted Memory Cafés in early 2019. These Cafés offer those living with early- to moderate-onset dementia and their caregivers a chance to enjoy horse experiences and other interactive activities such as educational presentations, arts and crafts projects and other outdoor and barn activities. This offers participants and their families an opportunity to engage in a social gathering and meet others for support.
Also in 2019, the team began the Riding in the Moment program in conjunction with University of Wisconsin-Madison, and BEAMING became the second in the nation to offer this evidence-based program that is specifically designed to improve the quality of life for those living with dementia, as well as their caregivers. Participants groom, walk and ride horses, make and feed horse treats, watch horse demonstrations and participate in educational activities, mind-body emotions exercises and hands-on projects. This program also benefits caregivers by allowing them to spend quality time in an uplifting outdoor setting with their loved ones, allowing them the opportunity to ride horses, and introducing them to a support network of other caregivers experiencing similar challenges. In 2022, we expanded this program to become mobile, taking the horses and activities directly to memory care facilities, helping residents socialize while exercising their minds and bodies.
In 2022, two new programs were added, Dragons in Flight and RideStrong. Dragons in Flight is an advanced class for children who have participated in the Saddle Up for Success program and/or our Hold Your Horses Teen Camp, and demonstrated they can learn to groom, saddle and ride more independently. This program integrates equine-assisted learning on a wide range of topics, from goal setting to standards of horsemanship. Moving these more experienced riders also allowed us to open up spaces for new riders in our Saddle Up for Success program, which has a long wait list.
RideStrong is a trauma support equine program that was created to invite survivors who have been affected by suicide, cancer or other crises to experience the healing benefits of equine-assisted services. Mental health after trauma is an ongoing concern for everyone affected; equine experiences can help family and friends come together in the wake of loss, and help cancer survivors and those affected by other illnesses or crises cope with their diagnosis and treatment.
In 2023, two more new programs were added, Steady Strides for Parkinson’s and Pony Power Academy.
Modeled off our evidence-based Riding in the Moment curriculum, Steady Strides for Parkinson’s is a program designed to enrich the quality of life for those living with Parkinson’s Disease and their caregivers.
Pony Power Academy is a Children’s Literacy Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL) program. Using curriculum based on Wisconsin Literacy Standards, this program offers a unique approachto helping children ages 4-12 with learning disabilities or who have struggled learning to readand write.
The BEAMING team also added special programs and events throughout the years. The Women’s Empowerment Series began in 2015, which offers unique opportunities for women in the Fox Valley to gather together at the BEAMING Barn to connect with other women in search of solace, strength and community. Women enjoy meeting others and sharing their experiences, finding hope, empowerment and support in each other through shared horse experiences.
In addition, Red, White & Blue Day celebrates our local heroes—including veterans, police officers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, paramedics, EMTs and EMS dispatchers—by inviting their families to the BEAMING Barn for a festive day of fun with the horses each fall; and community members are invited to the barn to celebrate Halloween during BOOfest and the holidays during our Santa at the Barn event.