Equine Therapy with Christina Clark


Emma Schleck, Reporter

Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the road, the barn housing Horses Healing Humans and Veterans Equine Therapeutic Services (VETS for short), is a comforting escape in Stonington. Adjacent to a long driveway are two paddocks that hold a few horses, some munching away at freshly hung bags of hay and others nosing eagerly near the gates looking towards the action. The air smells fresh through the car windows as we drive (slowly, so not to spook the horses) towards the barn. Here on most Saturday mornings, it’s easy to spot her eager face, chipper despite the early hour. Christina Clark, with her short blonde hair and bright smile, is a steadfast presence at the barn, and a comforting presence for many. It’s a stroke of luck to catch a moment of her time as Christina, a co-founder of VETS, as well as one of three therapeutic instructors there and member of the board of directors as treasurer, splits her time with numerous organizations, whether as secretary for the Guardians of the Purple Heart, the vice president of the New England Shoreline Chapter of Women in Defense, or an organizing and active member of the Abigail Hinman Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. 


Christina grew up in the Mystic area, with horses right in her backyard. She took lessons and competed, and fell in love with the highly empathetic creatures. “Horses are amazing,” she says, “they do so much for us, they mirror how we are feeling.” 


As she finished college with dual-degrees in accounting and finance, and a master’s in Business Administration, her work took her all around the country. With many fascinating jobs, she credits her favorite as being with NASA, where she worked “helping to build the manuals with Flight Operations,” later transitioning over to another group where they determined whether to fix or replace the items on the International Space Station. “One of my bosses was an astronaut,” she added. While in Texas with NASA, Christina became once again involved in the world of horses following a conversation with a coworker, who “mentioned a therapeutic facility that needed people to exercise their horses.” There, she fell in love with working with children and  all of the good that therapy horses bring: “I started assisting with teaching children who were autistic, who were blind, who had Tourette’s, Cerebral Palsy, and many other challenges,” she tells me. After moving back to Connecticut to be a top-level financial analyst at Electric Boat,  she became involved in the equine scene again, buying a horse and competing with her. In 2008, following her horse’s retirement, Christina dove headfirst into the world of equine therapy.


After a few years of volunteering at a children’s therapeutic center, Christina was asked to help start VETS, where she stands as the sole female co-founder and instructor. The VETS program works mainly with veterans of all branches of the military, joining small sessions of five to ten people with horses to learn all about them, teaching them how to balance their emotions around the animals. Participating in the program is a wonderful way to be conscious of one’s own actions and emotions, as participants learn how to groom the horses, learn their body parts, and do various exercises with them. Interactions with horses can seem almost like a parallel to dealing with people in ordinary life, from cliques to herd behavior to hierarchy. There the veterans experience a creature so foreign that some may be wary at first, but the program builds trust between the horse and the learner. It’s an experience that changes lives. 

Outside of her organizations and job, Christina enjoys “hiking, exercising, doing meditation, seeking healthy alternatives for well-being, increasing my knowledge base, modeling,” as well as hanging out with her “fur babies,” as she calls them, her adorable Maine Coon cats, Coral and Elah. Christina is also an avid car lover, and was a member of car and motorcycle clubs for a number of years. She adds that she is “always up to learning new things too.”

Christina has big plans for the future of VETS and herself. She tells me of the program growth: “We are starting to help other facilities create their own Veteran program. We would love to eventually have our own facility where we can continue to help Veterans and provide training for other facilities. We have many other things in store as well to help Veterans.” Additionally, she plans on getting higher levels of certifications for teaching. Among the plans she has for VETS come the ones of her other organizations, with of course “helping” being the center focus. Personally, “I plan to continue to read to kids for “Read Across America” and “Dr. Seuss’ Birthday,” she says, along with “continuing to help build homes for Habitat for Humanity – Women Build.” 

When asked what she’s the most proud of, considering her extensive achievements and activities, the lack of one particular moment comes as no surprise. “It’s hard for me to define one moment that I am proud of,” she says. “I am proud of my education and experience followed by the volunteer work that I do with the organizations. I am proud of my family and friends. I am proud of the children that I helped, as well as the Veterans and women.” Christina wants to keep on “helping people in any capacity that I can,” and as a true-to-life superwoman, her experiences, accolades, and desire to keep learning and keep growing leaves a lasting impression on all who cross her path. 

Find out more about VETS (www.vetsct.org), Guardians of the Purple Heart (www.gotph.org), and Women in Defense – New England Shoreline Chapter (www.wid-nesc.org) on their websites and Facebook pages.