Attendees enjoying Berkshire HorseWorks inaugural 'The Derby' gala in 2017. Photo courtesy Berkshire HorseWorks

‘The Derby,’ Berkshire HorseWorks gala, to benefit equine-assisted therapy programs

Through the power of horses, Berkshire HorseWorks provides the tools to challenge, communicate, heal, lead, empathize and thrive in today’s world.

Richmond — If you missed the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and have been meaning to don a hat and polish off a mint julep in honor of Justify (who went on to become the 13th horse to join the Triple Crown club), you might just be in luck. On Saturday, July 14, Berkshire HorseWorks is hosting its second annual “Derby Gala” at the Barn at Green Meads Farm; the experiential evening will consist of bourbon tasting; hat making; bluegrass music by the Easy Ridin’ Papas; a Kentucky-style seated dinner in the historic, private barn; and a service auction to raise funds for equine-assisted therapy programs. The event will celebrate the nonprofit’s fifth anniversary and the more than 600 clients it has served since opening its doors.

“We are committed to ensuring that those individuals who are in residential treatment, incarcerated or struggling to find their way are able to reintegrate with respect, a sense of self and the skills needed to become productive members of society,” stated Hayley Sumner, founder and executive director of the nonprofit. “Our location has become a safe, therapeutic “step-down” community where one can volunteer, work or apprentice and rebuild the confidence needed to succeed,” she added of the 7-acre property she acquired last June by lease agreement.

Hayley Sumner of Berkshire HorseWorks.

Founded in 2013 to provide equine-assisted psychotherapy to children, families and veterans suffering from mental health and behavioral challenges, the nonprofit stays true to its mission by directing corporate funds to help those at risk in the community. For the past five years, Berkshire HorseWorks has offered EAGALA Model equine-assisted psychotherapy and equine-assisted learning/life skill development for at-risk youth, families, inmates and veterans, and equine-assisted team building for corporations of all kinds. The EAGALA Model has been utilized by more than 5,000 certified practitioners in 50 countries and Sumner, who hails from California, introduced the practice to the Berkshires. Through the power of horses, Berkshire HorseWorks provides the tools to challenge, communicate, heal, lead, empathize and thrive in today’s world. Among the nonprofit’s strategic partners are the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Department, Berkshire Children and Families, the Brien Center, Berkshire Hills Regional School District, Volunteers in Medicine Berkshires, Department of Children and Families, NAMI, Department of Youth Services, the Elizabeth Freeman Center, Pittsfield School District, the YMCA, Girls Inc., Mass Mutual Insurance, FreeWheel and Canyon Ranch.

A couple celebrates at Berkshire HorseWorks’ 2017 ‘The Derby’ gala. Photo courtesy Berkshire HorseWorks

In a move to meet the growing demand in our community and throughout the tristate area for mental health services, more specifically equine-assisted therapy, Berkshire HorseWorks has expanded its programming to include family team building, yoga in the paddocks, meditative hikes with horses, birthday parties and exclusive trail ride experiences. These new offerings are “paid for” activities that will fund therapeutic life-skill and psychotherapy programming currently offered at the ranch. All services integrate horses in mounted and unmounted activities, are open to the public on a sliding scale and are booked by appointment only.

Sumner’s enthusiasm is palpable and her approach takes into consideration that the current political climate, the rise in school shootings and devastating natural disasters has led to an increase in depression, anxiety, addiction and suicide—all of which leads to fear if left unaddressed. That said, the Derby gala’s service auction will take a playful spin on track-side antics where patrons can “place bets” on their favorite horse/programs to advance to the finish line. “Hayley is an amazing individual doing really transformative work,” said Liana Toscanini, founder of the Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires. “She’s invested so much into helping others but, as we all know, we need support from our community to keep it going!

All Berkshire HorseWorks programs in need of support will be previewed in the paddock area during cocktails. “Post Positions” are as follows: 1) “Special Needs for Special People” for those on the autism spectrum or with varying diagnoses; 2) “Family Integration” for multigenerational communication and support; 3) “Therapeutic Site Visits” to sponsor those in need of a safe, nurturing environment for post-treatment transition; 4) “Horse Powered Veterans” to aid those who served regain their resiliency as they tackle effects of combat trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder; 5) “Support a Rescue” to help with vet bills and care for the therapy equines; and 6) “Girls Rule!”, an empowerment program for young women. Funds from all new initiatives will cover the cost for the growing number of therapeutic site visits.

Straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth, Sumner cuts to the chase: “The Derby has always embodied energy, glamor and style. We chose this theme for our gala as the evening is a fun and festive way for the community to come together in support of our much-needed programming. A bit of bluegrass music, great mint juleps and a wild hat-making station. We are holding it this year at a private estate farm so it should be a hoot!”

For more information about Berkshire HorseWorks or to purchase tickets to the Derby Gala ($175 for a “Trot” ticket and $250 for a “Gallop” ticket, which includes VIP parking and special recognition), see the Berkshire Edge calendar.