Healing with Horses

Julie Nelson with one of her horses

Julie Nelson

Horses always have been an integral part of life for Julie Nelson, senior administrative specialist for Project Healthy Schools and MHealthy who has worked at U-M since 2002.

"I've always had horses in my life in some way; I've either owned my own horse, or my friends had horses I could ride, " says Nelson, who always has been intrigued by the relationship between a horse and a human.

After years of riding and training horses, Nelson's love of horses became a way for her to help others in the Michigan community.

Four years ago when the Sitting Tall program needed a new location, Nelson offered to host it at her farm.

With help from high school students in Jackson, and many volunteers with horses, Nelson says she is able to provide a memorable experience for children with disabilities. "It's just really nice to see the joy the kids get from doing it when they're on a horse's back they are free, they are just as able as the next person," she says.

Providing memorable experiences for children isn't the only way that Nelson helps in the community. Her job as an administrative specialist for Project Healthy Schools and MHealthy also has her working for a program designed to benefit others. "MHealthy is focused on healthy lifestyles and helping people to live healthfully and I was really attracted to that," says Nelson, who has worked at U-M for nine years.

Working with MHealthy has allowed Nelson to directly work with Project Healthy Schools, a middle-school-based program to reduce childhood obesity and its long-term health risks. Although her job involves a variety of tasks, one of her primary responsibilities is handling logistics and coordination of the advisory board meetings for Project Healthy Schools.

The advisory board consists of eight members, many of whom are U-M Health System donors. "We formed the advisory board in March and the idea is to have people on the board who are leaders in the community, who have a passion for children and doing something about childhood obesity," Nelson says.

While Nelson's plan is to continue working at MHealthy until she retires, horses and volunteering with children still are her favorite pastimes. "I have a passion for horses and I also want to help people," she says.

After seeing the connection a grieving young girl had with a horse, Nelson searched for a new way to use horses to help others. In one of her horse magazines, she read an article about equine-assisted psychotherapy.

"I got goose bumps; it prompted me to really look into it," says Nelson, who recently became certified as an equine specialist through the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association.

Eventually, Nelson hopes to team with a licensed therapist to use horses to help people with mental health issues. "I'm just taking it one step at a time. It just feels right to me and it's something I want to do," Nelson says.