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Red Skye Foundation

Ever heard of the ancient mariners’ rhyme, ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight?’

It refers to the color of an evening sky that predicts clear sailing the next day.

A red sky at night means it will be a better day tomorrow.

And a better day tomorrow is what the Red Skye Foundation is all about.

Dr. Claire Wiseman and Niki Cogliano, co-founders of Red Skye both believe in better days ahead and they are making it happen with their Assisted Animal Therapy farm out in Bethany.

Red Skye’s mission is to improve the lives of people who are struggling with psychological and emotional disabilities by participating in equine and other animal assisted therapy programs, such as with dogs and donkeys. They are also education driven and work with schools in surrounding communities.

Dr. Claire Wiseman is a clinical psychologist who has been specializing in eating and weight disorders, anxiety, and depression for over 25 years. She uses Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) as an intuitive and creative approach. It was when she discovered Animal Assisted Therapy that her life changed.

“My son is an equestrian and when I was getting divorced, I saw that his horses helped him cope with the situation. That got my attention.”

So she became an EAGALA certified Mental Health Professional, teamed up with Niki and now they operate on 11 acres of beautiful farm land with horses, donkeys, dogs, goats and even parrots.

“I gave up this ivy league career because this work is so incredible,” says Claire. “Animals are so powerful. Even Sigmund Freud had a dog in his office who sat with him during client sessions.”

Not to be confused with Therapeudic riding, where clients with physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities ride on the horse, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) incorporates the power of human-equine bonding with the elements of cognitive behavior therapy. The resulting experience can be a catalyst for emotional awareness and growth.

Niki, who is also an EAGALA certified Equine Specialist and Barn Manager, says the difference is emotion vs. motion. “Here you work with the horse but you don’t get on the horse.”

A large barn sits in the back of their property. It is here that a patient will meet and work with the animal, directing it to perform specific actions. There are jump poles and obstacle courses that the patient can choose to walk thru with the animal. But it’s up to the patient to decide and take action. This way the patient gets to find a way to relate and communicate with the animal on his or her own terms. Neither Claire nor Niki gives any direction but they watch intently to see how the horse responds to the patient and how the patient relates to the horse. What you can learn about a patient in less than 10 minutes is nothing short of amazing.

Horses are completely authentic in their response to people. They don’t lie. Their sensitivities to the human physiological condition give them information about someone that the therapist cannot detect on their own.

“They are sensitive to blood pressure changes, heart rate, and cortisol levels,” says Claire. These are all clues that tell the horse what is really going on. And the horse will let the human know.

Claire likes to tell the story of Brigitta, a red haired part-Belgian rescue horse who is known for giving clients “the butt.”

“It happens all the time,” says Claire. “For instance, a patient will say that she doesn’t want to get over her bulimia and Brigitta will spin around and face her butt towards the patient!” As if to say Oh yeah? We’ll see about that!

Horses aren’t the only ones with the gift of animal communication. Phoebe, Claire’s Labrador retriever, who is now blind, is a legend at Red Skye and has helped hundreds of patients.

“She’s had ten years of seeing patients with me,” says Claire. “When a patient lies about something, Phoebe will go sit on her feet.” Usually, by the end of the session, the patient has come clean about the lie.

Miniature donkeys are also a part of the experience. As part of their new Red Skye To Go program, the donkeys go out into the community and meet kids face to face at schools to physically interact with them. Smaller groups of children can even spend time reading to the donkeys. One of the donkeys named Angel has anxiety and will attract the attention of children with the same disorder. The kids can relate to the animal and they feel calmer.

“It’s a pilot program,” says Claire. “We are doing a study this fall to understand the effect of this program on the kids. My vision is to make this part of the school’s curriculum.”

Red Skye got some support from The Community Foundation of Greater New Haven which is a good start. But they need sponsorships to make this really happen.

Claire says they are looking to raise $50,000 and are actively seeking corporate sponsorships.

“If we can get an endowment from a corporation then we can run everything effectively and we can be more generous with our time and staff members.”

Claire wants people to know that they can always sponsor a donkey, dog or horse too! Donations are accepted on their website and are much appreciated.

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