Press Releases


By Gretchen Gross

    Just two miles off Rt. 89 in Vermont, past the river and the formerly ‘floating’
bridge, around the bend past the inns, each of them unique and quirky in their
own Vermont small town way, up the road, veering left at the ubiquitous New
England white church, left and up a barely marked dirt road. Up and up some
more on a rutted friendly well worn road where the old growth trees form a
canopy over the path, rising on the hills of Vermont. The farther you get from the
highway, the more isolated and magical it all feels. Something different will
happen this weekend, you can feel it. You’re off the beaten path in more ways
than one, but that’s what you’re here for.

    The scenery is lush and verdant in the summer and fall, slippery and misty in the
spring, and cinematic in the winter. You come out from under the maple boughs
to a field with what has to be one of the best sledding hills in midwinter that
you’ve seen in a long time. It’s wide open, clear, and just steep enough to give
you a few quick heart beats. Finally, on the right at the divergence in the road
you see a home and beyond it a small neat barn. Three horses graze in the field,
calm, quiet. It’s all so beautiful that it might seem unreal. You find yourself on
Georgie Stapleton’s front door. And the rest will be your own history.

    Georgie, a woman in her mid-forties, has a Master’s Degree in Counseling, and a
smile that welcomes you into her kitchen where delectable pastries, fresh fruit,
coffee, tea, and juices so delicious are laid out, that you think you may be quite
content to sit at her kitchen table and eat and talk all weekend. Like many
horsewomen, Georgie sends up a sense of quiet confidence. Her Vermont
connection has nurtured her reliability, unflappableness and genuine caring.
Georgie is a woman who you would take on a cross-country trip for her human
skills, her calm ways and her patience. She is not flashy or showy. She is
present. You notice that from the first warm handshake. She, and in some cases
a co-facilitator will be your guides in the weekend workshop you choose, which
might focus on enhancing leadership skills, strengthening boundaries in
relationships, or improving team work. Georgie is the constant. She is the gentle
voice over your shoulder asking you if you are feeling grounded.
Along with her husband, Brian, Georgie uses her counseling skills, her
mindfulness training, and the training she received as an approved EPONA
(equine assisted learning) instructor to facilitate interpersonal growth. Wether
helping at-risk teens understand the impact of their behaviors on relationships;
horse riders to improve their relationships with their horses; or those of us who
have never been closer to a horse than driving past a meadow full of the big
guys, Georgie is skilled at facilitating the experience but not dictating the

    Behind her house sits the barn. For the first several hours of the workshop the
horses, what you thought you came here to learn about, are not the focus. The
learning is the focus. Your learning is the focus. Quickly you learn that this is not
essentially about the horse in the way you thought it might be. It’s about the
horse as your teacher.

    “Picture a horse, any horse” Georgie says. “What you will notice is that the bulk
of their being is about sensing. Their chests, housing their hearts, are big and
broad. Their bellies, their ‘gut’ instincts run the length of their bodies. Their ears
are high and ready. Their brains are relatively small. Their legs, their get-away
sticks, are ready. They are always stable, resting on four feet, grounded. A horse
that is not grounded is a horse in danger.” You’ll hear that from her over and over
again during the workshop, reminding you to ground yourself, to get to know
what that feels like in your body and then in your thoughts. Ahhh. That’s the hint,
and the theme. Horses have something to teach us, and if we are present, we
will learn.

    Georgie’s workshops are experiential. She tells you to dress for hours outside in
the pens with the horses. No, you won’t be riding them, you will be with them on
their turf, learning from them. Do you wonder how humans can learn about things
like teamwork and leadership, building healthier relationships, getting ‘unstuck’,
creating more energy or even, gulp, experiencing greater happiness in a
workshop where you spend a lot of very quiet time in a round-pen with a horse
you don’t know very well at all? After the foundation of being completely focused,
present and mindful is laid each morning with an hour yoga session, you are
more aware of your own internal and external experiences and communications.
There is no limit to where that will take you as you are standing near the horse
you choose, or the horse who chooses you, alone, in a round pen. Patience.
Intuitiveness. Awareness. Respect. Mirroring. Communication through minute
movements. All of these are evident in those minutes that you are in the ring.
If you are anxious, Georgie stands with you while you reground yourself and
release your anxiety. If you are too ‘loud’ in your communications, she and the
rest of the attendees may notice non-judgmentally. If you are in-sync with the
horse, the most amazing things happen. You move the horse without saying a
word. Let me say that again. Without words, you move this independent 1000+
pound animal with a mind and reflexes of it’s own, around a ring, changing
direction as you intend, without a word, without a whip, without touching the
horse. That is both powerful and amazing. You invite him to move toward you
and he does, until you remind him of the boundary and he stops. No words are

    The power of being grounded as you learn about yourself through and in the
presence of these animals is often beyond description. Time alone at whatever
inn you’re at in the evening helps the learning. It comes to you in huge ‘ah-ha’s!’
and smaller “ah’s” for days and weeks after the workshop is over.
Learning about yourself from a horse is singularly different from being in therapy,
reading a book or sitting at a workshop. It is clear. It can be quick. And the
information is so close you can touch it. The heart and the guts of the horse are
central to that unfolding and growth. And Georgie, she smiles, supports, reflects
and provides the space, the skills, and of course, the nourishment that
encourages these moments to happen. By the time you leave her driveway on
the last day of the workshop, you know that you have taken a bit of each horse,
of each session in the pen with you and you’ll never be quite the same. After all
those experiences, you notice as you drive away, the horses are just grazing,
calmly, contentedly. There’s wisdom in that. And you know you’re taking it with

    For more information on Georgie Stapleton’s workshops, look at www., or If you would like to have
her develop a training on a topic that you don’t see available, let her know. She
works with corporations, schools, teens and adults.
Gretchen Gross is a LICSW, professor and writer who lives in South Burlington
Vermont. She participated in a weekend workshop at Midnight Mountain as the
basis for this article. Though she went for the article, she left with so much more.

Therapy for People Relies On ‘Equine Sensitivity’

By Sara Nelson

    Up a winding dirt road in Brookfield, Georgie Stapleton and her husband, Brian Locke,have carved out an idyllic setting for their home of three years. Stapleton’s gardens add color to the hillside, and there is room to roam and a new, clean stable for Stapleton’s three horses. 

    The setting is also perfect for Stapleton’s new business. Stapleton, a counselor who has lived in Central Vermont for over 20 years, has developed a unique therapeutic practice that uses horses to provide behavioral feedback for people. Stapleton is calling her business Midnight Mountain: Equine Assisted Personal Empowerment.

    Just a few years ago, Stapleton wouldn’t have predicted her life would lead in this
direction. She had worked as an adolescent and addictions counselor for the Youth
Services Bureau for close to two decades when a friend gave her a book about the
spiritual presence and healing power of horses.
Although she’d been a "horse person all my life," Stapleton said she was skeptical of the book’s premise. "It sounded hokey," she recalls. She was so skeptical that when the author, Linda Kohanov, came to give a demonstration in Maine a few years ago, Stapleton decided to attend "basically in order to tell them how wrong they were."
To her surprise, Stapleton found herself converted by the "profound interactions" she
witnessed between humans and horses at the workshop. In fact, the experience changed the course of Stapleton's life. She quit her job and traveled west with her Morgan horse, Midnight. At Kohanov's Epona Center in Arizona, Stapleton studied "Equine Assisted Learning" with the author who had inspired her. After completing her training with Kohanov, Stapleton said she knew that she wanted to
find a way to combine the methods she’d learned with her own counseling experience. Midnight Mountain allows her to do just that. With the help of Midnight and two other horses, Stapleton is offering monthly three-day workshops as well as individual sessions with her horses or the client’s horse. She also offers clinics at other barns. Stapleton says the sessions can help participants "understand and build healthier relationships with people" and "teach people to be in their body."
Equine Sensitivity "The premise behind the work is that as animals vulnerable to attack, horses have evolved to be extremely sensitive," Stapleton said. "If someone pretends to be happy when they feel sad, to a horse that's like the lion in the bushes."
Stapleton uses several exercises to harness the power of this equine sensitivity. For
example, she said, an exercise in which participants physically set a boundary with a
horse teaches them to be confident setting emotional boundaries with humans.
The group workshops Stapleton has developed include these equine exercises as well as yoga and group discussions. Designed for six participants, the workshops will also employ two co-facilitators drawn from a group of several mental health professionals in the area who attended Stapleton's first workshop, held in June.
Her next workshop will be held August 14. Stapleton said she's still figuring out the financial side of the business with the assistance
of Locke, an engineer who also helps with the technical details of Midnight Mountain.
She said she may explore grant funding for work with certain groups, such as recently released prisoners. Stapleton said one of the challenges of starting her own business is "promoting myself, because I've never had to do it before."
As a horse person who is "fascinated by people," Stapleton seems to have found the right profession. "What I love about this work is that it's so concrete," she said.
"As a counselor with 20 years of experience, a lot of times I could probably tell you
what's going on, but the horses help you see it for yourself."

The Transition Program

By Stefan Hard

Published 8/15/2011

Times Argus

They call it the The Transition Program.

Designed for at-risk kids about to make the move from Barre City and Barre Townmiddle schools into bustling Spaulding High School later this summer, the program is much more lively and innovative than its name would imply.

Located high and remote in the hills of Brookfield at Midnight Mountain, the home and horse farm of married couple Georgie Stapleton and Brian Locke, it seems like an unlikely setting to help kids make a successful transition from one brick-and-mortar school building to another.

There’s a horse corral, dense woods, a pond and a rustic barn next to a white clapboard house. With an atmosphere more like a summer camp than a “program” — no academics taught here — the six-day second half of the Transition Program this month, building on a three-day session in May, takes a closer look to understand what’s going on.

The Transition Program might consider changing its name to Self-Awareness Camp to promote the number one skill taught here.

“One of the first things we teach is to feel your feet on the ground. What am I feeling right now? Stay present as yourself even as you have to feel the emotions of others,” said Stapleton.

Stapleton, in her day job, works for Washington County Youth Services Bureau. She gets help from Locke, who is a manufacturing engineer and performance artist (his license plate is “CLOWN”) and Tom Murphy of Waterbury Center, who co-founded the program three years ago with Stapleton.

Many of the roughly two dozen kids involved in Transition Program this year have faced more unpleasant changes and uphill battles in their childhoods than many outside of the program face in an entire lifetime. Most of the kids have had little chance to relax with their peers or to put aside how other students in school react to the obstacles they face. Learning disabilities, speech impediments, physical and sexual abuse trauma histories and multiple foster care placements are just a few of the challenges faced by kids in the program.

By design, The Transition Program little resembles a classroom with its horse-handling ring, ropes course, and improvisational comedy and body movement workshops. There are also campfires and storytelling before lights-out.

Another dimension is the inclusion of a few Spaulding teachers as camp counselors, allowing some of the students to start forming relationships with their soon-to-be teachers: A real lifesaver once they’re thrown into the big pool of high school.
Ryan Malone, 15, of Barre Town went through the program last year and is back for a second stint, but this time he is a student leader in the program. Malone boldly went before the school board and lobbied for the program’s funding to be sustained, telling school directors that he gained the confidence to handle a half-ton horse in the program and as a result, could handle the taunts of a bully in school.

“I also learned communication skills and I learned concentration skills,” said Malone recently as he watched another student take that horse around the ring at Midnight Mountain. “I’m getting better. I know I am because people are telling me that I am.”

Rebecca Benoir, 14, of Graniteville, stepped out of the corral where she’d been working with a palomino quarter horse named Shelby, first with Stapleton in the ring with her, and then by herself. Benoir joined Malone and a half-dozen other students watching outside the ring.

“I was a little nervous at first, it’s so big, like 1,000 pounds, but after I saw she was relaxed, she’s calm, I knew that I should be calm, too,” said Benoir. Benoir admitted the horse has a little bit of attitude, but that she had to stay steady and firm in her commands to get results.

Over at the ropes course, the kids took a break from spotting each other on low ropes suspended above the forest floor from a circle of large trees. They played a strategy game where you can’t see your own three playing cards, but you can see everyone else’s, and you have to try to line yourself up sequentially with others by the numbers on the face of the cards. The group, mostly students but with two counselors, lined themselves up perfectly after a few minutes of sideways glances and rearrangement.

Tyler Therrien, 15, of Barre, in the end, put himself first in the line-up and explained afterward that he watched how others were lining up, and their reaction to his movements, to figure out his place. These and other games teach students to be aware of subtle (and not so subtle) signals from others in a social environment, and respond appropriately.

At the other side of the horse pasture, in the house, Murphy was playing “freeze” with a group of kids and two Spaulding teachers, P.J. LaPerle and Nick Connor. In alternating fashion, adults and students would go up in front of the others with an object in hand and improvise act until someone in the group yelled “Freeze!” and the actor would have to change his routine.

After much urging and suggestion, then outright prodding and finally lead acting from Murphy, Casey DuBois, 15, of Barre Town slipped into acting in reaction to Murphy’s movements and had everyone laughing and surprised.

“I didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of everybody,” said DuBois afterwards. “I didn’t want to be as shy … their reactions made me nervous.”

“I learned that I’m capable of a lot of things,” chimed in Nick Dune, 14, of Barre Town.

Murphy explained to the kids that sometimes they have to push themselves past what is comfortable and familiar to find something inside that they perhaps didn’t know they had.

At the end of the afternoon, with some of the kids swimming in the pond, and some lying on the grass chatting with some of their soon-to-be high school teachers, it was clear that, despite the day’s difficulties and challenges, the kids were left relaxed and maybe even a bit pleased with themselves. Perhaps, the skills they gain in The Transition Program might be useful out of more than just that difficult leap into high school.a