New England Psychologist – Pysch Central: Ironwood Maine Article

Educational Treatment Center uses animals to reach teens

Six years ago, Wes and Sue Horton, LMFT were looking for a change. They found it at Ironwood, a residential treatment center and private, co-educational school for teens in Morrill, Maine.

With professional backgrounds in therapy and healthcare, the Hortons took over the facility adding more professional staff and revamping the program for families in crisis.

Ironwood Maine Web Update

“In like a Lion and out like a Lamb”, thus is March here in Mid-Coast Maine. While many of you are feeling the full impact of this Nor’Easter, as I write this, we awoke to freezing rain, slippery roads and snow forecast for the end of the event.  We’re ready and we’ve faced Lion’s before!

Up until this morning the pulse of spring was broadening as our fields are about bare of snow, except in the spots not hit by direct sunlight, and our stable of worthy equines have been flexing their tired winter muscles on our many pastures. Just to see the horses outside is a harbinger of softer weather to come. And my how the horses respond. Like children on a playground at recess there is much frolicking and jumping as they air it out from the confines of January and February. Our stable is top notch, with all residents acquiring advanced degrees of horsemanship. Not just riding, that comes after hours of tending to and learning about our equine friends. Just this morning the Barn Manager was off to our Frye Campus to conduct her weekly “Horsemanship Training”. Prior to ever getting to the Farmhouse and being involved with the larger animals, the Frye residents learn much about the handling, care and physiology of the sturdy little steeds. Recently, they’ve been actually “harness breaking” one of our minis so that it can pull a cart or buggy! How exciting.

Maple Monday is now entering week three with the Orchard of stately Sugar Maples tapped and depositing their liquid gold through the hundreds of “taps” into the scores of old metal buckets. There has been over 250 gallons of Sap gathered thus far and we have our first “boil” scheduled for next Monday. The residents are not just lugging buckets and doing manual labor, they are learning the process of “sugaring”, the history of Maple Syrup rendering from the native peoples to the early New England Settlers. They are engaging in outdoor cooking, tree and plant identification, the “signs” of spring and a good robust hike.

Farmhouse girls group ventured forth to the PAWS animal shelter in Camden yesterday and spent some quality time with the residents there brushing, grooming, exercising and dare I say, sharing some love!

Today, Farmhouse residents will be doing some baking (did I mention that the kids love baking) of items to be donated to the local church in the town of Brooks. Routinely local churches, Grange’s and other philanthropic groups will hold “public suppers” to benefit a local family or their own group in times of need. For us here in the rural reaches of Maine the public “suppah” is a great way to reconnect after a long winter. It is very meaningful for our residents to be part of these events by sharing their bounty in the way of baked goodies.

Sunday will see the Farmhouse residents going for an Ice skating outing. While you may think that this would be on one of our many local ponds, ice conditions are not always best so staff schedules a time at the Public Ice Arena in Rockland. As hard as the resident’s work all week, an outing to just socialize and simply be kids is a very welcomed and cherished event.


In spite of the awful weather, and at times the deep challenges of living in a therapeutic setting, life does carry on. Just this morning as I came into the Farmhouse there was a Level IV resident who was literally jumping up and down with joy as she was preparing to leave for her home visit. In a moment, as I was standing there, sharing in her jubilance, I couldn’t help myself but to picture this resident’s face on the day of her intake many months ago. And having conducted the parental tour those same many months ago, I could now sense the elation the family must be having at that same moment knowing that their child was coming home and on the last leg of her Ironwood journey. Yet, mostly, the joy she was displaying was buoyant and contagious to the entire group. Every resident, and staff, was keenly aware of the preciousness of the moment we were all experiencing. And yes, it is at moments like these that I retire to the office or nearest rest room to wipe the tears of joy from my eye. Why wouldn’t I. In the moment, there was nothing more joyful than being there!

Thanks for allowing your child to be part of our lives!

Have a great week. And don’t be afraid of the Lion, he’ll soon leave a Lamb.

Ironwood Maine Barn Update

Until now, it has been a matter of establishing consistency in the care of the horses across residents and staff expectations, and providing a foundation of competence for the physical and emotional well-being of our herd. We now have residents demonstrating handling and riding competence and developing deeper understanding and refined skills for riding through heart intention and the use of equus, the horses’ own body language. This has come about in part by continuing and adapting lessons underway when I arrived, and in part by adding new aspects to the equine program: schooling horses in hand from the ground, long-lining, free schooling using equus, bareback riding, and -most recently- practicing emergency safety moves and heading out for brief rides on the IW roads.

Some changes in care have improved the health and willingness of the horses to perform, beginning with a change to Barefoot Natural Balance hoofcare. This week, residents and barn staff will have a class on equine nutrition and supportive research will be provided. I have been researching this topic for some time, and have been working with our farriers on it for about a month, piloting changes I will likely make for IW horses with my own horses at home, with great results. (And applying these principles and practices with four rescue horses at our home barn at the same time, in partnership with vets.)

I am excited to be working with our horses in the verbal language of driving, have starting Duncan in ground training for this, and assessed others for their interest and ability. Residents will have the chance to join this process as interested. So there’s lots more to come as we head into full spring and summer!

Thank you all for your support! -Joy

Ironwood Maine Granted Accreditation by the New England Association of Schools & Colleges

Ironwood Maine, a therapeutic boarding school for struggling teens in Maine, is proud to announce it was granted accreditation by the Commission on Independent Schools from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) at its February 5-6, 2018, meeting.

Ironwood Maine Web Update

I can tell that time really does fly by here on our little piece of the earth because it seems like I’m writing these updates every day, not every week. Yes, it is true that the days rapidly turn into weeks, and the week’s into months. And, before you know it, your child has been here for 3 months or 6 months, or you’re looking at a home visit date. The season’s change and in similar fashion the cycle of the Ironwood Journey takes on new and beautiful form each week. And like the season’s, complete with its storms and sunshine, cold and warmth the growth of your child takes place.

We battled the end of winter, precursor to spring, “Mud Season” this week with the lower Ironwood Road taking on the consistency of quick sand completely capable of swallowing a small to mid-size vehicle. Yet, as noted here prior we are well equipped with the vehicles to get in and out. And, of course, our local emergency management teams of fire and medical emergency personnel are more than prepared to get in and out on these roads.

Maple Monday has been a very big hit with a full day being spent in the woods and fields of our beautiful campus for residents of both Frye and Farmhouse. A different group is selected each week and are staff led to the Sugar Orchard where all the chores and responsibilities are carried out for nineteenth century Maple Syrup operation. Taps are added each week and we’ve actually had some SAP runs already with buckets being emptied into the 300 gallon holding tank for a future boil. February 20th is the calendar date that all Maple Syrup operations mark on their calendars as the date to have all your trees tapped. In addition to the work, there is much time spent on outdoor experiential education centering on tree identification, the dormancy of the Northern Forest in winter and its “springing” back to life as Mother Nature preps for summer. Much conversation and good food, cooked on open fires in the orchard compliment the day. Much more sweetness to come on this subject.

The field trip to the glass blowing shop was completed with a grand time had by all. The residents learned of the craft and had their hand at some glass blowing themselves! Farmhouse is preparing for an “ethnic night” experience tonight with France being the host country. As I was breezing through the FH early this afternoon I witnessed instruction and hands on Duck Filleting going on along with a lot of other goodies in various stages of preparation. Ethnic Nights are deeper than just local fare as each resident has to study and then report on aspects of the host country. Topics are its culture, economics, geographic locale, and in many cases it’s impact as an immigrant population to the United States. Oh, and it is not without decorations. Maybe a picture or two coming for you.

As I opened with the reference of time going by so quickly here on our little campus, my mind goes to the myriad of things that occur here weekly and daily; Music Group, Art Group, Exercise Groups, DBT Groups, EAP Sessions, Therapeutic Groups, Individual Therapies, Yoga Class, Horsemanship Group, School, Bunk Chores, Barn Chores, Meal Prep, Meal Time, House Chores, Folder Work, Service Reflection, Family Therapies, Hiking, Free time, Fun time, Maple Monday, Food delivery, Horse Riding…now, apply a time taken to accomplish each of these? No wonder time goes by so fast!

Have a great week and thanks for allowing your child to be part of our lives…