A good heart

Tom Batters
Julie Sellner, founder and executive director of the non-profit Mended Hearts Therapeutic Center in Metamora, stands with Tinkerbell, one of the many horses used in her equine assisted therapy program.

Julie Sellner walks slowly up to the large, majestic black horse named Tinkerbell, and the horse raises its head proudly, basking in the attention.

“She’s a bit of a diva,” Sellner says, smiling. “She’s one of our stronger personalities here.”

About 20 yards away, Rocky, Sally, and Brat, notice that Sellner is petting Tinkerbell, so they come trotting over for their share of the petting and maybe even a treat if she has one.

The horses, who each have their own distinct personalities, are part of Mended Hearts Therapeutic Center, a non-profit Christian-based counseling facility that uses equine assisted therapy to help troubled children of all ages confront their problems and get their lives back on track.

Sellner, the executive director, started the center in 2000 after working as a nurse for more than 20 years.

She did not do it to get rich, and she said, without her faith in God, she would not have even opened the doors.

“The Lord was good to me. He opened the doors,” she said. “This is a mission. I don’t take a salary. We get by on faith and the help and donations of other caring people in the community.”

After working as a nurse for more than 20 years, Sellner went to Bradley to earn her master’s degree in counseling. She provides traditional counseling for adults and families, but the equine therapy is the most distinctive feature at Mended Hearts.

“It (equine assisted therapy) has been around for years, and it’s a well-documented, successful means of therapy, especially for children and adolescents,” she said. “It was something that I felt this area could benefit from.”

When a child comes into the program, he or she gets to choose a horse, which Sellner said, is a very important first step.

“The horses have different personalities, just like children have different personalities,” she said. “So, a child gets to pick a horse that he or she feels comfortable with. They share a bond right away and they become friends.”

There are adventurous activities such as “horsie basketball,” but it is not all fun and games.

Children take an active role in caring for their horse (giving baths, cleaning the stables, etc.), so that they start to feel a sense of responsibility.

Sellner has successfully counseled children and adolescents of all different backgrounds. Some have been abused, others were having trouble adjusting to their parents getting divorced. Some faced discipline problems at school.

Sellner and her small staff of counselors work closely with parents, doctors and schools when developing and implementing a plan for recovery.

She also offers a special summer camp for teen girls who are in her program.

Girls come to the center three days a week for camp outs, horse rides, classes and other activities.

“That has been very successful,” she said. “The girls become good friends. Last year, we went on a 25-mile bike ride together. They have a lot of fun.”

For more information on Mended Hearts, visit mended-hearts.org, or call 383-4323.