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Mar. 7—T he past year has been tough on everyone, but for those on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s been especially exhausting, both physically and emotionally.

Now the gentle horses and ponies at UpReach Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Goffstown are doing their best to care for those who have been taking care of the rest of us.

The folks at UpReach have long seen how interactions between horse and human can benefit adults and youngsters with disabilities, at-risk teens, trauma survivors and veterans. So earlier this year, they launched Caring Connections, a program offered free of charge to first responders and health care workers.

“The intention of it is to give folks on the front lines … A chance to come to the barn, to our nice, tranquil, peaceful environment, and take care of themselves for an hour,” explained Kristen McGraw, who manages the unmounted programs at the Goffstown facility.

“They’re giving so much to our families and our communities right now,” McGraw said. “They can come here and just be, with nobody expecting anything from them.”

There’s no set agenda for the hour-long sessions, she said. “Everybody has such a different need right now,” she said. “Some folks come and just spend the hour brushing the horses and loving on them. Other folks need to move.”

This is not horseback riding. The magic comes from the one-on-one interactions with the animals.

“They are super sweet and kind and compassionate,” McGraw said.

Robyn Cushing of New Boston is an advanced EMT at American Medical Response, which provides ambulance services in Manchester and Nashua. The past year, she said, “has been very stressful, very busy.”

The biggest challenge is not knowing what you’re walking into when you respond to a 911 call, Cushing said. And all too often, what EMTs find when they arrive is COVID.

But it’s not just the virus, Cushing said; other emergencies have not ceased during the pandemic. “You’ve got the overdoses, the pediatric calls, the elderly calls …”

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Cushing heard about Caring Connections from a counseling service that provides support to first responders. Her daughter has a horse, so she’s familiar with the animals.

The horses at UpReach are special, she said.

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