Skip to Main Content

Frontlines to horse strides, Soldiers take mental health pause between COVID-19 response missions

Photos by Sgt. James Nowell-Coleman, 29th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

U.S. Army Capt. Brandon F. Williams, a behavioral health officer with the 1st Battalion, 224th Medical Company Area Support, brushes the mane of Summer at Oatland Stables in Gaithersburg, Maryland, March 29, 2020. Williams coordinated the equine-assisted therapy, as a chance for soldiers to unwind during state active duty in support of Maryland’s response to COVID-19.
U.S. Army Spc. Caitlyn Renee Conver, a healthcare specialist with the 1-224th MCAS, cleans Summer’s horseshoe with a hoof pick. Conver recalls her past experience with horses during her moments with Summer.
Spc. Geraldine Watts and Spc. Anna Dambra, both healthcare specialists in the 1-224th MCAS use this opportunity to unwind during their downtime between missions.
“It’s easy for people to become a little frustrated or irate because there is a lot of uncertainty,” said Capt. Brandon F. Williams. “I actually do a little bit of animal therapy myself and since the horses are here and the stables are close I asked if they were open to some equine therapy.”
Pfc. Wayra C. Cerda was the first Soldier to meet Summer.
Astrid Dalley, business manager at Oatland Stables, converses with a Maryland Army National Guard Soldier. It’s Astrid’s first time hosting National Guard members doing any kind of equine-assisted therapy, but Oatland Stables often works with children suffering from autism.
Horses graze in the pasture outside the Oatland Stables in Gaithersburg, Maryland, near the 1-224th MCAS’s armory.
“Bobby was sold to us because he was a competition horse that stopped doing the big jumps,” said Astrid Dalley. Now this former prized jumping horse, greets all the new faces who enter the stables.
Hannah Goldbach, an American University graduate on her way to grad school, rides Twister in the massive indoor dirt rink attached to the stable. Twister, like Bobby, is also retired from jumping.
1-224th Medical Company Area Support Soldiers teaming up for a much needed grooming for Elvis, the pony.

More than 2,000 Maryland National Guard members are activated to support Maryland’s response to COVID-19. The MDNG is working in close coordination with many agencies to support civil authorities. MDNG capabilities include medical augmentation, transportation support, food distribution, and more.