Jean Hamer always wanted a pony. “Of course, every little girl wants a pony,” she said. “That’s how this started.”
Hamer rode horses in high school and in college, and in 1994 she earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from the University of Connecticut. But the hobby soon was put on the back burner when she attended Villanova University School of Law and embarked on her legal career.
Hamer has worked as a judicial research clerk in the New Haven and Bridgeport superior courts, as a litigation associate for the Bridgeport firm of Murphy & Karpie and for the Hartford firm of Cramer, Alissi & Fontaine.
These days, Hamer is an associate at the Waterbury office of Melick & Porter, a Boston-based firm focusing on insurance defense law.
“My practice consists of the defense of general liability, professional liability, transportation product liability, and wrongful death claims,” she said.
Though she now has a busy practice, as recently as 2010 Hamer was unemployed. It was at that point she got back in touch with her equine past, volunteering at a therapeutic riding program in Somers. Such programs use equine-assisted activities to help people with physical, emotional or cognitive special needs.
“I rode horses in both high school and college so I wanted to continue working with horses in some capacity,” said Hamer, who was disappointed when the Somers program ceased operations.
But Hamer caught on with Melick & Porter, moved to Middletown and in 2012 began volunteering at the Manes & Motions Therapeutic Riding Center in Middletown. She grooms horses at the center and generally gets them ready for riding. She also works directly with special-needs riders.
“I am there as the leader for the horse,” Hamer said.
Some of the people Hamer works with have autism and have an easier time relating to animals than to people. Horses offer comfort to those with autism, she said, because “they’re nonjudgmental, they’re supportive, they’re caring and they’re loving.”
Other clients have issues with balance and find that riding horses helps them; others have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and find that being around horses helps them focus.
Janice Anderson, facility coordinator for Manes & Motions, said the riding center is fortunate to have Hamer.
“She is compassionate, reliable, dedicated and has a wonderful sense of humor that she shares with us,” Anderson said. “Jean jumped right in to help with our program from the start and frequently asks, ‘What do you need me to do?’ Her previous horse experience makes her a very versatile volunteer. [The horses'] jobs can be both mentally and physically demanding, working with the special-needs population, and it’s wonderful for someone to come and pamper them a little.”
In addition to all the work with horses and special-needs riders, Hamer served on Manes & Motion’s fundraising committee last year.
Sarah Castellani, Manes & Motions’ program manager, said the success of the riding program depends on people such as Hamer.
“Jean is a devoted and caring volunteer whose commitment and hard work benefit the program tremendously,” Castellani said.
Hamer said the volunteer work has reawakened her own interest in riding.
“I find it very therapeutic too,” she said.
Hamer is even reliving her childhood dream of having her own pony—sort of. She has “adopted” a horse named Hershey’s Kiss.
“Every month I pay for her upkeep,” Hamer explained.
Anderson, the facility’s coordinator at the therapeutic riding center, said Hamer does much more than that.
“With every herd of horses there is always a boss, one that commands the respect of all the others. Hershey is that horse at our barn, and Jean has been drawn to her personality since day one,” Anderson said. “Jean comes out each week, even in the snowstorms, to give Hershey some extra TLC.”•