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Our Story

Our Story

Freedom Equine Connection is the product of a lifelong love and passion for horses and a deep desire to help people heal from life’s traumas, addictions, and other mental and emotional health issues. We utilize a ground-based horse and human interaction model to help with the healing, learning, and growing process.

Horses have an amazing ability to read our nonverbal communication and adapt to hidden messages and emotions we often don’t know we carry. Growing evidence and research support Equine Assisted Psychotherapy's effectiveness, which Freedom Equine Connection provides through a team of certified, licensed professionals and horses.

A lifelong horsewoman, our founder, Denise Wilson has always instinctively shared her horses with people, especially during times of distress, perceiving that time spent in the presence of horses is healing. This understanding of the power of healing with horses led her to research and attend intensive, accredited trainings and continues to expand her knowledge through continuing education on the journey she started as young girl and to fulfill her heart for the care of both humans and horses.

The healing environment created by our team helps people process distressing or difficult emotions, thoughts, and behavioral patterns, often resulting in deep insights and improvement in overall mental and emotional well-being.

​In addition to our mental health services, our team is equipped to help children of all ages overcome learning challenges through the Horse Powered Reading ® model. This approach combines all their senses to help children succeed in school and life.

Together we can realize a world where all mental health needs are met.

Meet the Team


Denise Wilson, ES, CISM
President/Founder of Freedom Equine Connection

A lifelong horsewoman, Denise has always instinctively shared her horses with people, especially during times of distress, understanding that time with the horses was healing. In 2019, she was invited to read a book about equine assisted psychotherapy and learning and realized that it was what she had been doing all along. This epiphany led her to research and attend intensive, accredited trainings to continue and expand her knowledge along the journey she started and fulfill her heart’s desire to care of both humans and horses. In 2011, Denise helped her husband found the 10-33 Foundation to assist all first responders and their families lead healthy and balanced professional and private lives. Denise helped develop the spouse and significant other version of the 10-33 Foundation’s principle training course, Stress Awareness, Management and Mitigation course, which she has taught in multiple states to first responders and military spouses/significant others audiences. In 2020, at the height of a global pandemic, Denise was part of a team of 13 crisis intervention specialists and counselors that went to New York city to provide frontline crisis mental health support to over 5,000 travel nurses, physician assistants, and respiratory therapists.

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Michelle "Char" Gaborko, BA
Board Member

My name is Michelle, but I answer to Charlie/Char, a nickname my brother gave me at birth. I’ve been married to my best friend, Jeff, for 28 years, and we have three adult children. We have called Vacaville home for 23 years and attend Valley Church. I spent my childhood in Orange County, CA, but moved to Minden, NV, at the end of elementary school. It was while growing up in Minden when I developed a love for horses. Many friends came from ranching families, and I rode whenever the invitation was given. I received a B.A. in Psychology from Westmont College; I’ve used my degree in various avenues: Drug Prevention Specialist, Social Worker, office manager at a pediatric physical/occupational/speech office, and as an educator for many years teaching middle school students Language Arts, Psychology, writing courses, how to study, ESL students, and Speech and Debate. I have always gravitated toward positions that teach/help/coach/organize others. It is pure joy to witness others achieve or conquer something they never thought they could, no matter what situation I find myself in.

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Sarah Jones, MD, FAAFP
Board Member

Sarah Jones is a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. She’s also a family physician who’s practiced full spectrum family medicine for over two decades, including teaching in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Her practice currently focuses on welcoming babies to loving families and teaching family medicine residents to partner with families on this exciting and sometimes stressful journey. Sarah’s heart to share knowledge and skills has taken her to Ethiopia, Honduras, Guatemala and other places to teach about safe maternity care, provide health assessments to schoolchildren and come alongside local healthcare professionals in service to community. She believes in the healing power of community and connection, and that’s what led her to Freedom Equine Connection. Welcoming a new family member with special needs, Sarah feels convicted to turn her volunteer time and attention to our local community. She reflects, “There is so much potential in relationships, between people and between people and animals. It is my desire to facilitate opportunities for individuals and groups to experience the bewildering but very real power of healing and growth that Equine Therapy provides. The arena is open. Come and experience for yourself.”

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Torri Cooper
Board Member

I have had personal experience with Equine Therapy and I am amazed at the healing journey it can take a person on. When asked to serve on the board of this organization I did not hesitate to say yes! I have a great passion for people who have experienced traumatic/stressful experiences and a great admiration for therapy that is out of the box. I was born and raised here is Solano County. I love our community and have a heart to give back to those in need. I am excited to lend help to The Freedom Equine Connection and the journey that God has them on. My desire to help and support my community led me to Real Estate 19 years ago. I pride myself on providing the highest quality of customer service while listening to the clients’ wants and needs. My top priority is ensuring our clients have a positive and professional experience. Whether purchasing a house or selling your special home, I am ready to guide you through all your Real Estate needs! I am focused on the Solano County area as well as Napa, Winters, Sacramento & Folsom and would love to better serve the peace officers, first responders, health care professionals, teachers, and military. I grew up in Vacaville (Solano County) and graduated from Vacaville High School. I have been married for 25 years and raised three children in Vacaville and we are blessed to have and two grandchildren. Torri is a Top Producer at Rapisarda Real Estate and has experiential knowledge in Trust and Probate Sales. The Cooper Team just recently added three more agents to their group.

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Rita Otto, MBA
Board Secretary

I was born in Napa, CA and raised in Solano county. After graduating from Armijo High School, I moved to southern California for college. There I earned a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics as well as my California Teaching Credential. I only taught High School math for three years before pursuing my MBA from Colorado State University. After that, I moved into corporate training departments. I've worked in a variety of industries, but since 2007 I have worked in the pharmaceutical/biotech industry. I currently work at Genentech. In my role I teach, coach and mentor others as well as lead projects and help clients find the right solution to their training needs. Being around horses is new for me. Wanting to help others who are facing challenges, is not. I am no stranger to therapy. After seeing a therapist for almost 9 years, I realized one of my greatest learnings from that experience was empathy. It took me quite a long time to show myself empathy and to be patient with myself as I worked on issues in my life. Now, empathy and the desire to listen and to help others is a strength and heart-felt desire of mine. At all ages of my life people have gravitated toward me who just needed to talk. And so I listened. It brings me great joy to provide a safe place for people to be vulnerable, accepted and loved. Now I have the opportunity to be on the board of Freedom Equine Connection which creates a new avenue for me to help others in need. I look forward to seeing what this organization will teach me as well as seeing how God will use me on this new journey.

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