MRT’s Team

DJ Jesser, LICSW
Farm Director and Founder

Inspired by her horses and working as a clinical therapist at a public alternative school for students with  emotional behavioral challenges, DJ established MoonRise Farm in 2002. She noticed how horses motivated and encouraged her students to view themselves in a new way. Students saw and were able to practice positive change in their lives through connection with the horses. In collaboration with Vermont Adaptive,  the program grew to serve hundreds of participants with physical, cognitive and emotional challenges. In 2018, she founded MoonRise Therapeutics (MRT), a non-profit community organization focused on mental health and wellness.

In addition to directing and growing non-profit,  DJ is a licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and offers direct  prevention and intervention services.  Her primary work focuses on anxiety, depression and issues from the impact of trauma and adverse childhood experiences. Her certifications include Gestalt Equine Institute of the Rockies, EMDRIA for level 1 and 2 as well as Equine-Assisted EMDR and PATH Intl (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International) Registered Instructor and also Equine Specialist in Education and Mental Health. With forty years of experience in the counseling field, and a lifetime of experience with horses, she continues to share her passion and leadership in this work. On-going goals for DJ are to continue to learn from her horses and support positive and joyful connections of people to themselves, each other and the natural world.

Ben Fox, LCMHC
Clinical and Program Director, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Expressive Art Therapist, MRT Clinician

Ben Fox is a Licensed Mental Health Clinician in Vermont, practicing Expressive Art and Equine Therapy in the Upper Valley Region.  He graduated from Lesley University in 2006 with, M.A. in Expressive Arts Therapy and Mental Health Counseling. He is working towards his hours for PATH Equine Specialist certification. Ben has more than fifteen years of experience working with individuals and families on issues of addiction, trauma and loss.

Laura Perez
Operations Director

Laura (she/her) joyfully co-leads with a team of people who are fiercely dedicated to the delivery of transformative programs and amplifying the voices of the community they serve. She is dedicated to people-powered advocacy and organizing. Her passion is to be with her community, listen to what people want and need, and work to make those visions a reality. She brings over fifteen years of community organization experience to MoonRise Therapeutics, having dedicated her career to creating a safer, happier, and healthier place for us all to live, play, and work.

Her baccalaureate education focused on the politics of poverty and community education as a force for social change. Additionally, she holds a Master’s in Business Administration with a focus on strategic organizational leadership. In her spare time Laura finds her greatest delight in working side by side with her husband at their small family farm and traveling with her children.

Sienna Whitney PATH Certified as a TRI and ESMHL

Born and raised in San Diego, CA., Sienna was introduced to therapeutic riding by volunteering at the BETH program in Bonita, CA. As a teenager she met the BETH founder JoAnn Rangus who took Sienna under her wings and taught her so much more than how to work with horses and people with disabilities. Throughout her eight years at BETH, Sienna learned so many life lessons through the examples of the people that surrounded her. She learned to ride at the neighboring hunter/jumper barn where she had the opportunity to work in exchange for her lessons. In 1996, Sienna moved to Vermont where she worked for four years at Hitching Post, an eventing barn in South Royalton. Sienna spent over a dozen years working with children in both alternative and mainstream schools. In 2013, she was drawn back to her roots in therapeutic riding at High Horses and MoonRise Farm where she began to volunteer. In 2015, Sienna went to High Hopes TR Center in Connecticut for her training and returned to Vermont with her certification through PATH Intl. as a Registered Therapeutic Riding Instructor and Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning (ESMHL). Sienna is constantly impressed with how much horses teach us and feels blessed by being in the presence of these sentient animals.

Anne Marie Savino
PATH International Instructor & Equine Specialists and Barn Assistant

As far back as she can remember, Anne Marie has always wanted to be around horses. She knew she wanted horses in her life and chose veterinary medicine to pursue as a career path. She graduated college with an AS degree in Veterinary Technology and worked in that field for over 30 years. After moving to Vermont, she pursued an interest in the field of mental health and therapeutic riding. She earned her PATH certification as an Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning (June 2022). She is grateful to be a part of the MoonRise team and looks forward to helping MRT grow their programs as well as expanding her knowledge and development of the equine industry in partnering with our equine friends.

Contracted Employees

Jennifer McDermott
PATH International Instructor & Equine Specialists

Jennifer’s passion for horses began at 10 when she found a riding program at a local college barn. During her teens she showed hunter/jumper and hunted with the Somers Hunt Club. College, career and family distracted her for a decade but while living in Singapore volunteer opportunities at an equine therapy stable, aka Riding for the Disabled, put her back on the path. In the US, alongside her trainer, she began rehabilitating horses at Bill Steinkraus’s barn in 2005. Her focus turned to Off the Track Thoroughbreds in 2010. Being constantly presented with behavioral and wellness conundrums, Jennifer developed a holistic approach to horse wellness and training with a foundation in the Reiki healing arts and Marker teaching. She always saw the bridge between the traditional veterinarian world and the integrative wellness world and in 2016 & 2017 she organized and facilitated an Equine Wellness Fair with the intention of demonstrating just that. She was instrumental in the promotion of the diagnostic behavioral modality known as OSCAR therapy (recognizing and treating trauma in all species). Just to keep things interesting, she also hosted a radio show, HORSEtalk where equine wellness and local equine events in Connecticut were profiled. In 2018, the move to her husband’s family home in Vermont finally brought her horses home and she hung out with her herd enjoying well needed down time with the occasional student stopping by the barn. For her the greatest gift horses bestow is their unfailing effort to keep we humans in the moment, teaching awareness and fairness without judgement.  

Phil Prothero, LCMHC

A native New Englander and former Environmental Engineer, switched careers after a sabbatical from engineering to study counseling and he never looked back. He has since earned both his Master of Arts in Counseling and Masters of Divinity from Mars Hill Graduate School, now known as The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. After starting a private practice in 2004 in the Seattle area , Phil returned in 2018 to New England and opened a office in White River Junction. He is licensed in Vermont as a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor. Phil specializes in working with people who are looking to find freedom from their process addictions, including codependency. He also helps people suffering from anxiety, depression, trauma, life transitions, grieving, pet loss, spiritual concerns, and general blahs. Phil has always been passionate about animals but will call himself a true crazy cat guy. In 2010, he began learning about equine therapy and decided maybe his cat would be a good therapy cat. One of his rescue cats did join him at the office and officially was termed a therapy cat. In 2015, Phil took a deeper plunge into learning about equine therapy and experiential action-oriented therapy methods. Phil believes the equine assisted therapy offers the seeker a gentle and honest mirror of their heart and soul. This therapy modality involves horses and the therapeutic process working together to increase self-awareness and understanding of one’s self in relationship to others. When Phil is not working, he enjoys hanging out with his wife and cats, and exploring the wilderness by kayaking, backpacking, and hiking.