With considerable expertise in equine therapy and positive psychotherapy, Judy Evalyn Cunningham, EdD, has excelled as a counselor, equine psychotherapist and the owner of Lucky’s Farm since 2021. She also continues to serve as an instructor at St. Xavier University and a curriculum developer in the “Help Yourself” program at Beloit College, roles she has held since 2002. Growing up on a farm, she spent a considerable amount of time surrounded by animals and was particularly drawn to horses, which she continued to work with through college. Matriculating at Northern Illinois University, she completed a Bachelor of Science in 1969 and a Master of Science in education, with a focus on counseling, in 1972. During this time, Dr. Cunningham was an instructor for Rockton Grade School and the Keith Country Day School.
Dr. Cunningham served as a school counselor for Harlem High School in Illinois from 1972 to 1979, and around this time, she notably had the opportunity to compete in the U.S. Olympic trials for dressage for the 1980 Olympics. While she did not place on the United States team, the coach, Ken Macarep, approached her to ask how she had learned to ride the way she did. Dr. Cunningham explained that it was because she naturally rode bareback, which gave her a much more direct way to understand and communicate with her horse through reading its body language. She credits this skill in understanding body language as something that has greatly benefited her in her work with children, both as an educator and as a mental health professional.
Motivated by her desire to make a difference in education, Dr. Cunningham spent the 1980s and 1990s as a counselor, instructor and curriculum developer for various schools, educational organizations, and mental health groups. Returning to Northern Illinois University, she earned a Doctor of Education in 1997 and made her first foray into teaching at the university level as an instructor at Rockford Business College from 1998 to 1999. Dr. Cunningham continued to work with the Rockford Public Schools as a counselor and curriculum developer throughout the 2000s and 2010s before joining Broadstep, a private mental health practice, in 2017, where she worked with autistic patients between the ages of 8 and 25 until 2021.
After 40 years in counseling and education, Dr. Cunningham discovered the practice of equine psychotherapy, using horses to aid in the healing and management of various mental health challenges. She is now certified as a positive psychology coach as well as a certified practitioner of the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA). With Lucky’s Farm, Dr. Cunningham and her horses provide one-hour, one-on-one sessions with clients to help them relieve stress and achieve comfort. EAGALA was designed to help adults with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and more, as well as children with a range of developmental disorders.
Alongside her primary responsibilities, Dr. Cunningham is a regular contributor of articles to professional journals and has given a number of presentations with the National Alliance on Mental Illness as well as other organizations. Most recently, she gave a presentation on therapy techniques using EAGALA methods. She is also the author of three books, “Colors of a Junior High Intervention Program,” “Colors of Leadership” and “An Adoption of Colors.” In order to keep abreast of developments in her field, Dr. Cunningham maintains professional affiliation with EAGALA, the National Counselors Association, the Illinois Counselors Association, the northern Illinois chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Rockford Coalition for Violence Prevention, and several others.
Dr. Cunningham attributes much of her success to her passion for helping others. For her excellence, she has been the recipient of a number of honors and accolades, including the Colors of Leadership Alumni State Award and the Pi Lambda Theta Educational Honorary Award. Beyond these recognitions, she considers the highlight of her career to be the notes, drawings and words from former students telling her how they have grown because of their time with her. Looking toward the future, Dr. Cunningham intends to do more work in higher education as well as writing a book for teachers on students who struggle with learning.