Heal with Horses (HWH), a local organization devoted to equine and other animal therapy, held a Farm Fun Day Saturday providing an opportunity for families to become acquainted with the friendly faces of the farm, from program providers to the animals involved.
HWH has been serving the community for the past ten years and operating on the principle that a strong relationship with animals, and thereby the natural world, can spark joy and a sense of connectedness for their clients.
As the bonfire roared and children lined up for pony rides, program director Elizabeth Stevens took a few moments to speak with the Gazette.
This is the first year for HWH to have a farm fun day. In previous years the organization would facilitate a wine ride, whereby the money raised would come back towards the farm, clients and their families.
“This year, we decided to do something a little different -something everyone can come to- not just those who like to ride horses and drink wine,” said Stevens with a chuckle.
Attendees of the Farm Fun Day were invited to explore the farm and interact with the animals, which included pigs, dogs, and horses, among others. Apart from that, there were pony rides, live music, and food, tack, and pumpkins for sale. The proceeds go back into the facility, subsidizing the cost of programming for clients and their families.
People were also invited to play yard jenga or simply enjoy the relaxation of hammocks stretched out under the warm fall sun.
“We serve people who have mental and physical disabilities,” explained Stevens. “They come for equine or other animal therapy and the sessions look however they want. Some people come and really enjoy riding, whereas some people come to just enjoy being at the farm and being around animals.”
Stevens added there are different theories on how to administer equine therapy and the science behind it
“One of he methods we use is the Horse Boy Method. It’s strictly for those with autism and those sorts of disabilities. And, it’s proven that the movement of the horse walking mimics the way you would walk, moving your hips and sending the ‘feel good’ hormones to your brain, ultimately giving you the opportunity to learn more,” stated Stevens. “We see the joy and happiness our clients feel here and how happy they are when they come and that is so great for us, but at the same time, parents often say that when their kids are in the car on their way here, or at school, they’re really amped up. Then they come here after school or on a Saturday morning and leave the farm so much calmer than when they came. I think it’s the chemical response but also just what the farm brings to them. It’s a variety of things, but we really focus on the joy and happiness. And, joy is freedom.”
HWH was opened more than a decade ago by Suzanne Latchord-Kulker and her husband Ron. Suzanne spoke to the Gazette about what inspired her to open the facility and also why it is successful.
“I’ve always been a horse person, but I had about 10 years away from horses and I knew I wanted them back in my life. When that was able to happen, I wanted to do it in a more therapeutic way-more in a way where horses are revered for what they can give. More of a partnership between humans and animals,” she stated.
Although humans have relied on horses since time immemorial, that relationship has not always been one of mutual respect. Notably, at HWH, the horses roam free.
“I’m one of those people who jumps in head first,” said Latchford-Kulker. “I took a certification called Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning (FEEL) and that’s all about horses helping people with their emotions and reflection. So, I started with that and segued into the Horse Boy Method, which is more neuropsychiatric, so there’s riding involved. It’s all about the environment and feel good hormones, so that really helps people of all ages with special needs and otherwise through the rhythm of riding.”
Latchford-Kulker noted that HWH received charitable status in November and have been busy doing public outreach.
HWH is always involved with Maple in the County, but until then, can be found at events as the Cotton Candy Cowgirls, flinging homespun cotton candy to raise funds.