Arion Therapeutic Farm was a hotbed of activity Saturday afternoon with its annual Winter Wonderland fundraiser, but it was an opportunity to talk about what’s planned for the year ahead that had its owner really excited.
“We’re going to become the kind of place where, if you want, you can run your socks off, scream and know that it’s OK,” said Heather Henderson, against a backdrop of mini pony walks, horse rides, Santa visits and Star Wars-themed play.
“It will start with that, and then the rest of the community will come in and wrap around it.”
The concept Henderson is working on for 2016 is turning Arion farm into a social enterprise.
“Historically the charity had leased the entire property, but now the riding program will lease what it uses and we are inviting expressions of interest from the community,” she said. “We want professionals, other user groups, charities to come and use our space and our venue for their programs to operate, all within an agricultural theme.”
In its current incarnation Arion farms— the name is a horse-themed acronym for Abilities. Recreation. Independence. Opportunities. New-Beginnings—offers therapeutic riding for all ages and all abilities.
The benefits, Henderson said, are well-documented and numerous.
Just the tip of the iceberg is that those facing mobility challenges can use horse riding to stimulate movement in the pelvis that mirrors the human walk. The affect on muscles can even rewrite the brain, meaning spinal and brain injuries don’t have to be as detrimental as before.
Those who have disorders, such as autism, also find benefits to being in the agricultural setting.
Despite being a well-lauded therapy, the farm struggles with income generation, as the horses alone cost twice as much as the fees collected —thus Saturday’s fundraiser, which was expected to raise $10,000. Just enough for a three months of hay.
This newly proposed model, however, should fill some of the financial gap.
It will also, said Henderson, cut through some of the access issues families with children facing diverse challenges deal with.
“Our community will be able to come and access these programs that are specifically designed by professionals for them. So it will be people doing what we will do best in a farm community /park setting,” she said.
“Our students who already ride, in the next few months here, may have an opportunity to access other programs in other parts of the farm.”
Already area professionals with similar clientele have put out feelers. Henderson has heard from people involved with art, music and drama based therapies, along with behaviour support services, she said, noting that they will all capitalize on the farm theme if they set up shop.
And, it’s imagined as a forever home.
“It’s not that you are married to one space … it’s pooling resources,” she said.
“There are a lot of smaller groups and individuals that share clientele in this community and this would open up opportunities for people to start a small program and grow it. I want people here. I want them to know that they can come and be safe, know that their child or loved one will be safe and in an engaging meaningful activity.”
That, she said, is missing for many parents who have children with challenges.
“Maybe families can come here and spend a few hours at a time. There are parents who never meet each other and it’s tragic because they have so many children alike, but nowhere to socialize,” she said.
Those who already go to the farm know that its benefits extend far beyond physical therapy.
Mihai Covaser, 12, has been riding at Arion Farm for five years, and was quick to sing its praises when asked.
“There are nice horses, nice people— it’s a nice place,” he said.
“I ride weekly, I find that it has lots of benefits, for any kind of disability. For example it helps with my balance.”
He’s also fond of the relationship he’s built with the horse Luna.
“She’s gentle and is a gated horse, so her trot is really smooth,” he said. “Trotting can be tough, but it makes it a lot easier.”
Also finding happiness among the muck of farm life was Laura Lovaghy, 16.
She was walking mini ponies Bubbles and Belle around their quarters to the excitement of onlookers.
The ponies are cute, but Lovaghy pointed out that being around creatures of that kind have helped her with the symptoms of her autism over the years.
They’ve really helped with my anxiety,” she said.
The sixth Winter Wonderland event was expected to attack nearly 1,000 people.
To send Henderson an expression of interest, email firstname.lastname@example.org.