20 June 2012
Learning to ride a horse English style can be a very rigid discipline and those who begin at a young age to learn to ride a horse, often accelerate into the show level, most learning to jump and some even make it onto the Olympic equestrian team.
But for those who learn at Sugar Maple Farm, show jumping or the Olympics is not their goal but learning to physically understand their own body movements, control and balance is the true learning experience. Ann Holeywell of Holeywell Therapeutic Horsemanship, sees to it that her students learn good horsemanship during therapy using some of the sweetest and gentlest horses around.
Holeywell’s farm sits on eight acres, tucked behind a tree buffer off of Rt. 15 in Troy. Holeywell owns and manages the farm by herself, tending not only to the horses she uses in her therapy sessions but goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits, dogs and cats. It is a friendly place; the volunteers are warm and the animals are even more willing to greet strangers.
Holeywell has been working with and riding horses for over 40 years. She combined her love of horses and her medical skills and became a Therapeutic Riding Instructor in 2010. Earning her PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) International Certification after volunteering with Loudon Therapeutic Riding Foundation in Leesburg Virginia, she then attended the prestigious EQUEST in Wylie, Texas, receiving the title of Certified, Registered Therapeutic Riding Instructor. She is also a member of the Therapeutic Riding Association of Virginia.
“I worked as a veterinarian technician for 25 years and more recently a registered nurse working in the operating room for a period of seven years. When I became burned out in the OR, I decided I just wanted to find something to combine my medical profession with the animals,” said Holeywell. “I started doing volunteer work for the Loudon Therapeutic Riding Foundation in Leesburg, Va. and realized that Therapeutic Horsemanship was the perfect fit. It is almost like a nursing job as far as working with people who have different health issues, physical, emotional, and cognitive disabilities but in an environment that is so much more enjoyable than the hospital setting. I get to see how my students respond and progress during and after their equine encounters and it’s always a positive experience for the student, volunteers, and myself. The smiles, increased confidence and self-esteem displayed by the students is the most rewarding of all! There is an unexplained magic between these very special Therapy Horses and our very special children and adult students.”
HTH, Inc. has nine therapy horses, six of which are on active duty in the program. “We work with both children and adults with special needs including; ADD, ADHD, Aspergers, Autism, Developmental Delays, Down Syndrome, Muscular Distrophy, MS, Stroke and Traumatic Brain Injury,” said Holeywell. Currently, one of her students has epilepsy and a student with MS has shown interest in the program.
“Many of her horses are rescues,” said Judy Shell, one of Holeywell’s devoted volunteers and without volunteers, HTH would not be possible. “We could always use more volunteers,” said Shell, who on a warm, cloudy Sunday afternoon groomed and helped saddle up a docile pony named Little Miss Muffet, or Muffy as she is known. She is a 24 year old Quarter Horse Palomino Mare, from the Loudon Therapeutic Riding Foundation. A similar pony is 23 year old Honey who comes from Loudon Therapeutic Riding Foundation as well. Other horses include:
Penny Pony is a 25-year-old Tri-Colored Welsh Cross Pony Mare, standing only twelve hands tall and was given as a donation to the program in the last year.
I Love Lucy is a 23-year-old 15 hand Quarter Horse Mare. She also came to the program through a donation last year. Holeywell explains that Lucy has already lost one eye and she appeared to be having problems with the remaining eye.
Nicholous is a 22 year old, 14.2 hand Norwegian Fjord Gelding and Lucy’s stall neighbor who poked his head out the back door to see what was happening. Well traveled for a horse, born in Stowe, Vermont, Nick traveled to St. Petersburg, Florida where Holeywell purchased him and brought him to Virginia in 2010.
The remainder of the horses, dotting the back pasture, their tails swishing the flies away, are Prime Time, a 12 year old, 30” tall, Palomino American Miniature Horse Gelding and Petey, a retired show horse.
Once saddled up and fitted with a hackamore, Muffy was led out to a paddock where she greeted by her student, Kaitlin Mackridis. Shanna, her mother watched from the sidelines.
“Kaitlin has epilepsy and this therapy helps with her balance,” said Shanna. It also helps Kaitlin with her eye-hand coordination. This day, Kaitlin learned to maneuver the horse with her reins. These reins are different, featuring color codes to let the rider know how loose or how tight to hold the reins.
“My goal is to foster in each student the highest level of independence which that student can achieve while teaching him or her the skill of horsemanship in the safest possible setting. And of course to increase the students physical and emotional well being,” adds Holeywell.
Lessons last for one hour and cost $50.00. Sessions usually run for 10 weeks, eight weeks, or six weeks depending on time of year.