I was forced by an injury to retired from therapeutic riding instructing in Quebec and relocated to Nova Scotia in mid 2006 with Silver Bell and Dandy. I then started working at First Steps Early Intervention in the fall. Before I got the job, when I was just two weeks here in the province, I was contacted about therapeutic riding by a parent with an autistic child who was visiting the area. I met with them where Silver Bell and Dandy were stabled in Lilydale. They brought their incontinent, non-verbal 5 year old son Colin who was on the autism spectrum.
Colin was instantly attracted to Silver Bell so I adjusted my helmet onto his little head and lifted Colin onto her back. While I was busy talking with his parents with Colin astride, calmly stroking my mare, he quietly said “I love you” to his parents. They were astonished! In the next 30 minutes Colin was laughing and stringing 2-3 words together. I took out the ball and suggested a horse-back game with Mom and Dad, who insisted he could not throw or catch. They were wrong! Needless to say it was an enchanting meeting. Colin’s parents wanted riding therapy IMMEDIATELY, and I promised I would help them find a program.But I couldn’t find much. There was only H.A.L.T.R. ( at the Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers) and they had a 5-year waiting period. So I started seeing Colin every week. His sister Ceilidh was into horses too, so she got to ride Dandy while Colin had his lesson on Silver Bell. In a few weeks, my Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy flared up and Colin’s Dad noticed. I told him I had RSD and he immediately replied “You need a block”. I nodded and he smiled and said: “I am a resident at the Pain Center and I give spinal blocks…”. Needless to say that family’s need and my need were meshing perfectly….. Serendipity to the max!In May 2007, I bought my farm (Hinchinbrook) in Blockhouse and Colin and Ceilidh rode here for the next 4 years. Their parents bought saddles and helped however they could. We are in touch to this day. Colin went onto the “Structured Methods In Language Education” (SMILE) program and graduated from High School in 2020. Ceilidh went on to University in Newfoundland.Working at First Steps Early Intervention brought more families. I offered a family picnic July 2007 and it was the first time all the families gathered at any event whatsoever. The big dogs and horses and big open space to picnic and play was a perfect time and place for parents to network and get support from each other. They have come every year since.For the first few years I used personal debt to finance the activities of the private riding programs. Most families were of limited means and so rider fees did not cover costs. In October 2010 the parents met and incorporated the Hinchinbrook Farm Society as a not-for-profit Nova Scotia organization which started the farm on the footing it needed to become a charity and be eligible for donations and grants (which came in 2012). However, we still could not afford to pay a Program Director (me) and so I was one of the volunteers until 2014, when a summer client from the United States donated a partial salary. Further grants from a local family foundation eventually allowed the Society to pay me a full time salary. I am still the only full time employee, although we try to hire 2-3 summer students each year. This is all because of the wonderful “stable” of volunteers, whose ages span 8 decades, on whom I depend to make our programs possible.
Regarding the Horses
I have already told you about Silver Bell and Dandy, who formed the core of our therapeutic riding program for many years. Silver Bell, who worked with me for over 30 years, was laid to rest in 2019.
Buddy came in the winter of 2008 as a 10 year old foundered miniature gelding who I bought for $1,000. He was a champion at pulling the miniature horse cart. Buddy was repeatedly put onto a diet to control his weight; and in 2019, Buddy left to full retirement with trusted volunteer Stephanie Chipman and her family.
Jazzmin was bought in 2011 as a 10 month old, since Silver Bell was aging and having a filly was great way to teach more safety and patience. She has become the most proficient trick horse at the farm — and the most fun to paint because of her mostly white coat.
Deliliah came with her Dad Quietude Red Vermont as “last chance” rescues. They had been left to become a feral herd on a Cape Breton farm when the owner could no longer care for them. When the farmer died, I decided to rescue the two Morgans, partly because they are so important to the rare breed. They were in horrible shape — all skin and bones and needing a lot of hoof care. Once we nursed them back to health (thanks, South Shore Veterinary Services!) we sent Red Vermont back to his birth stable in West Virginia and started to train the very spirited Delilah. Although still a bit feisty to ride, she is an excellent sensory horse, allowing a child to sit, lie, move around and doodle on her bare back for a half hour at a time in the stable. This work is important to some of the kids, who learn to do schoolwork and art while perched on her back; or just lie and listen to her heartbeat and feel the warmth of her body.
As Buddy aged, he could do less work so I started looking for a replacement and was offered a “free lease” of Andy… who was 4 years old and wasn’t doing anything at his family farm in 9 Mile. Andy was bored, and had a lot of bad habits (like begging for treats). He was virtually untrained but he came ready to work and within 4 weeks he was trained to drive and ready to take small child-riders on a tiny saddle within 3 months. He is often seen pulling the miniature horse cart with smiling kids riding behind.
I bought Sugarfoot at 10 months old in December 2019 and she is a “house horse” able to jump in the back seat of my pick-up truck and go visiting. We will be able to use her as a remote ambassador and/or therapy visiting horse in the future.All the horses are “free leased” to the Society but they must take care of them unless something life threatening befalls them and then the decision of what to do falls to the owner — which is either Suzanne Bolt for Andy, or me for the others.
So, that is my story. From two riders who found me just by luck, we now have from 60-100 children and young adults who come to Hinchinbrook as therapy riders or their siblings. Our families are considered our “tribe”. We support each other and make the world just a little bit happier.
- Emails with procedures and details of activities are sent to every rider ahead of time. This could up to 4 contacts by e-mail and a phone interview for every rider and family.
- ALL arrivals are given a COVID-19 questionnaire to sign on a laminated sheet. This saves paper. Pink for employees, green for families/riders and blue for volunteers.
- ALL arrivals get their temperatures taken.
- ALL arrivals are asked to wash their hands: volunteers in the tack room, families or riders at the picnic table. This is mandatory because we pass toys, equipment and toss balls to riders so every one starts with washed hands.
- ALL arrivals bring their own mask or are given disposable mask. Masks are kept on our person and only used when social distance of 2 metres (6 feet) is not possible.
- Lists for play dates keep record of what is used and lesson plans keep a record of what is touched.
- All families and riders work out of doors and are not allowed in the sheds, stable or house. There is a port-a-potty on site early this year to accommodate bathroom requirements.
- All families and riders must bring their own snacks and refreshments. Water is available in the tack room, but only volunteers are permitted to get it, if needed.
- EVERYTHING (tools, equipment, surfaces) are disinfected by the volunteers after every use; and Patty sprays lysol after everyone leaves on what ever they touched.
It was so great to see my girls so happy and to just feel normal for a few hours. Felt like we were able to just escape life for a bit and relax!! — Jacqueline M.
On June 7, as the Province of Nova Scotia allowed some programs and facilities to open up to clients, Hinchinbrook Farm provided its first two groups of volunteers training on the new protocols and equipment that will be used for therapeutic riding and Ther-A-Playdates.
The training had to be spread over two sessions due to the restriction to each of 10 people at a gathering. Social distancing and masks and face shields were all used as required to meet the new guidelines. Here is an overview of the training sessions.
Arrivals: From now until the relaxing of rules as determined by the Province, all people arriving at Hinchinbrook will have to report to the trampoline paddock before doing anything else. There, they will have their temperature taken with a non-contact thermometer and answer a series of questions similar to the one shown at this link>>. They will sign the questionnaire which will be photographed and kept on file. They will have a wash bucket with hot water and soap ready for them to wash their hands (20 seconds).
The training session began with a review of the rules about masks and how to don them. Clients and volunteers will be asked to bring their own masks and gloves, but there will be spares at the farm in case. Also, Patty has some designer masks (horse motif), made by a grandmother of a client, for sale at $10. Although most volunteers wore masks for the whole training session, everyone also practiced keeping their distance, using two protection methods simultaneously.
Rules about when masks would be mandatory were reviewed. This would apply especially at the zip line, helping hook fishing worms, side-walking and other duties which make keeping a safe distance very difficult. It will be difficult to maintain physical distancing with the children, but we all must try to do it, and that is why masks or face shields will be required at all times. Kids will unexpectedly come too close and we cannot control that. We also want to keep them as natural as possible and suddenly having to back off because you are not wearing face protection will be disruptive.
Face shields are also available and will be needed when grooming, side-walking and leading horses. In some cases, the comfort of the volunteer will dictate what is needed, and in others it will be the reaction of the client. Developing social skills often requires seeing a persons face, smile and comforting looks, which may be difficult with the mask but easier with a face shield.
No one will be provided with snacks or other refreshments until this COVID-19 situation is over. Therefore, everyone needs to remember to bring their own and to take their garbage home with them. Water to refill bottles will be available in the tack room. Only volunteers will be permitted to refill bottles in the tack room. In summer, the refill station might get moved to the porch.
The volunteers were shown the various play areas and new equipment was pointed out, including how each would have to be disinfected after each session. There is the new swing area, which may soon also have a gravel mound to play on. The hammocks will be put through a hot dryer cycle after each time they are used. All swings except the leather saddle will have to be wiped down with disinfectant. It is therefore going to be important for volunteers to record which toys and swings are used so that they can make sure they clean them afterwards with alcohol wipes. The same holds true for any toys or games that are used.
Now that Patty has found insurance once again for the zip line and pond, these two areas are open for activities. The volunteers were shown the zip line protocols and reminded of the importance of safety in this activity. Those planning to be “launchers” or “catchers” have to ask for training before they do this job. Only adults (18+) are permitted too do the two jobs. Teenage volunteers can help get the kids into the harnesses, can return the zip line wheels back to the platform, escort kids to the platform and remove the carabiner from their harness at the end of each ride. The pond is open for fishing; and swimming, weather permitting, will likely start July 1. Standard swimming rules apply. The kids will not be able to wear masks when swimming, but volunteers can still use their mask, since they are not actually “swimming” but supervising.
Once swimming starts, fishing stops! However, on cool days, fishing can resume when we are not in the water for pond play. The two can NEVER be done at the same time.
Grooming, side walking and leading are done exactly the same as before. We are getting the horses used to masks and shields so that either can be worn when working with them.
Since clients and their parents are not allowed into the stable until restrictions are lifted, grooming, saddling, treats, etc. will all take place out front and there will be no indoor sensory work. Until the new roof is installed on the woodland riding ring, rain may result in cancelled lessons since the hayloft is not likely to be open to the clients.
If this all makes you nervous, just concentrate on the picture below — what a peaceful time Dandy and Andy are having doing their second favourite thing!
Sugar Foot, our newest miniature horse, has been trained to ride in the back seat of Patty’s truck and so has now become the focal point of several birthday parties which have had to be re-designed due to the physical distancing and non-bubble isolation requirement of the Nova Scotia government. One of the volunteers drives Sugar Foot to the birthday location and the family can have time with her, feed her snacks and have a special, memorable birthday or other family event. Sorry, couples, she is not licensed to perform weddings.
To arrange home visits, contact Patty at the farm (See contact page here>>)
For more information, see the Chronicle Herald article here>>
Although the obvious focus of the programs at Hinchinbrook Farm is on the improvement of sensory management by our clients, there is no less of an emphasis placed on animal care. The same philosophy of focus on “the other” applies to our horses, dog, cats and others that come and go — even horses belonging to other people. (Andy, the miniature horse, is owned by another farm, but in return for permanent loan, we look after his food, vet and other care issues.)
Here is an unsolicited testimonial from one of our clients, who boarded her Morgan at our facility for about 10 months in 2018-19.
I boarded my 4 year old mare at Hinchinbrook Farm from October 11th 2018 to August 1st 2019. Polly and I moved from an aggressive training environment to the trust based respect and consideration for the horse environment of Hinchinbrook Farm. Polly learned herd dynamics during her stay and became a calmer, happier horse. I gained confidence to work with my horse in a way I was comfortable with and felt proud of. I learned so much about equine care and stable management with best practices from Patricia McGill. I have implemented much of it at my own farm and continue to draw on her years of experience and the experience of other great horse people I met through my connection with Hinchinbrook Farm. I look forward to many more years of learning with my horses. It’s been amazing to rediscover a passion from my youth so full of great memories and to share it with my young daughter and our family. I’m very grateful for the time we spent at Hinchinbrook Farm.
On Saturday, September 14, 2019 we were joined by Josef and Claudia Loferer who have just moved to the area from Germany after vacationing here for several years. They and their mare, Sunny, demonstrated a newly rejuvenated sport of archery on horseback, once an important hunting and warfare skill in several cultures, including those from Asia and with the North American First Nations peoples. After the demonstration, in which he almost never missed the target, even while the horse was loping by, our kids at the playdate were able to test their own skills at archery with some kids sets (but not on horseback!) and targets set up along our paddock fence. Dean even set up his own biathlon by zip lining and then running over to the target to fire his arrows! Well done, and with a lot of imagination, Dean!
Claudia is also a horse massage therapist who helps out at the Farm every Friday.
We all celebrated the 8th birthday of Sydney L. on June 30. She invited several of her school friends and neighbours to an afternoon of riding Dandy, cart-riding Andy, painting Jazzmin , decorating Buddy, zip-lining and eating lots of junk food (and some veggies and cheese, too). There was a unicorn themed cake to top it off. And the rain cooperated with us, waiting until everyone had their rides to really pour down and then stopping long enough for the zip-line in the woods. When the rain returned, it was time for food in the tack room. So, everyone stayed dry and everyone stayed smiley, all afternoon. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SYDNEY!
The following description is edited from information provided by Eliane Trempe, current President of the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association (CanTRA). She also helped to found la Fédération Québecoise d’Équitation Thérapeutique.
Everyone can become a therapeutic horseback riding instructor. The real question would be: “how to succeed in the profession of instructor in therapeutic riding?” This very special profession is addressed to individuals with a strong knowledge of the equine, natural affinities with customers and a propensity to education. It is a demanding profession that is strongly similar to a vocation. Maturity, life experience, altruistic personality and superior relational capacity are all assets in this work. Our statistics show us that about 10% of the people completing the training continue through to national certification, leading to entry into the labour market. I’ve been doing this job for almost 20 years and I wouldn’t change anything from my journey. I can assert that within the equestrian field, it is the most beautiful profession in the world.
Hinchinbrook Farm is proud to have been chosen to partner with the Middle Level Connect Centre at Hebbville School. The MLCC provides students from several ‘feeder schools’ in Lunenburg County with a special program to help them with their cognitive difficulties in a protective environment that uses small student teacher ratios and directed learning, coupled with aspects of the Movement Method that was introduced to them by Hinchinbrook Farm this past summer.
The first lesson, provided as a pilot to 3 of the students, was held October 24, 2018. We used the horses, outdoor fresh air and their first ever horse-back ride as a way to focus their attention on the lesson of the day, which as ‘measuring’. Using standard length tools, the students measured the circumference of the riding ring, the time it took for a horse and rider to walk around the ring, the diameter of the ring and some short distance measurements. The students thought about time (since they had only an hour to work with and could be reminded of how many minutes were left) and compared distance results. They also had to work together to round up the horses and put the tack away when the lesson was over. None had ever ridden a horse and so they had to cope with fear of heights, learning their own body capability to lift themselves into the saddle and balance, while they played pitch and catch with a soccer ball while moving forward on horseback without holding on to the saddle or reins.
The goals of the program include improved academics and self-confidence, teamwork, positive reinforcement (they are taught to always praise the horse after he or she does what is asked of it), controlling personal behaviour and having fun in an outdoor learning environment. The program is being funded on a 50/50 sharing between the school and Hinchinbrook Farm. We hope to be able to demonstrate through improved school grades and anecdotal evidence of behaviour improvement that Horse Boy™ and the Movement Method™ can help the schools to overcome issues with challenging students.
Hinchinbrook Farm Society is fund raising to help continue this program in the new year when the pilot phase ends. Any support you can provide will help us continue to help these children.
The 2018 version of our fall Open Stable event attracted almost 20 kids and their parents to try out our programs, see the facility and meet the horses. We expect that some of these families will become clients so that they can see their children flourish under our Horse Boy and Therapeutic Riding programs. the kids were all smiles as they got their chance to ride Dandy, be ferried around in a small cart by Buddy, jump on our no-springs trampoline or zoom down the zip line under the watchfully of Patty McGill and an adult “catcher” at the end of the 13-second ride. The hayloft was a special place for several of the children, especially when we did get a bit of rain.
The weather even cooperated as the rain stopped just as the gates opened for the event, and although there were reports of downpours elsewhere in Lunenburg County, the rain held off in Blockhouse until about 4 pm. Our thanks to the volunteers who baked goodies for our snack table and who came to the event to ensure a safe experience for all who attended.