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.