Healing together: Therapeutic riding program in Bernardston to hold fundraisers for new horse Foxy

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 01-06-2023 6:04 PM

BERNARDSTON — Being led around Stony B Acres’ riding arena, Foxy walks with a slight but noticeable limp.

A former show horse for an equestrian team at the University of Findlay in Ohio, the chestnut mare in her teenage years had her competition career cut short by an injury and still bears a scar on her right front leg. And while this wouldn’t make her a favorite to win the Kentucky Derby or an Olympic gold medal, the primary instructor and board president of Courageous Strides Therapeutic Riding Program thinks Foxy is perfect for helping people heal from their own trauma.

“Her story is unique because she’s a therapeutic horse going into a therapeutic program,” Deb Gordon said.

Foxy will be the program’s featured horse during the 2023 season, which runs from April to November, and the focus of an adopt-a-horse campaign Courageous Strides plans to hold this year to raise money for the program that took shape in 2019 to offer a lifeline to military veterans and other people with emotional and physical challenges. Stony B Acres horse farm on Shaw Road in Bernardston serves as the program’s host site.

“If you allow yourself to become vulnerable, and allow yourself to connect and be quiet, (horses) can speak to you. And she is a very important, I think, part of our family at Stony B and Courageous Strides,” Gordon said as Foxy nuzzled her head against her. “I’m excited to work with her. I work with her every day now.”

Anyone interested in learning more about Courageous Strides can visit courageous-strides.org or email Gordon at courageousstrides@gmail.com. More information about the program and upcoming fundraisers will be available on the website.

Gold-level donors earn a meet-and-greet with Foxy during the 2023 season. Gordon said a spaghetti supper fundraiser is scheduled for the Republican Masonic Lodge in Greenfield on March 11 and another fundraising booth will be set up at the annual Scarecrow in Park in Bernardston. Gordon said the booth raised about $1,800 in October.

“All of our donations for the nonprofit go to help fund the program as well as care for our horses and the scholarships to the individuals in our program,” she explained, adding that veterans get first crack at the scholarships.

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Gordon said program participants will, as all beginners should, start with groundwork, which involves bonding with a horse and establishing a mood and temperament.

“When you see somebody just walking a horse, it’s not just walking a horse,” she noted. “That’s your time to be able to bond with a horse. That’s the way that they communicate, because they’re looking to us as leaders. And if we’re not a leader, then we’re not going to get far with the growth of our program.”

Stony B Acres employee Holly Foster participated in Courageous Strides a couple of years ago and raves about the benefits of therapeutic riding.

“I’ve dealt with depression almost my entire life,” she said. “So it’s really helped me. This place is just so calming, relaxing and quiet, because you have to be, around the horses. It’s just helped me kind of come down to Earth and just enjoy the animals and the atmosphere.

“It makes you feel good about who you are and you get to think about something else, that’s happy,” she added. “And this place has just been that way for a lot of people.”

The program’s other horse this year will be Logan, an American quarter horse.

The cost of Courageous Strides is $55 per lesson, $220 for four once-a-week lessons or $440 for two lessons per week for four weeks. There is a limited amount of financial aid available.

Gordon, who is retired from the Amherst Fire Department’s business office, learned to ride when she was 5 years old, and the trauma of losing her parents within a year of each other led her back to riding about five years ago. She said Stony B Acres owner Val Deane attended her mother’s services and suggested a memorial trail ride.

“So we went out on a quiet ride,” Gordon recalled. “And right then and there I knew that I wanted to be back into riding again.”

Gordon said Foxy has grown by leaps and bounds since May.

“When she first got here she was, you know, sad. And now she’s spunky in her spirit and she’s running, but she’ll never be 100% sound. And so that’s why we feel she is a perfect candidate for our program,” Gordon said. “When (people) walk out with a smile on their face, then we’ve done our job. When they experience tears of joy, we’ve done our job.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.

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