Fieldstone Farm offers many therapeutic riding programs

by SOPHIE KRUSE | REPORTER Published:

Bainbridge -- Animals have an impact that can't always be put into words -- especially with children.

Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center is harnessing in on that, to make a big impact with their students -- both children and adults -- who utilize their services for a variety of different healing reasons.

The center on Synder Road in Bainbridge Township has nearly 750 students each year, which includes 211 adults. They are from Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Summit and Portage counties -- including Aurora.

There are students from about 40 area schools, and the farm is considered one of the largest therapeutic riding centers in the country.

Twenty-five percent of Fieldstone's students have autism, but they also service a wide range of disorders and disabilities, including emotional, psychosocial and developmental. Along with that, it has about 50 veterans that participate in programs.

Some of the farm's programs are geared toward helping children and adults who have been touched by cancer through a bereavement program. There also is programming for older adults through nursing homes, which allows them to work and interact with the horses.

"We try to take the therapy out of a clinical setting," said Maureen Foster, developmentato aid rector at Fieldstone.

The programs at the farm are made possible by volunteers -- about 250 per week --and in 2013 they donated more than 22,000 hours of service, equaling around $500,000.

"He loves going there," said Janine Robb, whose 5-year-old son Aidan has been riding there for two years. "The staff and volunteers are so friendly and welcoming. He loves the interaction with the horses. It's such a unique environment for him."

Robb began taking Aidan there every week after hearing about the farm from other mothers. He began in the hippotherapy program, which is a form of physical therapy on the horse. Activities include riding the horse backward and laying on the horse.

"HE SCREAMED for the first 10 minutes," joked Robb. "But now, he loves going there and doesn't even realize he's working his muscles." Aidan is now in the regular therapeutic riding program.

Gaitway High School was opened six years ago on the premises. It's a public high school for students who haven't had success in a traditional school setting. The classes are smaller and use the entire farm for different educational lessons.

Students are bused from home schools, and Gaitway is administered by Geauga Educational Service Center. It offers a full academic program, along with vocational offerings. The school had 40 graduates last year who went on to college, vocational programs, the military or into the workforce.

The center also offers summer camps and field trips, but its primary focus is on the therapeutic riding center.

Programming runs all year. Riding opportunities include a heated indoor ring and various outdoor trails.

There are 36 horses at the center, and all were donated. For many of them, this is their second career later in life, but some are younger. Matches are carefully made for each student, and are based on the horses' movements and energy levels.

The center, which has existed for 17 years, is handicap-accessible. There is a special mounting platform for students in wheelchairs. The farm also has carriages for students who aren't able to ride a horse, and wheelchair-bound students are able to ride in a carriage.

The center has a classroom where a horse can be brought in for summer camps and other programs.

The next big fundraiser for the center, which is a non-profit, is Chefs Unbridled on Sept. 13 at Chagrin Valley Hunt Club polo field.

Eight Cleveland chefs will prepare dinner for attendees, and the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra will entertain. There will be carriage rides.

For information on the farm, visit www.fieldstonefarmtrc.com.

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