It is a brisk February day at the farm off of Livingston Street. Director Patti Lessard greets us with a smile and some carrots as my children are offered the chance to feed the horses. Volunteers are busy in the barn despite the chill. There is no end of work to be done at Strongwater Farm, one of 850 therapeutic riding centers in the United States. Volunteers help with all aspects of care for the property and animals, and work alongside therapists and trained instructors. Though located on the grounds of the state hospital, Strongwater is an independent non-profit with no affiliation with the hospital or the state, though the farm does have the protection of the hospital’s 450 acres of conservation land.
The farm is home to twelve horses used for therapeutic and recreational riding, as well as hippotherapy and psychological therapies. Lessard even shared that the horses are used for social/emotional training for professionals such as doctors as a way for them to work with their teams more effectively. Strongwater offers an impressive number of programs to support healing for children, veterans, persons with head trauma and other cognitive impairments, those recovering from substance abuse, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, as well as support for at-risk youth, and even training for the Special Olympics. Strongwater is a PATH-Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship facility and its instructors are certified. Lessard wanted to share a special thank you to the Mahoney Foundation and Maureen Mahoney for a grant that will support therapies for domestic violence programs through their Tribute award, providing a way to reach yet another population that can benefit from these magnificent animals.
Lessard is proud of the work being done at Strongwater. “ We are so fortunate to have extensive trails and beautiful grounds here in Tewksbury” she said. “The farm is such a place of peace and healing for our clients”, she notes, pointing to paddocks and paths which lead out to quiet spots for reflection. Various mounted and unmounted programs work their magic with clients dealing with all types of issues, and the connection with the horses is just so special. Lessard, a 22-year equine therapy industry professional, discussed upcoming projects and talks about a new garden space. “Our Strongwater Garden is going to offer a community farming area where our clients and their families can come together to grow vegetables and flowers. We want to reinforce the connection between the animals, agriculture and the land and its importance in our overall mission” she said. The facility does serve people on the state hospital campus but also helps people throughout the Merrimack Valley and beyond, reaching into New Hampshire and as far away as Cape Cod.
In addition to the garden, another project on the horizon is the construction of a new 12,800 square foot indoor riding arena. Slated to be built adjacent to the horse barn, the new $1.2 million dollar facility will be funded through a capital campaign kicking off later this year. “We are funded by grants and by the generous donations of caring people and corporations” she said. “As a non-profit, we rely on donations”. Programs are offered at about a third of what the real cost is in an attempt to make them accessible to all. Summer recreational horsemanship camps for the general public help fund some of the cost, but feed, veterinary services, and the farrier ( horseshoe maker) costs do add up. Strongwater holds several events throughout the year to raise money and plays host to school groups, colleges, veterans groups and more. “We are open for everyone and welcome visitors” Lessard said enthusiastically, noting that people learn about the farm through word of mouth or through counselors. Those interested in touring the facility with their school, senior group, or other organization can contact Lessard at [email protected] and check out their website at www.strongwater.org.
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