Riding sets Aaron free

“Because I ride at Fieldstone, my heart feels free,” says Aaron, age 23. Aaron’s Asperger’s causes a constant “buzz” in his head. He must continually navigate through faces, noises and other distractions that can be overwhelming. Activities that occupy his mind and command his full attention, such as riding, are essential for his happiness. “Riding horses helps ground Aaron. He needs to put himself in a peaceful place and on Augie (one of our horses), he feels free and at peace,” says Taff, Aaron’s Mom.

Anna Mary gains strength and happiness

Anna Mary has cerebral palsy and spends a good part of her day in a wheelchair looking up at the world. When she comes to Fieldstone Farm she is able to get out of her chair and up on horse and see the world in a whole new perspective. “You can just see her eyes brighten as she gets on the horse,” says Bobbin Davis, a licensed physical therapist who has used the movement of a horse to help Anna Mary build strength and endurance.

Anna Mary has made significant progress since she started in our hippotherapy program about two years ago. Her increased core strength from riding transfers into other aspects of her life. She is able to stand up longer, walk further and she has improved her posture and flexibility.

Riding also helps her bone health because it is a weight-bearing exercise. Feeling the horse walking underneath her helps her feel the sensation of a walking gait. Ultimately this could help her learn to walk on her own someday.

The movement has even helped her to start speaking. Her Mom says after several weeks of riding, Anna Mary would wake up in the middle of the night and start saying audible words such as “ma, ma, ma,” and “ba, ba, ba.” Her speech therapist attributes the increased language to Anna Mary learning to push air through her diaphragm because of her physical therapy on the horse.

When you ask Anna Mary’s Mom about her daughter’s experience at Fieldstone Farm, she lights up. It feels so good to see her smiling, her mom says. She is so happy on a horse. When they turn onto Snyder Road, Anna Mary gets very excited because she knows she is near the farm. Anna Mary has always loved horses and coming to the farm and working with horses has opened up a whole new world for her. She is more confident and feels Fieldstone Farm is a place where she belongs. It is a place in which she can participate in a sport just like her siblings.

DJ finds a sport he loves

DJ has brothers and sisters that play hockey, soccer and all kinds of sports. But DJ, who has autism, had difficulty finding a sport that he enjoyed. Instead he preferred to play video games and stay inside.

His parents had heard about Fieldstone Farm and decided one day to give it a try. DJ loved horses and excelled at riding. One year he set his sites on winning a ribbon at our annual horse show. His delight and surprise could be seen on the faces of everyone as his jaw dropped when they announced his name as the winner. This pleasure could only be matched by the sense of pride on the faces of his parents, grandparents and instructor that day.

For years DJ had watched his siblings win awards and that year he finally got one he could call his own.  This is the kind of success that will have a lasting effect on DJ as he builds on this success and remembers the day he won a blue for years to come.

Dawud discovers a miracle

Dawud’s curve in his spine was never supposed to get better. His cerebral palsy makes it difficult to walk. Riding not only stabilized his spinal curve, it helped reverse it.  He and his parents are overjoyed and his doctors are amazed.  Beyond the physical success, he also has found a sport in which he can excel. “Riding has definitely been life-changing for Dawud. Before he couldn’t walk by himself and now he can,” Aminah, Dawud’s mother, says.

Bryanna builds confidence

Bryanna loved horses from as far back as she can remember. So it was no surprise that when her mom asked if she wanted to attend a high school with horses, she instantly said, “I’m in.” That was years ago and Bryanna is one of our graduates from our alternative high school, Gaitway.

She says her experience at Fieldstone Farm has helped her confront her anxiety and become a more positive person.


“When I am with horses, I just settle down. Horses don’t judge you, they don’t live in the past, they live in the now,” she says talking about the bonds she made with our horses.

“I know when I am with them everything is going to be okay,” she says recalling one day when everything was going wrong. She remembers walking into Rascal’s stall to bring him out for a lesson, and she gave him a hug. Instinctively he knew she was upset. She didn’t have to explain what had gone wrong or how she was feeling. He just gently laid his head on hers and comforted her. It was exactly what she needed. He understood. It made the tears rush out.

The horses at Fieldstone Farm and Gaitway High School changed her life and helped her to chart a new course for her future.

Horses give Josh strength

Horses have had a dramatic impact on Josh’s life. They have given him strength, independence and confidence which has helped him overcome some of the challenges of living with Down syndrome. His mom is a physician and she continues to be amazed at the many ways in which riding has improved his quality of life.

Horses have helped motivate Josh, who has trouble speaking, to utter words, like “walk on” and “whoa.” His core strength has also improved as the horse’s motion challenges him to sit tall in the saddle. This is especially important because one of the symptoms of Down syndrome is low muscle tone.

Riding has also improved Josh’s fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination as he works the reins in his hands. He now steers the horse on his own and can make circles and weave through cones by giving and taking with his reins. After four years of riding at Fieldstone Farm, it is now rare for Josh to miss any target while playing games from atop his horse, no matter how challenging it might be. Other areas of improvement include following directions and sequencing as he hears the instructions that are given during class.

JoshBeyond that, riding has brought tremendous joy to Josh and his family. And his confidence has soared. The transformation illustrates how our horses are able reach each of our students in so many different and individualized ways.

Josh’s mom can’t imagine a life without horses for Josh and says, “From the moment we pull into the parking lot, my son is so happy to be here and I know it is going to be a good day.”  It is difficult for Josh to participate in sports other boys his age play, but horseback riding is an activity in which he excels, enjoys and feels a sense of accomplishment.




Chandler realizes what’s possible

Living with spina bifida is not easy for Chandler. She wears leg braces to help her walk and uses a device to regulate her breathing. These challenges fade away when she is around horses. Her spirit comes alive. She smiles, jokes and relishes the experience of learning how to communicate with a 1,200 pound animal. Riding not only gives her confidence, it also strengthens her muscles, giving her greater balance and independence. “Chandler is not just going for a ride at Fieldstone, she is learning the skills to ride and control her horse. It’s so empowering,” Debbie, Chandler’s mom, says.

Horses help Delaney grieve

Delaney felt lost after her cousin died. They were best friends and just five months apart. Coping with the death wasn’t easy for Delaney. She missed her cousin. They did everything together. And her family didn’t know exactly how to help their elementary-aged daughter grieve.

Delaney had always dreamed of riding  horses with her cousin who rode at another therapeutic riding center so when the family learned of the Riding Through Grief program at Fieldstone Farm, they thought it could be exactly what they needed to help Delaney cope with the loss of her cousin.

The experience has been so positive that Delaney continues to ride at Fieldstone Farm year-round despite an hour-long drive from her home in Berea. Delaney said she feels most connected to her cousin when she is riding. And the entire family has healed, watching Delaney embrace the love of horses, just as her cousin had done.

At one of our horse shows, while surrounded by her parents, grandparents, aunt and uncles, Delaney demonstrated the confidence and acceptance she has learned from riding. When awarded a blue ribbon for her show performance, Delaney smiled from ear-to-ear while her family laughed and cried in joy. Horses have helped the family heal in ways they never imagined.

The Riding Through Grief program is a partnership between the Hospice of the Western Reserve and Fieldstone Farm. Using the therapeutic power of our horses and the benefits of working in our tranquil farm environment, counselors and instructors work with children and their families on processing their grief. The program has been so successful that the two organizations continue to collaborate  each summer.

Inner city students gain confidence and are inspired to learn

Children from Caledonia Elementary School in East Cleveland have come to Fieldstone Farm to have the opportunity to leave the familiarity of the inner-city and to be exposed to a totally new environment. For many of them, coming to Fieldstone was the first time they had experienced life outside of a city atmosphere.

Once they arrived at Fieldstone, they were completely out of their comfort zone. Everything was new to them. The smells, the animals, the open space, and even the people were unfamiliar. This was all part of learning how to confidently adapt to new and different situations. How could they respond to people they had never met before? How could they listen and follow directions? How could they respect the horses and the rules of the barn? These are examples of the life skills that they worked on at Fieldstone, which helped them build confidence and learn skills for future unfamiliar situations.

At the end of Caledonia’s eight-week session, the teachers saw many improvements. The students began to walk around the facility with more self-assurance and greater independence and confidence. They felt empowered with their new knowledge of the farm and horses. They responded to their new teachers at Fieldstone with many smiles, good listening skills and high responsiveness to questions and interest in learning. Ultimately, the experience demonstrated to each child that they could successfully adapt to a new situation that may have been uncomfortable at first. They had a greater belief in themselves when they walked out of the barn doors and an experience that they would remember for a lifetime.

Veterans find hope at Fieldstone Farm

Military service can have lasting emotional effects. In partnership with the Veterans Administration, Fieldstone Farm developed a program where the veterans could interact with our horses to help them come to terms with their feelings as well as help them gain physical strength. The program has helped scores of veterans cope with re-entry into society and the emotional scars of war and for many it has had success beyond what they could achieve in a traditional office setting. Ultimately, the horses have given them hope for the future.

Steve Shaw quoteSince then the program has grown to partner also with Volunteers of America and Ohio Military Kids and now serves more than 200 veterans and their families.

To view a video about our veterans program and for more information, click here.