The ‘neighs’ have it

  • Sandy Sayers, Jared Sedgley and Joanne Brown with horses Sam and Leo at Stony B Acres in Bernardston. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 4/12/2019 10:40:19 AM

According to the Mayo Clinic News Network, pet therapy is gaining fans in health care and beyond. In local schools and libraries, for example, a popular read-aloud program pairs beginning readers with dogs who listen with rapt attention as a child reads aloud – no judgments or corrections here! Animal-assisted therapy can reduce pain and anxiety in people with a range of health problems including children in the dentist’s chair, people receiving cancer treatment, people in long-term care facilities, people with dementia, people with anxiety, and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Though typically associated with dogs, therapy pets can include other species, too. In Franklin County, that now includes horses, thanks to a new, nonprofit therapeutic riding program for local veterans and active-duty service members. Called Courageous Strides, it is a dream made real by the efforts of longtime riders Sandra Sayers and Joanne Brown with the help of Val Deane, owner of Stony B Acres horse farm in Bernardston.

The project combines their professional backgrounds – Sayers’ leadership skills as (retired) executive director of the United Way of Franklin County, and Brown’s skills as an occupational therapist – with a sense of mission. “We wanted to reach out to veterans throughout the county and give back to them with a program like this,” Brown said, adding, “Val was immediately on board.”

Brown said in therapeutic riding, the rider uses the movement of the horse to help with their physical, emotional, mental and social well-being. “They’re sensitive to your emotions,” Brown added. “It’s so empowering to interact with a large animal.”

Veterans can sign up for six-week sessions starting in May. Sayers said each lesson will be tailored to the individual veteran’s needs, whether that be riding, grooming or just watching. Sayers said one of the reasons riding horses is therapeutic is because, as a rider or handler, you have to be completely present. “They help you build confidence and they help you focus.”

Right now, Courageous Strides is a fledgling program seeking donations of money or riding items and sponsorships by individuals, organizations and businesses. According to their website, www.courageous-strides.org, a donation of $25 would buy a bag of grain for their horses. There are other giving levels as well; in-kind support is also helpful.

Sayers and Brown must be pretty persuasive because already they have recruited the skills of Kenneth LaClaire, a Vietnam veteran, and Jared Sedgley, who rides at Stony B, who are building an office out of two stalls where veterans can relax before or after their lessons. “This program is so exciting,” said LaClaire. “I hope it really takes off. It really helps a lot to be around horses. They calm and relax you.” Sedgley said a horse can provide a sense of security with no judgment. “You can share your secrets with a horse and they’re not going to tell anyone,” he said.

Sayers’ fundraising skills are legendary in Franklin County, which bodes well for Courageous Strides. We hope cofounders Sayers and Brown and Stony B owner Deane are able to reach all the veterans and active-duty service members who would enjoy time spent with horses.

“We want veterans to find peace again,” Sayers said.

You can reach Sayers at 413-627-9334.




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