High Horses marks 30th anniversary of ‘delicate dance'

A rider stops to let Erin Norton pet her horse with help from her mother Helen Norton, of Woodstock, during the High Horses 30th annual benefit trail ride and nature walk at Pirouette Farm in Norwich, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. Erin, 27, takes lessons at High Horses, the therapeutic riding center in Sharon.  (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

A rider stops to let Erin Norton pet her horse with help from her mother Helen Norton, of Woodstock, during the High Horses 30th annual benefit trail ride and nature walk at Pirouette Farm in Norwich, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. Erin, 27, takes lessons at High Horses, the therapeutic riding center in Sharon. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Riders depart on a trail ride at Pirouette Farm in Norwich, Vt., to benefit High Horses on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. The 30th annual event raised an estimated $25,000 to help subsidize lessons with therapeutic riding instructors. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Riders depart on a trail ride at Pirouette Farm in Norwich, Vt., to benefit High Horses on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. The 30th annual event raised an estimated $25,000 to help subsidize lessons with therapeutic riding instructors. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

Hayden Harris-Reiss, 10, of South Royalton, right, puts a bridle on pony Elvis before riding with in the High Horses 30th annual benefit trail ride at Pirouette Farm with Heron Harris-Reiss, 12, on Butterscotch, at left, and friend Skyley Hudson, 12, also of South Royalton, in Norwich, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023.(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Hayden Harris-Reiss, 10, of South Royalton, right, puts a bridle on pony Elvis before riding with in the High Horses 30th annual benefit trail ride at Pirouette Farm with Heron Harris-Reiss, 12, on Butterscotch, at left, and friend Skyley Hudson, 12, also of South Royalton, in Norwich, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023.(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Equestrian Coach Denny Emerson, of Strafford, right, talks with Marta White, riding Beaulieu's Simply Cool, as they prepare for a demonstration at the High Horses 30th annual benefit trail ride and nature walk at Pirouette Farm in Norwich, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. White, who has progressive multiple sclerosis, teamed up with Simply Cool, who has recovered from what was thought to be a career-ending back injury, with hopes to join the U.S. Paralympic equestrian team. White spoke to participants in the High Horses benefit about their experience of healing together.

Equestrian Coach Denny Emerson, of Strafford, right, talks with Marta White, riding Beaulieu's Simply Cool, as they prepare for a demonstration at the High Horses 30th annual benefit trail ride and nature walk at Pirouette Farm in Norwich, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. White, who has progressive multiple sclerosis, teamed up with Simply Cool, who has recovered from what was thought to be a career-ending back injury, with hopes to join the U.S. Paralympic equestrian team. White spoke to participants in the High Horses benefit about their experience of healing together. "I can set goals in my life again and it's all because of this horse," she said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

High Horses riding instructor Lindsay Harris, of South Royalton, ties a ribbon to her horse Ennis before taking part in the High Horses 30th annual benefit trail ride and nature walk at Pirouette Farm in Norwich, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023.

High Horses riding instructor Lindsay Harris, of South Royalton, ties a ribbon to her horse Ennis before taking part in the High Horses 30th annual benefit trail ride and nature walk at Pirouette Farm in Norwich, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. "He's an ally - we all are," said Harris. "Just a little touch of fancy for today." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

By CHRISTINA DOLAN

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 10-16-2023 4:38 AM

NORWICH — It was beautiful autumn weather for enjoying the trails at Pirouette Farm in Norwich Saturday as several dozen riders and hikers participated in “Hoofin’ It,” a fundraiser for the High Horses Center for Equine-Assisted Services.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of High Horses, one of the largest equine therapy programs in northern New England. Located in Sharon, the organization provides therapeutic riding services to a wide range of clients, from children to the elderly.

According to Director of Community Impact and Development Harold Pinkham, the majority of funds raised for High Horses programming come from individual contributions from donors throughout the Upper Valley.

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“We are the only therapeutic riding farm within 75 miles,” said Pinkham, noting that the High Horse community is intensely committed to its mission.

Board President Hannah Payson noted that the day’s turnout was strong, and the fundraising goal of $15,000, had been met even before the start of the event. She emphasized that all of the money raised today will go directly to scholarships.

“We make sure everyone is able to access the programs, which serve people with both visible and invisible disabilities,” she said.

Those programs include adaptive riding, occupational and physical therapy, summer camps, and a program called “Kindred Spirits,” which serves adults diagnosed with dementia by providing sensory walks, exercises, and work with horses to help with strength, balance, and emotional health.

Horses are considered part of the staff at High Horses, says Executive Director Alexandra Keats. “They have incredible abilities to become connected to human beings and reflect back emotions and bring a human being down to a very grounded, connected, present place, and in that space you can really accomplish a lot.”

The interaction between human and horse is a “delicate dance,” says barn and special events volunteer Robin Ahrens of Thetford Center. She and her sister, Diane Riley of Norwich, came out to participate in the walk. “Horses are very sensitive, and working with them helps develop empathy and awareness,” she said, adding that the instructor serves as a sort of “choreographer” for the experience.

Equine assisted programming can be a “tremendous addition” to traditional physical therapy, says Keats. The motion of being on a horse is itself therapeutic. “It engages your entire motor neuron system from head to toe,” including muscles that are difficult to engage through traditional physical therapy.

High Horses has recently introduced a new program called “Stable Moments,” which serves children and youth experiencing complex trauma. “Our programs keep growing as the need keeps growing,” said Keats, “and the need was huge coming out of COVID.” She notes that there is evidence-based research showing that working with horses can have positive outcomes for people with trauma. “With that research has come increased development of program modes and certifications and credentialing.”

Stable Moments includes a mentor program and partnerships with social service organizations and schools to provide continuity of support. “If the program stands alone in isolation, then it’s up to the client to carry that work back and make sense of it, and that’s really a challenge.” Keats says. “Partnerships help with the transference of learning and growth.”

“Trails are his happy place,” rider Nancy Welch said of her horse, a 12-year-old strawberry roan named Second Chance. Welch and “Chance” had just finished the 5-or-so mile trail ride and were relaxing by their trailer. Chance had been rescued from a kill pen, and came to Welch in August.

She said that she wanted to help raise money for high horses in part based on her experience as a caregiver for a family member and the understanding she developed of how much support is needed for both caregiver and patient.

Hoofin’ It participants enjoyed an after-ride pot-luck lunch, followed by a riding demonstration by paralympic equestrian athlete Marta White. Diagnosed in 2014 with Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, white and her horse Simply Cool are hoping to compete in the 2024 Paralympics in Paris.

Riding Simply Cool and training for a competitive event have “definitely done a lot to lift my spirits,” she said. After her riding demonstration, Marta discussed some of the adaptive equipment she uses, including an extra whip. Because she has no use of her right leg, she also uses spur straps that tie her stirrups to the saddle’s girth. Referring to Simply Cool, she said “I feel lucky that I get to ride this horse and set goals with her.”

High Horses is accredited by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH), which is, according to Keats, “the largest overarching accrediting body” and has developed professional standards for therapeutic riding.

High Horses will hold a “Magic in Motion” fundraising gala on Saturday, November 4 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Hanover. Information may be found at https://www.highhorses.org/events/gala. Marta White’s GoFundMe page is located at https://www.gofundme.com/f/overcoming-adversity-on-the-way-to-paris.

Christina Dolan can be reached at cdolan18020@gmail.com.