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horsin’ around

May 22, 2011

SunnyBrook Meadows Farm ... photo courtesy of Johanna Schoeneck

Last night found me stalking bull frogs around the perimeter of a neighbor’s pond.  My feet squelched in grass boggy from regurgitating the over-abundant rains of the past week.  Little Friend clung monkey-style to my hip, proclaiming “Frog jump in.  Swimming under water.  Not see.”

Not a single bulbous eyeball disturbed the green film of algae on the pond’s surface.

But from across the pond, we heard one: “Rrrrrumm, rrrruuummm.”  “Frog say this:” proclaimed the authority hinged to my hip, “Ba-ba.”  (We’re going with that’s close enough.)

We were in Central Pennsylvania countryside this weekend.  It’s a place without sidewalks.  A place where the road is the sidewalk.  A place where any car that comes by is shuttling a neighbor, so you wave, palm up like a stiff flag of camaraderie.  A hand raises from the steering wheel, palm up, a flag of camaraderie.

It’s a place where, when you leave the pond’s teeming ecosystem of bug, bird, and bullfrog, you watch a single white-tailed deer cleave the green fields like a schooner set for port.

It’s a place where silence is displaced with red-winged blackbird trills, sighing pine boughs, lightning bug wings, car tires humming homeward, and bull frogs.

We came home to Central PA for the purpose of greeting a very different animal: Horses.

photo courtesy of Johanna Schoeneck

As a girl, I dreamed in Horse.  I drew horses, I collected horses, I fantasized about horses, I rode horses.  The allure has not faded over the years.  This weekend, we travelled to SunnyBrook Meadows Farm for the stable’s annual Horse Show.  SunnyBrook Meadows is a special place where little girls’ fantasies come alive everyday.

More strikingly, SunnyBrook Meadows makes horse fantasies a reality for a very special, deserving segment of society: disabled children and adults.

SunnyBrook Meadows Farm offers therapeutic experiences for individuals with disabilities and their families.  The physical, mental, and emotional benefits of horseback riding could fill a science text book.  I’ve seen firsthand a young man bent into a comma shape with cerebral palsy, straighten, still, and command a horse independently around a rink.  His grin of determined authority and independence said it all.

SunnyBrook Meadows Farm is about the heart of healing as much as it is about the science of therapy.  A small cadre of dedicated volunteers give, from the goodness of their hearts, hours devoted to the unsavory tasks of mucking stalls, organizing tack, brushing coarse horse hair, and walking around, and around, and around a horse’s side as the rider perches, delighted, atop.   These volunteers give because they know that with each shovel scoop, brush stroke, broom push, and guiding step, they bring hope and healing to lives that can achieve unparalleled independence and success atop that horse’s back.

It’s not just the people of SunnyBrook Meadows that provide therapy; it’s also the horses.  The way those long-lashed brown eyes seem to stare calmly into the storm of your core.  The way long, elegant legs tip up to balance on the rim of a single hoof.  The way fluttering lips brush velvet on your outstretched palm.  My sister and I, both childhood veterans of equine fever, agreed simultaneously that a horse’s oaty-whiskery-leathery-dusty-sunny smell is one of the most comforting in the world.  It’s therapy to be around a horse.

This weekend’s Horse Show at SunnyBrook Meadows brought the heart and science of therapeutic riding to everyone who attended.  As the crowds milled from stable to shoeing demonstration, to roping instructions, to riding lessons, to pony rides, children and parents alike stretched in the sun and laughed at the nickers and neighs of horses.

Little Friend joined her cousins to romp in horse heaven.

The Hobby Horse competition was fierce.

Especially with Isabelle and her trusty steed, Kara, in the running.  (Where does she come up with these names?!)

Then again, Isabelle and Kara were disqualified early on for unsportsmanlike conduct.

You’d think the race to the prize table was more enthusiastic than the race to the finish line.

(You’ll notice the abuse still being heaped on poor Kara’s head.)

Of course, if the prize table offers a PURPLE LOLLIPOP, it’s worth knocking a few heads to get there.

Step one: Pose with prize.

Step two: Do this.

After some stiff competition among stick horses, it was time to practice another important horsemanship skill: steer roping.  Or, if you’re under three feet tall, straw-bale-with-a-plastic-sheep-head-stuck-in-it roping.  Yup.  That’s the official name.  It’s best if you learn it from a bona fide cowboy:

Would you get a load of this kid’s skills?

Here’s what it feels like to rope your first straw-bale-with-a-plastic-sheep-head-stuck-in-it:

photo courtesy of Johanna Schoeneck

Then, of course, the day must conclude with a real horseback ride.  The first of many, if this little girl is anything like me.  (Which, if you take a look at her sticking out her tongue in concentration, she’s a carbon copy.)

In case you’re worried the kids had all the fun, they didn’t.  Here’s me, telling a horse what to do.

photo courtesy of Johanna Schoeneck

At least, I thought I was telling it.

Until it ran its nose into the fence.

In my defense, at least Little Friend listens to me.

From time to time.

As we wrapped up our hours at SunnyBrook Meadows Farm, moms, cousins, and grandmother treated ourselves to a lunch provided by a local Amish family who had set up a table of home made delicacies: hamburgers and hot dogs that cost a whopping $0.50, whoopie pies with oozing cream, and the hands-down best homemade soft pretzels just hours old from the oven.  We sat beneath a small glade of pines listening to Pennsylvania Dutch, horse nickers, thudding hoofs, and the buzz of bees.

What is life if we can’t take a little time out just to horse around?

SunnyBrook Meadows Farm is located in Montgomery, PA and is a member of the Pennsylvania Council on Therapeutic Horsemanship.  The stable provides lessons to all ages and abilities.  I can hardly imagine a more deserving organization for my support either in person at their Annual Horse Show or long distance.  For more information about the stable’s programs or to donate to this non-profit organization, contact them at or 570.547.1565.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Big Friend permalink
    May 22, 2011 6:01 pm

    You both look adorable! I wish I could have been there with you, but thanks for posting pictres so I can participate from a distance. I love all of LF’s faces. Love, Big Friend

  2. Kara permalink
    May 22, 2011 11:16 pm

    Love all the adorable expressions on your sweet girl’s beautiful face. Oh and I think Kara is a perfectly lovely name for a horse. Excellent taste, Isabelle.

  3. Martha permalink
    May 23, 2011 2:48 pm

    Loved hearing about this and seeing the pictures. Johanna is a very good photographer. Can’t wait to hear news of her upcoming trip to the Special Olympics.

  4. May 26, 2011 10:38 am

    AND in addition to their excellent regular program, Sunnybrook Meadows hosts Special Olympics, Lycoming county, Equestrian program and this year TWO of their riders were selected to be on Team USA and will travel to Greece to compete in the Summer World Special Olympics Games. They are 2 of only 11 riders selected from across the county. Yea Sunnybrook Meadows!

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