HISTORY; THE LAST FORTY YEARS!!!!
Pony Farm began in 1971 as a tiny summer riding camp for 8 little girls and their scruffy ponies. Operating for one month only with the help of my two best friends, we planned to hold camp for this one summer only. We named the camp after my favorite book called Pony Farm, written and illustrated by Paul Brown in 1948. Armed with the book and great dreams of a fun summer for us all, Pony Farm began in earnest. Now, with 40 fabulous years under our belt, Pony Farm retains much the same spirit and philosophy as in those early years. We still love kids, ponies, being outside, and creating life-long friendships. Our size may be different, the facility fancier, the staff more experienced and the horses less scruffy, but the same spirit of warmth and welcome still abounds.
As Pony Farm ended that first summer, the word went out that we had ponies and loved kids. We were quickly approached to see if we would offer riding lessons during the school year. We immediately said YES and we began with five or six little kids on the same scruffy little ponies that we had for camp. We increased our lesson list by offering ‘pony’ birthday parties. From these parties, our list built until we had a full complement of lesson students. We were off and running.
At the same time, Gene Robinson and I dreamed of starting a retreat center that would serve youth groups who were starting their confirmation in earnest. We came up with the name of Sign of the Dove Retreat Center. Business immediately blossomed into not only hosting youth groups, but also vestry and adult retreats. Low and behold, there was a serious market for this as we were the only retreat center that catered to small groups of 25 or less, and was located on a working family farm.
As business grew, we soon realized we were outgrowing our house and needed to start a fundraising campaign to build a real retreat center. This campaign started early in 1976 with the crowning result being the dedication of the existing lodge in the fall of 1977. The rocks were gathered by youth group members from past retreats at a “Rock Festival”. The hand hewn logs were peeled by other youth group members under the hot summer sun. The chandeliers were made by Bella Martin, my mom, and two French Canadian blacksmiths. The doors and banisters were fashioned by local Temple craftsmen. In short, it was a labor of love all the way along.
Business thrived and finally we had to hire more help. As Gene got more and more famous, we had bigger groups. We especially featured Intergenerational groups. Business boomed.
As our family grew and Pony Farm lessons and summer flourished, I got more and more drawn to children who had special emotional or physical needs. I keep seeing, time after time, that the horses worked a special magic on these kids. They were drawn to the healing powers of the horse like moths to a flame.
I decided to go to see other therapeutic programs, especially Windrush, run by my dear friend and mentor Marj Kittredge. She truly encouraged us to start therapeutic riding at the farm. My heart and soul said a resounding YES.
My exciting and rewarding journey with NARHA, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, the national association for therapeutic riding began. I would go to the conferences determined to find out how to foster the healing power of the horse especially for those with mental health issues or learning disabilities. At that time, the focus of NARHA was on those with physical or cognitive challenges. Not to be deterred, I decided to go to graduate school to get a counseling degree. Much to my discouragement, they would not accept horses and equine facilitated mental health as a viable practice modality…..
With a hopeful heart and a strong conviction, I decided to start Horse Power, a therapeutic riding program specializing in those with mental health and learning challenges. We also offered services to those with physical and cognitive challenges. Much to my delight and excitement, Horse Power thrived and soon received its’ not for profit status. We were off.
One of the first things we did was to host the “Horses and Healing Conference” which was to become an annual event for 17 years. The field of Equine Facilitated Mental Health, Equine Facilitated Learning and Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy were all born through the collaboration and brain power of the people who attended these early gatherings, many of which were in a driving snow storm! Only the hearty were in attendance.
Slowly over time and with lots of hard work, EFMHA, the Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association, became much more mainstream in NARHA. This blending culminated in the joining of the two organizations during the 2010 national NARHA convention. It is with delight that many welcome this change.
As EFMHA gained in strength, it became clear that more education was needed for individuals who were wanting to do this work. A Strategic Planning session was conducted in 2000, it was decided to begin the Horse Power Instructor Training School. With much excitement, three things had to happen. First, we needed to build a faculty. Secondly, we had to build an indoor arena. Lastly, I had to study for and achieve my NARHA Master Instructor Certification. The thought of filling up three months of valuable information, fulfilling the 175 hours of required hours by NARHA and adding in the EFMH pieces was daunting indeed. However, true to form, the team rose to the occasion and the first session was offered in 2001. Now, ten years later, we have launched nearly 50 new instructors, many of whom have gone on to start their own programs or to further their education at the Masters or Doctoral level. It has been a thrill indeed to see this school survive and thrive.
As the school developed and the need for more workshops, certifications and clinics was felt, Stepping Stone Lodge received a big overhaul in both 2007 and then again in 2009. With a lovely website, great marketing, wonderful events, new carpet, mattresses and linens, and a gung-ho staff, many more events were planned. These events continue on today, with many more in the making.
Adding to the allure of the farm and the movement for locally grown food, two new programs were developed. “Animal Ambassadors” and “Gardening for Good”both grew out of the new organic farming movement and the “Farm Based Education” idea. Both of these programs are still in their formative stage but have been received with open arms from the current ‘friends of the farm’. The future will show that these programs are valuable indeed and must become a significant part of our work.
The idea of Touchstone Farm came to be in the early winter of 2010 when a bright, committed and dedicated team of people gathered together to work on the farm’s finances, future and succession. After careful thought and many hours of diligent work, it was decided to officially close Pony Farm and Stepping Stone Lodge as separate businesses. Their assets would be brought in under Horse Power as a not for profit, with the name being changed to Touchstone Farm. Having one bigger not for profit with one budget, one staff, one bank account, one set of tax preparations and, most importantly, one mission seemed to make extraordinary sense. The streamlining and simplifying of the entire business operation was the answer to continued sustainability, succession planning and transparent fiscal management.
It was decided that a major donor campaign would take place over the summer and fall of 2010 to accomplish the necessary changes to the programs, the brochures, the computers, the legal and financial infrastructures, the staffing and the horses. This gargantuan task seemed daunting at best and impossible at worst.
As we sit here, months later, poised to launch Touchstone Farm, we are most proud and pleased to say that the work is done. The budgets and business plans are in place. The mission and vision has been approved. The board is increasing. The staff is rearin’ to go. The horses have been upgraded and the facility is ready to welcome in a new and busy year. As we celebrate the success and honor the many people who have generously given of their time, talent and treasure, we welcome you to come be a part of the new Pony Farm, Horse Power and Stepping Stone Lodge, as we celebrate 40 years of successful business and usher in the next 40 years under the name of Touchstone Farm!