UPDATED: New Horses, New Programs, New Name For Strongwater Farm
Patti Lessard, director of Strongwater Farm, and "Trial", one of nine horses presently working at the facility.
Gallery: Strongwater Farm [5 Images] Click any image to expand.
There are new horses, new programs and scores of new volunteers. But the most obvious change, of course, is the new name. Until late 2013, the facility was called T.H.E. Farm at Strongwater. According to Lessard, the old name, coupled with the farm's location, created confusion for many people.
"A lot of people thought we were part of Tewksbury Hospital, instead of just being located on its land," she said. "The new name makes it a little more clear we're our own (entity)."
From the day she was hired, one of Lessard's top priorities has been to get the word out about the work being done at Strongwater Farm and the resources available for agencies, programs and individuals. As a result, several new clients have begun using Strongwater Farm and its horses for various therapeutic purposes. Among them are two local assisted living facilities for the elderly, the Bedford VA and the Wounded Warriors Project.
For Lessard, being able to provide services for military veterans through Strongwater's Freedom Riders program is something very close to her heart. Her father was in the military, as were several relatives. Her nephew was a marine, who spent the better part of a year living in caves during a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
"The way I see it is, we wouldn't be here if not for the work (veterans) do," she said. "It's something we sometimes can take for granted."
Riding provides a feeling of empowerment for veterans with serious injuries. And the peace that comes from working with horses provides comfort and a calming recreational experience for vets dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The elderly clients have been taking part in a program Lessard began called "Strides in Reminiscing" designed to help stimulate and sharpen the mind. This is especially helpful for those clients who may be battling the early stages of Alzheimer's.
New programs have created a need for new horses. Strongwater Farm currently has nine horses, with two more expected to arrive in a couple of weeks. Some are owned by the farm, while others there as part of a loan arrangement.
Strongwater will soon be in possession of a 12th horse, although it will be at least a year until he makes an appearance. The farm recently took part in an Internet contest run by LexLin Gypsy Ranch in Tennessee. As part of a program they are calling "Gypsy Gift," LexLin is giving a young Gypsy horse, valued at around $15,000 apiece, to each of the top-five vote-getting equine therapeutic facilities participating in the contest. Strongwater was the No. 1 vote getter.
As a result, three-year-old Cha-Ching is the newest member of the Strongwater team. Lessard will be going down to Tennessee on July 26 for the formal presentation but Cha-Ching will likely stay in Tennessee for another year to be trained as a therapy horse.
While the horses tend to be the "stars" of Strongwater Farm, Lessard said the heart and soul of the facility is her staff and the volunteers who generously give of their time. Presently, there are 12 staff members at the Strongwater, including six certified Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH) instructors.
Providing support to the staff is a legion of some 200 volunteers, who take on a variety of chores and responsibilities at the farm. According to Lessard, around 120 volunteers give time at Strongwater in a given week.
Recently, Lessard entered into an agreement with a human services agency that also leases space on the Tewksbury Hospital property and was able to add 40 additional volunteers to the roster.
Next up for Lessard and Strongwater is the annual Golf Ball Drop Fundraiser, scheduled for Sunday, July 20. The event will take place at the farm itself, with balls being dropped by Mark Ginsburg from his helicopter, into the Strongwater riding ring. The person whose golf ball lands closest to the flag in the middle of the ring will win $1,500. Golf balls cost $10 each. The event will also feature music and a barbecue.
For more information on the golf ball drop, click here.
For more information on Strongwater Farm, log onto www.strongwaterfarm.org