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Your Tewksbury Today

Road Race, Golf Tournament To Raise Funds For Strongwater Farm

May 05, 2015 03:30AM ● By Christine Berry MacKenzie

Justin Brooks and Liam out for a ride

One of the things that makes Tewksbury special has always been the town’s sense of community and involvement.  Nowhere is this more evident than at Strongwater Farm.  

Originally started by a handful of local residents as a place that would provide enrichment to the residents of Tewksbury State Hospital, Strongwater Farm was officially founded by M.J. Marcucci as a Therapeutic Equestrian Center in 1997.  Operated out of a beautiful old dairy barn that dates back well over one hundred years, Strongwater boasts a rural setting with access to over four hundred acres of recreational land.

As Patti Lessard, Director of Operations and Programming explains, “It’s a beautiful, peaceful environment that offers miles and miles of riding trails or a chance to just sit, reflect and enjoy the view.”

Strongwater, which is proud of its accreditation through Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International or PATH,  maintains high standards for its center’s guests as well as is resident four legged therapists.

Lessard knows firsthand the valuable role that horses can play in so many different lives.
“Horses are completely accepting,” she explained. “They don’t care what you look like, how you dress or where you come from.  All they know is your behavior and how that will help develop a relationship.”

Horses are completely trusting animals and, according to Lessard that’s what makes them so good for so many people.   Strongwater’s horses work with individuals facing challenges including, but not limited to, autism, cerebral palsy, developmental disabilities, Downs Syndrome, hearing and vision impairments, learning disabilities, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, paralysis, post-traumatic stress disorder, speech impairment, spinal cord injury, substance abuse, traumatic brain injury, addiction and many other physical, emotional and behavioral issues. 

Building a relationship with a horse isn’t always easy but it is always fulfilling and well worth every ounce of effort that goes into it. Lessard has watched for years as horses help individuals learn life lessons and skills that simply cannot be matched.  Learning to interact with a horse is much like learning to interact with a person but, with a horse, you can usually get a second chance to make a good first impression.

  “Horses are forgiving,” Lessard pointed out.“They give people a chance to gain their trust and learn to be with them.  When you ride a horse they help you learn to focus.  The rider is attached to the horse so the horse knows what to do.  If the rider isn’t present and focused then the horse isn’t either.”

Not everyone, of course, is ready to get on a horse right away and that is just another part of the teamwork and respect that means so much at Strongwater. 

 “Some people need weeks of work before they are ready to get on a horse and that is absolutely fine,” said Lessard. “We wait and work on it until both the horse and the rider are ready to be together.” 

Sometimes, however, it’s the horses that make the decision.  As Lessard stresses, the horses at Strongwater are always put first and, often times, it’s the riders who need to earn the right to ride. “It’s about being respectful and learning to take care of that live animal before they can take care of you.  You have to show them resect to get respect.”

These relationships, however, don’t just benefit the riders.  As Lessard says, “These horses are so playful and fun.  They want to have a good time and they look forward to helping people learn and grow.” These horses, the staff and a group of nearly three hundred active volunteers come together and work to form the Strongwater family.

One very special member of that family is eighteen year old Justin Brooks. A young rider who first came to the farm at around eight years old, Brooks has literally grown up with the Strongwater horses.  Over the years Brooks has not only learned to ride but has moved on as a trusted volunteer, working as a therapeutic side walker and, most recently, has begun to learn to lead a rider.  More than anyone, Brooks understands what the horses are capable of and appreciate the lessons he has learned from them, “Every horse is unique.  I’ve learned patience and focus from them.  You always have to be listening to your horse.”

Alongside Justin an army of volunteers works to keep Strongwater going.  It’s this community involvement that truly makes Strongwater unique.  Saturday mornings are filled with local high school students all looking to work together to make a difference.  Safety, of course, is always the first line of business at Strongwater and each and every volunteer is CORI checked and well trained.  Riders are carefully evaluated and matched with the perfect horse to suit their individual needs.

Trail rides are, undoubtedly, an important step for all the riders and, it’s there, that the cooperation from the Tewksbury community plays an enormous role.  Horses are flight animals and that means that unexpected noises can sometimes be a problem.  Loose dogs and motorbikes can be a recipe for disaster and the Strongwater team relies heavily on the community to leash their pets and keep motorbikes far away from the horses.

These days the excitement is building at Strongwater as they await the arrival of their newest addition Cha-Ching, a therapeutic gypsy horse.  Slated to arrive in August and become part of the Strongwater Veteran’s Program, Cha –Ching will be a huge addition to the Strongwater team.  Born at Lexlin Gypsy Ranch in Tennessee, Cha-Ching was actually won by Strongwater in a nationwide contest involving PATH Accredited therapeuticcenters.   

Founded by a former marine, Lexlin Gyspy Ranch, like Strongwater Farm is highly committed to supporting veterans and knows that a Gypsy Horse can be an incredible tool to do so.  Imported from Wales the Gypsy Horse was originally bred as a working horse for nomadic families.  Trusted by these nomads to haul their elaborate wagons the Gypsy Horse became known for its strength and endurance.  As Lessard explains, “Gypsy Horses are simply trustworthy, good citizens.”

Cha-Ching has been working with a trainer at Lexlin for over a year and will continue to learn when he arrives at Strongwater late this summer.  “Our goal is to have Cha-Ching work directly with our veterans,” mentioned Lessard. “They will help to train him and, together, both the veterans and Cha-Ching will learn from one another.”

Veterans are an important part of the Strongwater family and are never charged for their time at the farm. As Lessard explains, “we have to remember what our veterans have done for all of is.  How could we possibly charge them to be at the farm?”

Of course, maintaining the farm and its horses isn’t always an easy task and Strongwater relies heavily on donations and fundraising. Two upcoming events are planned to benefit Strongwater and support its growing veteran’s program.

The first is the annual 5K fun run / walk on the grounds of The Tewksbury Country Club on Monday, May 24.   Sponsored by the TCC, the fun raun proceeds will be split between the Strongwater Farm and the Tewksbury 911 Memorial Committee. You can visit their website   to sign up, make a donation or become a sponsor of the event.

Next is 2nd Annual Veteran’s Golf Classic on Friday, June 5.  Again, held at The Tewksbury Country Club, the golf classic features an eighteen hold scramble start, a buffet dinner reception to follow and the always popular Helicopter Golf Ball Drop Fundraiser.  For more information visit the Strongwater website

With a new horse on the way and hopes to begin construction of an indoor riding arena in the not too distant future, Strongwater Farm continues to grow and become an irreplaceable member of the Tewksbury community.  Together with generous sponsors like the Tewksbury Country Club as well as dedicated volunteers and employees, Strongwater’s horses are able to improve and change lives on a daily basis. 

For more information on Strongwater Farm visit them online, like them on Facebook or simply stop by the farm to relax and enjoy the view.

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