When Sophomore Ann Ratta (East Kingston, NH) was 11 she saw an ad in the local newspaper to work at a therapeutic riding barn and instantly knew it was something she needed to do. Unfortunately, she had to put her dream on hold until she turned 14. Now she works at two different programs during summer and school breaks. It is consuming work but Ann can’t get enough of it.
The combination of horses and helping people is an irresistible combination for Ann. She says her clients face significant challenges: anxiety and developmental disorders; MS; traumatic accidents; military based disabilities and blindness and deafness. Somehow though, the exposure to horses makes their lives a little fuller and richer. “Seeing how their mood instantly changes, how much happier they are. A lot of our clients get stared at when they are at other places. They tell me that - it doesn’t feel like I am different here. It just makes you feel good. It is such an upbeat, spirited and caring community.”
Ann does a combination of things at the barns: guiding horses, acting as a sidewalker, grooming and even a little Excel on the financial side. All of the activities are designed to give clients a little bit of independence that is missing in their day-to-day lives. Ann lights up when she describes Dodger, a clicker trained pony that Ann has helped train to play soccer. “We play in the indoor ring. We trained the pony to roll the ball. Sometimes we pull out the hoses and turn it into sprinkler soccer. Its just so much fun for our clients”.
One of her clients has particularly touched Ann. She describes this young woman as her best friend, “She is amazing. She has cerebral palsy and lives in a group home. But things don’t get her down. Her attitude is so great. Life is complicated for her, but she just works to find a way around problems… We have dance parties on the horses. They are so much fun….”
Asked to compare these experiences to Dublin, she says that “they are similar. I came here to be independent and for the chance to meet and know other types of people. Both are opening and accepting communities. There are no stigmas.”