(US NH) Riding program helps horses and people July 31, 2005 12:24 PM
Morgan Fay, 10, of Madbury, says hello to Chance, a former champion event horse with a crooked front leg from an improperly healed fracture. Morgan volunteers with her mother once a week at E.P.O.N.A., where chance is retired.
Amy Kane photo
By Amy Kane
It is named for the ancient Celtic goddess of horses, Epona. And since its inception Equine Protection of North America has been proving that people can be good to horses and horses can be good for people.
In just six years since rescuing its first horse, an injured racehorse named Blessed, E.P.O.N.A., based in Epping, has become a nationally respected haven for abused, neglected and unwanted horses.
Now, an established therapeutic riding program called Wendellís Wish, originally located in Newfields, will merge with E.P.O.N.A. to offer riding and horse-related activities for people with disabilities at Inspiration Farm/Spinnaker Hill, one of E.P.O.N.A.ís two leased facilities in Epping.
An open house will be held at Inspiration Farm on Saturday, July 30, from 9 a.m. to noon, to introduce the public to the therapeutic riding program. People can get acquainted with the horses, equipment will be displayed, and there will be a grooming demonstration.
Wendellís Wish was the final request of Exeter resident Wendell Clare, whose horse Max became the founding horse for the therapeutic riding program.
Therapeutic riding has grown in recent years.
"It works on a physical and emotional level," said Ron Levesque, cofounder and executive director of E.P.O.N.A. "Its success is becoming more widely known."
E.P.O.N.A./Wendellís Wish will offer a therapeutic riding camp Aug. 1-5, with seven clients from ages 6 to 71, with disabilities such as spina bifida and cerebral palsy.
After camp, regular six-week sessions will begin. Levesque is seeking corporate sponsorship for each rider. Riders will get a T-shirt with their sponsorís logo, and the sponsorís banner will be displayed in the indoor riding arena.
E.P.O.N.A. also has an ongoing need for volunteers and contributors.
Some of the 19 horses at E.P.O.N.Aís rescue farm are retired and need sponsorship, which may cost $250 per month. Others are available for adoption after rehabilitation.
Many of the horses are not ridable, but they make great companion animals, according to Levesque.
"People think if you canít ride a horse it doesnít have a purpose," he said. "But itís the relationship with horses thatís most important."
The horses at E.P.O.N.A. are used to teach horse care. Work and educational programs have included 4-H groups, the Odyssey House, Job Corps and City Year.
Some of the horses, such as Blessed, will eventually be part of the therapeutic riding program.
For volunteers, Levesque emphasizes: "You donít need horse experience."
Volunteers are taught by experienced handlers. They do what they are comfortable doing, from mucking out stalls and grooming the horses, to simply giving lots of love and attention.
Sue Flagg, a North Hampton resident who has been volunteering weekly since October, owned horses when she was growing up and is now a busy mother of two young boys.
"I like to keep in touch with horse world," she said. "I go in Tuesday mornings to do volunteer work. Itís like my little piece of heaven."
"Thereís the Premarin part of it too," Flagg added. "You feel like youíre really doing something important."
E.P.O.N.A. currently has four mares purchased from Premarin farms, where they were impregnated then lived more than half of each year tethered in stalls with bags strapped to their hindquarters to collect their urine, which is used in hormone replacement drugs such as Premarin and Prempro.
The foals are sent to slaughter so the mares can become pregnant again quickly. Levesque has attended auctions in Canada and the upper Midwest and purchased anywhere from six to 42 foals, depending on the amount of money he has available.
"We were the first group to bring Premarin horses to New Hampshire, and the second group to bring them to New England," said Levesque.
Such is its national reputation that, after research, Mary Tyler Moore adopted two Premarin foals from E.P.O.N.A.
"I think weíre known nationally more than locally," said Levesque.
That seems to be changing, as the New Hampshire Horse Council recently named Levesque its Horse Person of the Year.
Volunteers such as Marsha Smith of Raymond said they are looking forward to helping with this new chapter at E.P.O.N.A.
"I think this program not only helps people here for therapeutic riding, but it helps the people who are here to help the horses and kids," she said.
Smith suffers from lupus and said that her volunteer work has strenghtened her physically and emotionally.
"Ron, E.P.O.N.A. and the horses have given my life back to me," she said. "When I started here a year ago I could hardly do anything. Now Iím walking and riding."
"If you talk to volunteers," said Levesque, "you find that E.P.O.N.A. does rescue horses, but it also rescues people. I think it has a lot to do on a spiritual basis with our namesake."
Levesque said he hopes to build a permanent facility in three or four years.
Directions to Inspiration Farm: Route 101 to Exit 7, Route 125 north; right on Route 87, half mile on left. Look for balloons and a banner, "Welcome Wendellís Wish."
For infomation on therapeutic riding, volunteering, donations, or adopting horses, call E.P.O.N.A. at 679-1896 or visit www.eponarescue.org.
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