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ARISE at the Farm is changing lives for those with disabilities

Mary Beth Roach, special to the Daily Sentinel
Posted 5/22/22

Donovan Cox, blind since birth, has been involved in the therapeutic horseback riding program through ARISE at the Farm in Chittenango for only a few short months, but already his …

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ARISE at the Farm is changing lives for those with disabilities

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CHITTENANGO — Donovan Cox, blind since birth, has been involved in the therapeutic horseback riding program through ARISE at the Farm in Chittenango for only a few short months, but already his grandmother has noticed several positive changes in the 21-year-old Syracuse resident. Arise at the Farm, begun in 1998, is one of many programs offered by Arise Inc., an advocacy organization for those with disabilities, based in Syracuse.

“He seems happier and much more confident,” said Mary Beth O’Laughlin. She and her husband have custody of Cox.

He was eager to start at the 77-acre location at 1972 New Boston Road, and he especially enjoys caring for the horses, his grandmother said. The staff at the farm have adapted many aspects of the program for him, she added, including translating instructions for the care of the horses into Braille, and bringing a beep ball into the arena, so he could determine the entrance and exit to the area. Cox has been using echolocation since he was born, and while riding he makes clucking noises that will echo or bounce back, and this allows him to better orient himself in the arena.

“He’s amazing,” O’Laughlin said. “He’s taught me more about life in general than anyone I’ve ever met. We only focus on what Donovan can do, not what he can not do. And he can do a lot. Sometimes a loss of vision provides a whole new way to be creative to approach a problem.”

Cox is one of many individuals – children and adults – who take part in the horseback riding programs at the farm. During one recent week, there were nearly 50 lessons scheduled, according to Laura Little, farm manager.

The Therapeutic Horseback Riding sessions, according to the ARISE website, allow participants with disabilities to develop strength and bond with the horses. Riders can play games on horseback, and perhaps without even realizing it, they are developing motor control and planning, reaching, and weight-shifting. The Adaptive Horseback Riding session provides participants with the opportunity to ride more independently and to learn how to properly care for the horses. The farm currently has 12 horses.

“Most people who participate in our programs do so because they love horses. What’s not to love?” noted Little. “The benefits of riding on a person’s physical body, as well as the mental health benefits, are well documented and can be seen here every day.”

Core strength and balance are developed, and upper body strength is improved while grooming and tacking, she explained. Furthermore, the programs help to foster independence and provide the participants with some control in their lives.

“And being able to communicate and connect with horses by riding or leading them is just plain good for the soul,” she added.

For sisters Roksana and Angelika Chrzanowska, natives of Poland and currently residing in Syracuse, the program gives them a connection to the animals, according to their brother, Arkadiusz Mszyca. The women are in their late 20s, have some speech impediments and developmental disabilities, and their brother interprets for them.

The pair have been taking part in the ARISE at the Farm horse program since 2016, he said. They learn some balance, build a connection and learn how to control where the horse goes, he added. On a recent Wednesday morning, the sisters and their horses warmed up in the arena area, aided by some volunteers.

They then moved to the dirt trail outside the barn, which measures 5/8 of a mile, and they were led by farm staff with volunteers staying with them. Following the ride, they assist in grooming the horses.

Paige Larioni, of Clay, has been involved with the Farm for about 10 years, according to Caitlin Tessier, of Liverpool, her mentor. Larioni has cerebral palsy and her muscles are really tight, but the warm horse helps loosen her up, Tessier said. Larioni, too, loves animals and truly enjoys helping out at the farm.

Horses are intuitive and grounding creatures, said Jacobi Basko, a riding instructor at the farm. She tells how one of her participants has blood pressure problems and when she needs a break to take a couple of deep breaths, Basko noticed that the horse takes a couple of deep breaths and breathes with her. Feeling the horses’ coats can provide a sensory experience that is beneficial to some of the participants, Basko added. She, herself, has autism, and she explained that sometimes, when she’s feeling dysregulated, she grooms a horse.

“I’ve always had an affinity for people with disabilities because I’m part of the disabled community, so I feel like I can connect,” she said.

But those taking part in the programs aren’t the only ones to benefit. Little said she gets to spend time with the kids and adults, watching them learn and grow, and develop physically.”

On a wall of the barn at the farm hangs a quote by old-time vaudevillian, actor, and humorist Will Rogers that so aptly underscores the mission of the farm and the experiences that the participants like Cox, Larioni, and the Chrzanowska sisters have.

“There is nothing better for the inside of a person than the outside of a horse.”

Those interested in learning more about ARISE at the Farm, can email Laura Little at llittle@ariseinc.org or call at 315-687-6727. The farm also boasts a large accessible playground, horse cart driving, adaptive fishing, arts and crafts, summer recreation and school break recreation programs, and hand cycles that can be used on the paved path near the barn.

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