Saddles and Smiles
As the busy summer draws to a close and I look back over my memorable moments it is with delight that I remember my visit to the Valley.
It was a hot July Monday in Georgia when I felt the call to go to the Valley; and by sunset on Tuesday I was seated with Angie Shockley, Q & A Associates, at Deerfield Restaurant in Canaan Valley, WV enjoying fabulous chicken veggie pasta as I caught up on all the latest news.
Wednesday began with early coffee and eggs at the Breakfast Nook. I was seated near the back porch where the windows are always open in the summer time; this way I can experience the wildlife as I enjoy the fruits of the residents labor. I noticed several changes since my last visit, but the most exciting change I have to share with you is the ice machine. I guess you have to be there to understand.
The Breakfast Nook is located beneath Applewood Transitions and many of the clients work at the Nook. Following breakfast I was able to tour the rest of the facility and see what the girls have been up to. Applewood is home to many young women who are learning to cope with reoccurring issues from their adolescence in order to effectively experience independent living. Some of these young women will find their independence living on their own here in the Valley, or through Cabin Mountain Living; others will return home or establish themselves elsewhere.
After saying good-bye to the girls I drove down to the Old Mill. When there is rain in the Valley they grind corn meal at the mill; I’m told it’s the best anywhere. There is also space for crafters to sell their designs at the Mill. Some clients, staff and coaches at Applewood and The Journey WV make the hand carved woodworking and jewelry pieces; other items are made by the locals. Booth space is made available for anyone who is interested to sell their wares. Behind the craft space is the sawmill, which is being restored by Q&A staff and clients; it won’t be long before lumber will once again be hewn from timber grown close by. Upstairs sits an old loom that is being restored; soon it will hum again. There will also be opportunities for yoga and other activities at the Old Mill.
It was very exciting to see the emergence of new life from this historic landmark.
The Journey WV lies close by the Old Mill and is home to many young men who struggle to find their journey to independence. Through a coaching and mentoring model, staff help these clients translate what they have learned in therapy to real life. Journey clients have the opportunity to work on a farm and experience the day-to-day care for livestock as well as tend vegetable gardens; make hay; repair fencing and farm equipment; and enjoy a daily dose of chicken TV.
I love the Old Mill as it is reminiscent of another mill I used to visit as a child, but the highlight of my trip was the horses! Yes, a trail ride is always a plus when I come to the Valley, but something special happened when I was at the Double S barn this July: I was introduced to Saddles and Smiles.
Saddles and Smiles is a not-for-profit equine program dedicated to providing learning experiences for children and young adults who have neurological disorders or are on the autism spectrum. While I was at the barn I watched Angie, Keith Bishop and some young volunteers provide ride-time for a 9-year-old girl with cerebral palsy and a young adult male who had never been on a horse.
Sarah* showed up at the barn with her mother and care-giver, who with the help of staff and volunteers, was able to be placed first into in her wheel chair and pushed across the saw-dusty barn floors; she was then lifted onto the back of Elvis for what I fondly refer to as Sarah’s Freedom Ride. Why Freedom Ride? Because for 45 minutes Sarah emerged from a little girl who was trapped by her disease, into a happy young lady who rode like a princess on her steed with the wind blowing through her beautiful blond hair. Witnessing her transformation will be ever etched in my mind.
Ed* a client at The Journey, was brought to the barn later in the day. Ed awkwardly introduced himself to me and let me know he came to ride. Ed spoke about riding a horse as though it was common place for him, when in reality he had never been on the back of a horse in all of his 20 years. Ed turned his attention to Angie and that’s when the magic began. Angie escorted Ed into the round pen and then brought in Elvis, a beautiful paint who stands more than 16 hands tall. The therapy began with a time of getting-to-know-you where Elvis patiently waited while Ed learned how to approach a horse, touch a horse and gain the trust of this stately creature. Before I knew it Ed was on Elvis riding unassisted in the barn!
It was like watching miracles unfold before my eyes to see up close and personal how Saddles and Smiles forever changed the lives of Sarah and Ed.
It takes a lot of work to keep up the barn and provide stalls and pasture for the well-trained horses that serve Saddles and Smiles clientele. Although summer horse camps generate some revenue to support this endeavor, Saddles and Smiles rely heavily on volunteer support to muck stalls; shovel gravel and sawdust; clean and repair tack; as well as feed, water and exercise the horses. Of course donations are accepted, but if that is the only way you provide support you will miss witnessing the miracles.
Before I knew it the sun was down and we gathered once again at Deerfield to enjoy the company of good friends, good food and good music.
After another day in the Valley I began the long trek home. It is almost heaven as the songwriter told us; that little place on earth called Canaan Valley. Each time I visit I leave a little piece of my heart behind ensuring I will visit again. Won’t you?
*The names have been changed to protect the privacy of the clients.