Children, families enjoy meeting the HOPE horses


Hunter Poppell, 10, pets Starlight, a therapy horse, as Starlight does a horse smile during the 8th Annual Horsin' Around Fall Festival presented by HOPE: Horses Helping People, in Alachua Sunday Oct. 6, 2013. Hunter's family is with him, sister Natalie, 7, bottom, mom Jennifer, left, and baby sister Harper, 11 months.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, October 6, 2013 at 6:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 6, 2013 at 7:20 p.m.

Droves of toddlers stomped through lush green fields, with snow cones in hand, as horses grazed nearby at the HOPE, Horses Helping People, farm in Archer Sunday afternoon for the 8th annual Horsin’ Around Fall Festival.

Pony rides, an exotic petting zoo, dogs that play soccer, a live radio broadcast from Kiss 105.3 and kid-friendly games brought dozens of families out to the 40-acre farm, located at 9722 SW 153 Ave.

“Our biggest goal with this event is just to get people out here to see the farm, meet the horses, just kind of see what we do,” HOPE Executive Director Kristen Cooper said. “We never really have a chance to get everyone from the community out here.”

HOPE works with special-needs children and adults by offering riding lessons and occupational therapy sessions with their horses.

The UF Equestrian Club, Student Occupational Therapy Association and many more volunteers from UF and Santa Fe worked the event. Cooper said the farm sees nearly 50 volunteers a week, most of which are students.

UF art history and business management junior, Amanda Kegu, helped set up a free game of inflatable bowling for kids on Sunday.

Kegu, 20, regularly volunteers at the farm to lead horses while riders undergo sessions. An experienced horse worker, Kegu said it is humbling to see young kids get excited about simple activities like horse grooming.

“I’ve been volunteering here for a year and a half now,” Kegu said. “I’ve seen how people progress and it’s cool.”

Assistant City Manager Paul Folkers brought his family to HOPE farm on Sunday for sack races and pony rides. Folkers noted the collaboration of the nonprofit and the University of Florida for the family-friendly event.

“It all works together,” he said.

Cathi Brown, co-founder and occupational therapist for HOPE, said the festival was part fundraiser, part community awareness opportunity.

“We hope that we raise money at the same time, but a lot of it is about community involvement and getting people to understand what we do and how beautiful it is, and meet some of the people that are involved,” Brown said.

Brown has been involved with the nonprofit since it was founded in 2000. She said her goal as an occupational therapist is not to make her patients better riders, but for her sessions to incorporate hippotherapy--a technique that uses the movement of the horse as a tool for treatment.

Children are especially motivated to learn and practice skills by working with the horses, Brown said.

The sensations of the outdoor environment add a beneficial element to her sessions as well.

“To me its more real world, as opposed to being inside in a building with four walls that you are trying to bring things in to adapt to the environment. Well, I got it already,” she said.

Various groups and individuals come to the farm to ride, interact with the horses and just spend some time in the country. A group of veterans come to the farm every Thursday and a local rape crisis center comes out on occasion.

The five horses and one miniature pony that live at the farm tend to enjoy the interactions they have with visitors to farm, Brown said.

“Some of them just love the people and are so happy,” she said, adding that some horses are quick to lower their heads into the laps of riders who come in wheelchairs.

HOPE currently has a free lease on the property, but plans to find their own land once they can conjure up the funds.

“We hope to grow. The goal in life is to have our own property,” Brown said.

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