With its wide, sweeping pastures, bordered by gardens and dotted with grazing horses, the view from The Root Farm is like something out of a movie.
Located at the end of a long dirt path in Sauquoit, the Farm is home to 12 horses, 120 chickens, and nearly 100 acres of gardens and farmland. The setting provides a fitting backdrop for the Farm’s unique therapy programs spearheaded, in part, by a trio of Utica College alumni who know the healing potential of animals, nature, and plenty of fresh air.
“Every single thing here—from the design of the buildings to the therapy programs—is adaptable,” says Earl. “That’s really the whole point.”
Indeed, studies have shown that horses are especially adept at mirroring attitudes and behaviors of humans. When a rider’s voice expresses doubt or fear when delivering a command, a horse is unlikely to respond. The lesson is powerful, says Pape.
While the physical benefits of therapeutic riding are many (improved posture, balance, and muscle tone), the emotional benefits are more poignant for Pape—and in most instances, more striking.
“You see people with low self-esteem quickly gain confidence,” he says. “They come in tense, nervous, and just a few hours later, they don’t want to get off the horse. Over the weeks, their personality shifts and they’re more open, more engaged.”
One of Pape’s favorite aspects of the job is working with students, both interns and volunteers, from Utica College. With equine therapy gaining broader mainstream acceptance, he’s noticed that more students are interested in pursuing careers in the field.
By nurturing young therapists’ interest in horses, he says, “it feels a little like I’m giving back.”
“A horse reacts to how you feel more than what you say.”
“When a client smiles, laughs or says they can’t wait to come back,” she says, “those moments make me feel proud—and lucky—to do what I do.”