Located in Wilmington, Ohio, Stillwater is a place where young people from all walks of life can let down their walls, face their fears and choose life. Amy Faison talks with us about its mission.
HN: How did Stillwater get started?
Amy: Stillwater Stables originally got started in Oregon, where Connie and Mike Patrick wanted to combine Connie’s love for kids and horses together. Horses had changed her life and she wanted to be able to share her experiences to help kids. For five years she and her husband Mike ran a small training barn in Oregon full of children and teens who rode, went to shows and genuinely loved being at the barn. In 2005, they decided to move cross country to Wilmington, Ohio, since that is where Mike’s job as a pilot was and it would cut out the commuting time for him. They brought 3 of their horses, 2 cats and a dog and moved the business of Stillwater Stables with them. When they arrived they built everything from the ground up, including the barn since the property wasn’t “horse ready” when they bought it. Stillwater Stables was ran as a business for a few years but they really felt led to change to a non-profit so the children and teens in the area could experience the joy of riding, even if they wouldn’t be able to traditionally afford it. So in 2008, they filed the paperwork and officially became a non-profit riding stables. This also allowed them to start working with the probation office, counseling center, and the foster care system to help at-risk kids. Since then Stillwater continues to grow and we now have 7 horses and we have a bunch of exciting things lined up for this year!
HN: What are Stillwater’s goals?
Amy: Stillwater Stable’s goals are to provide a fun and safe learning environment where our students feel accepted and apart of the team. We want the barn to be a place where our students feel safe to talk and share their troubles and not have to worry about being rejected or laughed at no matter if they are talking about a hard day at school or some serious trauma that has happened in their life. We treat each student as the individual that they are and we realize that they all need something a little bit different. We also take pride in our riding and training side. We focus on the basics and having a solid foundation so that when our students get further along in their riding they will be able to easily implement more advanced cues and exercises. Also, we strive to have safe and well trained school horses. Each of our horses are kept tuned up either by the more advanced students or by Connie and are put through some ground training to ensure that we have their respect and attention.
HN: Tell us about the students.
Amy: Our students come from all different backgrounds including kids from foster care, probation, the counseling center, homeschool families, from divorced/separated families and “normal” families. Though all of our students are different we have one thing that totally unites us, which is our love for horses. Through that similar love we have formed strong friendships in which our differences don’t divide us, they make us a stronger team. Everyone has something different they add to the dynamics of the barn which makes it a very fun and exciting place to be. Most of our students would not be able to traditionally afford riding lessons so we base the lesson costs on a sliding scale so that everyone who really wants to ride can have that opportunity.
HN: What is it about horses that seems to connect with troubled or at-risk youth?
Amy: Horses have a special way of connecting with their riders — they breeze past the walls that no human has even been able to get close to and get straight into their rider’s heart. When the students start feeling safe with their horse and start gaining confidence with their horse, they start talking to us, too. The horses have a way of making the rider know that they are loved no matter what they have done or what has been done to them, they can sense what the rider has been through and still accepts them no matter what. We also work with a certified counselor who we refer some of our students and family to so they can get professional help as well. This counselor works very well with us and puts our students at top priority. This combined with the horses gives them the tools to start moving toward a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle.
HN: What kind of programming is offered?
Amy: Since we have a lot of beginner riders who don’t know much about horses to start with we take all of our students though our basic level curriculum called the Green Series. In this series they start out reading from our curriculum book to learn the different parts of the horse, how to groom, pick-feet, saddle up, mount and dismount, basic riding at the walk and how to lead their horse. Then they go out to practice it with their horse with the help and guidance of their teacher. They learn pretty much all the very basic stuff when it comes to horses including a barn chore, which can be anything from cleaning stalls to sweeping the aisle or even how to feed the horses. The lessons are done on a one on one setting by either Connie or one of the Teen Leaders so the students are given plenty of time to thoroughly learn and progress at their own speed as some of our students are very quick at catching on to the lessons while for others it may take a few sessions to understand something. With our more advanced students we take it day by day to solidify their foundation while adding more advanced things on top of it. For example, if one of our students wants to jump we will take a lot of time working in 2 point and on the quality of the trot and canter, they will jump a few times and from that we go back to flat work and improve on their weak points and then jump again. Working like this ensures that our students have fun but also stay as safe as possible.
However, our program is unique in that our scheduling for lessons is very flexible. If one of our students is having a very rough day or week, we will change around the schedule to provide more one on one time with them at the barn. If our students want it, we are here for them and we will make special time just for them. We have done this countless times and our students really appreciate it when they can have the extra time at the barn they need to talk with us and be with their favorite horse.
HN: What is in the future for Stillwater?
Amy: This coming year is going to be a big one for us, as now we have our highest total of 7 horses most of which are totally supported by Stillwater Stables and the donors. We are going to be incredibly busy riding, training and teaching and we will need all of the financial help we can get, which is why we are having our 2nd Annual Fundraising Banquet on April 5th, 2014. The money we make from the Fundraising Banquet will enable us to stay open in the 2014 season and will boost awareness for our program. This will ensure that we are here to continue helping the children and teens in our area. Also, for this upcoming year we are hoping to add a once week kids camp during the summer where beginner kids can come for a day and start learning about horses and how to ride. It will enable kids to come out and get fun, hands on experience with horses without having to be committed to our lesson program and will give our Teen Leaders fun experience teaching. Furthermore, we are hoping that this year we will be able to have people trailer in to our facility for lessons. These new riding opportunities will raise awareness of our program and will also create revenue, since most of our current students are here on scholarships.
The theme for this year’s Fundraising Banquet is “Feel Again!” As teens feel safe, they let their walls down enabling them to face their fears and to choose life. Choosing life means being able to feel and connect to the world around them.
For our long term plans we are really hoping to be able to build an indoor arena or at least cover our outdoor arena. Without it, it is very difficult to keep our horses in shape and listening and we don’t like going that long without riding! Since this past winter has been more snowy and colder than normal we haven’t been able to ride or do much with the horses in the past 4 months. It has taken a toll on everyone since riding is what helps keep us grounded and positive and also keeps us going until spring hits when we can work more consistently. To get an indoor would be amazing and it is a real necessity for us, especially with this many horses. Since we don’t have one this year we will be spending many weeks getting the horses back into shape and listening for this summer. In addition to an indoor, we are also hoping to build a hay barn. At the present time we are storing our hay in an unfinished stall and we really need another place to store it so we can finish the stall and perhaps bring in another horse. Before we got our 7th horse, we had all of our finished stalls full so we had to finish building the stall and moved everything that was in that stall to the last space we have opened. A hay barn would allow us the flexibility to bring in a more advanced horse for our upper level students that would push their riding to whole new levels.
A few testimonials from Stillwater students and friends:
Yesterday was the best blessing seeing my baby girl smile while she was telling me about her time working with Miss Jay!! This last year had been the biggest trial in her life and I’m so proud of her for getting back up and not letting it stop her!! God knew how to help her heal and to find forgiveness. Working with horses is her dream and passion and she now has the chance to work with them and I thank God for that!! So glad my daughter has found Connie Patrick.” — Jenny Barnes, mom of a Stillwater teen
I have been coming to Stillwater Stables for over 3.5 years and it is because of Stillwater and the people there that I have been able to find a place to be myself, purpose, unconditional love, support and self-worth. — Amy, assistant program manager
I love Miss Jay and Connie is the best instructor. I feel like I can be myself there and they have already made me feel like I belong and I have only been at Stillwater Stables two times. I have been there with just me and Connie and some of the girls and I can say they are like a family to me also!!!!! Thanks again Connie Patrick for teaching me more stuff about horses and thanks for making me feel comfortable.” — Faith, teen student
The time I spend with Teddy is time that I never want to forget. It’s the time of the day when I just forget the world, the time of day and fill it with joy, peace and tranquility. It’s the time I can let my troubles go for a while and focus on what I want. Teddy brings a smile to my face no matter what I’m going through.” — Daniel, assistant barn manager
The causes may be different but everyone comes to Stillwater Stables with something in common, we all have bruises. No label can completely describe the pain we’ve been through, especially if the word ‘just’ is included. It’s ‘just’ depression, it’s ‘just’ anxiety, it’s ‘just’ a phase. In a world where all of our struggles feel insubstantial, it seems impossible to let anyone in, we have to ‘handle’ it on our own. But learning that we aren’t alone at Stillwater Stables makes opening up so much less intimidating. Not only are we reassured that everything we’ve been through, everything we feel, matters, but we’re encouraged to dig deep, to face our own monsters, to prove to our-self that they don’t have to rule our life and that we have the power to take charge, to be brave.” — Mackenzie, teen student
Learn more about Stillwater Stables and reserve a place at the upcoming Fundraising Banquet by visiting their website, stillwater-stables.org.