Monday, August 31, 2015

Grant funds new trails for Riding to the Top - By Elizabeth Richards

Grant funding and community collaboration recently allowed Riding to The Top Therapeutic Riding Center in Windham to purchase a new tractor and create new riding trails on their 50 acres. 

Sarah Bronson, PT, executive director, said that a $50,000 grant from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, along with $5,800 from the Allagash Brewing Company funded the project. The trail development and clearing was a collaborative effort between the farm and the Cumberland County Water and Soil Conservation District (CCWSCD) and their Youth Conservation Corps.

Bronson said the grant application was written to develop environmental trails that include interpretive signs, allowing riders to get out in the woods in a natural environment. The terrain changes of trail riding also means riders must adapt with postural changes, steering and decision making. “It is a very therapeutic environment and very different than being in the arena,” Bronson said.

The purchase of the tractor was essential to the trail development, but will also help with day to day management at the farm, Bronson said. The grant funding also allowed Riding to the Top to partner with CCSWCD. “They were very helpful in identifying areas that would be the least disruptive to the environment,” Bronson said. 

Robyn Saunders, Program Director at CCSWCD said they appreciated the opportunity to work with Riding to the Top. “They were very proactive in recognizing that they needed a little natural resource help and some engineering, which is really our specialty here,” she said. The purpose of the CCSWCD is to educate the public and promote stewardship of natural resources. In this project, she said, they helped to balance the natural resources needs, giving guidance on how to avoid wet areas, for instance, when planning the trails. Putting trails in wet areas would have required permits, which also would have tied up some of the funding, she said.

After the behind the scenes work of laying out trails was complete, the CCSWCD’s Youth Conservation Corps went to work. This group of high school aged individuals along with a team leader did two weeks of hands on work clearing trails at the beginning of August. 

“The great thing about this grant is that it was a real collaborative effort,” said Bronson. By the end of Fall 2015, three trail loops will be complete, with another planned to be completed next year. While the program has had permission to use trails that abut the property, they could not control how those trails were used. “It’s really nice to have some trails of our own,” Bronson said. In the future, they will be looking at some other possible winter uses for the trails. 

Riding to the Top has offering therapeutic riding in the community for 22 years. They serve 90 to100 riders with disabilities per week, ranging in age from 3 to 80 plus. The farm houses 15 horses, and uses approximately 60 volunteers per week. In 2014, the program logged over 10,000 volunteer hours.

There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer at the farm. Bronson said that many people volunteer “to get their horse fix” but end up learning a lot about how to work with people with disabilities. 

Riders can be referred in a variety of ways, and a physician’s signature is required for participation in lessons. There is a waiting list for lessons, but eventually all on the list are served. Bronson said that lessons only account for 30 percent of their operating budget. Every lesson has a built in subsidy, and the farm offers four levels of scholarships as well. 

Funding for the program comes from Annual Fund donations, grant writing and special events. The 7th Annual Reins of Hope Charity Motorcycle Ride will be held on Saturday, August 29th. On October 17th, the farm will host the 8th Annual Triple B: Boots, Band & BBQ. For more information on these events or the program, visit their website at

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