Showing posts with label Nicole Levine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nicole Levine. Show all posts

Friday, May 10, 2024

Mini horses making large impact at Riding To The Top

By Nicole Levine

Riding to the Top, Windham’s local non-profit therapeutic horse riding center, has welcomed two new mini horses, AppleJax and Apollo, to their farm.

AppleJax is a 9-year-old mini horse who joined
Riding To The Top Therapeutic Riding Center
in Windham last fall. He has carriage driving
experience and is expected to become part of
RTT's carriage and unmounted therapy sessions
along with RTT's school-based programs, field
trips, and summer camps. SUBMITTED PHOTO 
Riding to the Top (RTT) has been serving the Windham community for 31 years and offers services such as therapeutic riding, therapeutic carriage driving, equine assisted learning, and hippotherapy for individuals ranging in age from 3 to 90-plus. They assist with a wide range of disabilities.

Despite their size, mini horses are classified as horses and not ponies. They have a significantly longer lifespan than larger horse breeds, and can live into their 30s. Because of their size and calm nature, they are known to make fantastic therapy animals, providing individuals with comfort and companionship.

RTT has been home to mini horses for many years, however when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, much of the farm’s normal operation was up in the air.

During this time, a friend and donor of the farm was looking to find some companions for her own horse. The minis that were living at RTT in 2020 were then relocated and integrated into her herd. This became the mini’s new home, and it was later decided that it was in their best interest to stay where they were, and not relocate them back to RTT again.

The organization had continued to work with their generous friend, and began providing mobile field trips during COVID, where they would take the minis on the road.

“This proved to be very popular and we realized that the minis were easier to transport and less intimidating for people of all ages,” said Sarah Bronson, RTT’s executive director. “In 2023, we started looking to have minis at the farm again.”

Currently, RTT has two mini horse residents. AppleJax, who, following an assessment in Western Massachusetts was donated to the farm last fall, and Apollo, who is a new addition just this spring.

Both of the mini horses work with unmounted therapy sessions, and are planned to be an active part of RTT’s school-based programs, field trips, and summer camps.

AppleJax also has carriage driving experience and is planned to join the program for that at RTT in the near future.

Currently age 9, AppleJax has been doing very well on the farm. Bronson describes him as having a curious and adventurous personality.

“AJ's been working on his ‘office skills’ and is pretty comfortable visiting all of our staff in their offices,” she said.

Apollo is 17 years old and is continuing to adjust to his new environment, after arriving only a few weeks ago. He is a “free lease” horse, meaning he has an owner, but resides on the farm where RTT takes care of his needs.

Following protocol, Apollo was in two weeks of quarantine to ensure the safety and health of the rest of the herd on the farm. He's been doing well, and is slowly being introduced and spending more time with his new mini buddy, AppleJax.

Apollo is currently located in the mini paddock also known as RTT’s ambassador area. Although visitors do not have access inside the gated area, people visiting the farm can easily see the minis and can pet them through the fence.

RTT volunteers say that the minis are much less intimidating due to their size, which could serve as a great introduction to equine riding and therapy for those new to horses. Although less intimidating, they still need as much care and leadership to guide them, just as the other horses require, especially in any new circumstances.

The minis, like the rest of the horses, eat hay and grain, but in significantly smaller amounts. Their veterinary and farrier costs are roughly the same as the rest of the ponies and horses, which is estimated to cost around $5,000 per year.

RTT’s minis also require the same grooming and farrier care as the other horses at the farm.

However, due to their size, they require more flexibility from their groomers while picking their hooves and trimming their feet. By utilizing a pedestal, this process is made easier and more comfortable for AppleJax and Apollo. It is still one of the challenges that come along with grooming the minis.

RTT is excited to welcome back mini horses to their farm and programs. They make a wonderful addition to the diverse group of horses at the farm.<

“We believe that the minis will be a great fit to have at RTT again and are looking forward to being able to have them active in all sorts of programming.” explained Bronson. “Training is an ongoing process and involves lots of people handling them, working them in a variety of environments at the farm and then expanding their horizons to off-farm activities.”<

Friday, June 30, 2023

Raymond couple welcome Darfur immigrants for July 4th celebration

By Nicole Levine

During the summer, Raymond residents Roberta “Bobbie” Gordon and her husband George, welcome immigrants from Darfur, now living in Maine, to their home for their annual 4th of July celebration.

George Gordon of Raymond, left, and his
wife, Roberta 'Bobbie' Gordon, right, visit
with El-Fadel Arbab, who emigrated to
Maine in 2004 from Sudan. Every year
the Gordons welcome immigrants from
the Darfur region of Sudan to their home
for a 4th of July Celebration.
This event originally began with 45 people and has now grown to about 200. This will be the first year returning to this celebration since 2019, when it was indefinitely postponed due to the pandemic. Bobbie and George provide their guests with traditional 4th of July barbecue food, books and toys for the children, and a place to gather on the holiday for all Darfurians. The people from Darfur bring side dishes and desserts that originate from their country. Together they play games to help learn English and interact in an engaging group setting.

One year during a previous 4th of July celebration, a man sitting across from Bobbie stared at her with a confused look on his face. He then asked her “Why are you doing this?” He was confused about how somebody could give themselves so wholeheartedly over to another culture and help them while wanting absolutely nothing in return.

To that Bobbie responded, “It’s from the heart. This is what's in us and this is what we want to do, and we are happy to do it.”

The annual gathering first began in 2008 when Bobbie retired, and she was looking for opportunities to fill her time. Searching for volunteer positions, she gravitated toward the community of immigrants from Darfur, who were now living in Portland.

She and another colleague decided to create a program to help these Darfur immigrants become acclimated to the area, learn to speak English, and connect with fellow Mainers. They were originally funded by the National Council of Jewish Women.

Through this program, they spoke locally to different groups, spreading awareness, and hoping to raise funds to help this cause. Through their efforts, they also generated support and resources, enabling them to acquire and ship stoves powered by the sun to Chad, where many Darfurians were living during ongoing violence in Sudan. By eliminating the need to search for firewood, the lives of many women were protected from recurring violent encounters in the region.

During her time organizing and running this program, Bobbie met El-Fadel Arbab, who immigrated from

Sudan in 2004.

“We got right into the core of what his journey was all about,” she said. They would spend hours together where Bobbie would mentor El-Fadel, to help him learn English.

Following their time together, El-Fadel would not accept a ride home, but instead walked, so he was able to absorb what they had discussed, and to clear his head of any trauma that was discussed.

El-Fadel is the Community Outreach Coordinator of an organization called the Fur Cultural Revival. He gives speeches and advocates to end violence in Sudan, including several schools, the STAND (Students Take Action Now) Conference, the Holocaust Survivors Conference, and many more organizations.

His goal is to educate people and create a community that works towards ending the violence in Sudan.

“We the people have the power,” he said, explaining how it is up to the people to drive desired change themselves.

Like many of the lives Bobbie and George have touched, the 4th of July holds a special place in El-Fadel’s heart. “This was a golden opportunity for us,” he said, when referring to the gatherings hosted by the Gordons.

El-Fadel looks to the 4th of July to honor the people who have lost their lives for the freedom that we have today in America.

“I am hoping and praying that one day this kind of freedom will come to my people,” he said.

Immigrating to a new country is often an extremely difficult and harrowing journey and support from

locals is what helps connect and integrate people to become one community.

“It’s really [through] the Maine community that we are able to get support and help,” says El-Fadel, giving credit to the Mainers who have contributed, and emphasizing the importance of citizens helping one another.

By holding this 4th of July Celebration, Bobbie Gordon said she’s able to celebrate this great American tradition, and to include people of other cultures who can also now appreciate the freedom that we have in the United States.

Volunteering to tutor or mentor immigrants in need of help, is a great beginning to build and become one community, she said.

For further information about how to become involved in volunteering to help immigrants, please contact Bobbie Gordon by sending an email to <