Looking back at the close of 2017, our fall season was made meaningful by our many young visitors. Most prominently, all thirteen classes of Frederick County’s Head Start program frequented our farm from mid October through December. During this time, each class visited for four consecutive days, each with its own theme. On the first day, the children meet the horses and experience the responsibilities that go along with their care: grooming the dirt out of their lush winter coats and feeding them. To understand the latter, our ‘friends’ must find and sort out carrots, apples, and horse treats which, we tell them, Miss Joy dropped and lost in the grass when she went out to feed the horses their breakfast. After they have collected all of the food, we give it to the horses and watch as they gratefully munch and crunch.
On the second day, we leave the familiar barn to go exploring. Before we begin, we learn the five senses through the example of popcorn, which we can hear, smell, see, touch, and taste. After this, we break into small groups and head out into the woods. We collect the over-sized leaves of the arboretum, ride the stone lion who lays stoically by the bamboo forest, and admire the hard work of Wally the Beaver at the pond. After a half hour of exploration, we head back to the pavilion where we do leaf rubbings and paint rocks.
On the third day, we talk about our feelings and how to change them. To review the common feelings, we have little laminated cards with emojis scattered across the grass in the riding ring. Before releasing our ‘friends’ into the riding ring to find and sort these into buckets, we give each child one of our farm-crafted pool noodle horses (or “norses”) which they ride about on. After this activity, we talk about ways we could help someone go from sad or angry to happy. To find that happiness, we groom horses out in the field, color little wooden horseshoes (which later get turned into ornaments with their pictures in it), and go to the hay playground to romp. Undeniably, the kids leave the farm with smiles.
Finally, our last day features our latest Stoney Lick Farm story, “What’s that Sound?” which is about how one of our horses, Bylgia, hears a sound and goes to find out where it came from and who made it. To do this, she has to ask all the animals on the farm to point the way for her. At last, she discovers that the noise came from our basset puppies barking in the woods! After we finish reading this story, we get into small groups to reenact Bylgia’s adventure by following color-coded cones from Glampi the horse, to Flint the Goat, to Hope the Cow, to a pretend turtle and insects, and at last to the puppies. After thus meeting all the animals on the farm, our ‘friends’ conclude their last visit of the fall.
In addition to our activities with Head Start, we also did more traditional Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) with older groups of kids. In late September, a girl scout troop of 5th grade girls came to do EAL. They performed the activities and engaged with our horses with the self-assured enthusiasm unique to ten year old girls. By the end of it, our horses were greatly beautified with braided forelocks, manes, and tails. By chance, these girls were here the same day the basset puppies were dropped off for their three month long stay. So, after EAL, we all went down to their pen and met them. The puppies and girl scouts alike were delighted at their meeting.
In November, Baltimore’s “So What Else” organization set up a retreat for about a dozen students from the Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts. They stayed three days and two nights in our Homestead, filling their time with hiking, yoga, art, leadership training, and late-night campfires. On their last day on the farm, they participated in EAL with our horses and went for a walk with our basset puppies.
We closed out our fall season with the Holiday Open House at the Lodge. Here, the girl scout troop who did EAL with us earlier in the fall returned the favor by greeting visitors and arranging cookies. Paul Kazyak and his Venturing Crew who made use of our property in September came to help with parking. With these helpers plus many others, our open house ran smoothly despite the new-fallen snow. We were delighted to see so many friends of ThorpeWood come to visit, including Head Start staff and a few of our preschool ‘friends.’
With 2017 thus concluded, we look forward to the memories and connections we will make in the new year.