Cleveland’s fabulous history teaches all of us the wonderful contributions our Cleveland has made in impacting societies worldwide. Cleveland, wealthiest city in all the world 1885 was and is today one of the most charitable cities in the entire world. Today, if I may, I would like to talk about a charitable endeavor many may not be familiar with and yet, one which has great importance in today’s society, an operation which deals in a very positive fashion with a cause near and dear to me, Autism .
Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center is located in Bainbridge, Ohio a wonderful suburb located east of Cleveland, Ohio, a place that I have driven past for years and always thinking what a good looking and well-kept stable, never realizing that this piece of property represented oh so much more. I learned about Fieldstone Farm quite by accident while at a luncheon I attended in Gates Mills, Ohio. My passion for Cleveland history and using this history to fundraise for Autism always seems to come out at such lunches and in this case the conversation at our table quickly developed around this topic. When my hostess suggested that I might want to visit a farm called Fieldstone I was intrigued enough to call Executive Director Lynnette Stuart to set up a visit. My arrival at Firestone immediately triggered a sensation in me which suggested that this farm was something special. Lynnette began by giving me a tour and explaining exactly what Fieldstone does in working with the physical and mentally challenged of all ages, using ponies and horses to accomplish great improvements in student mental and physical health. Such is called Hippotherapy. As Lynnette explained, when riding a horse one duplicates the same benefits as if one were actually walking. For students who cannot walk this experience strengthens otherwise very weak muscles into performing better. During Lynnette’s explanation a darling young lady, 10-12 years of age, was about to take a pony ride. The young lady had a muscle disorder which did not allow her to walk or hold up her head in normal fashion. Hippotherapy over time will strengthen the body core allowing this young lady to develop greater movement over time. This result is very important but, what moved me the most was to see a beautiful young face light up as she spotted her pony. I now have experienced it for myself, the very special relationship between student and horse.
Lynnette continued our tour and took me to a special classroom; a part of their Gaitway High School, This school represents a nontraditional public high school which helps students who have been unable to be successful in their typical high schools. Gaitway capitalizes on the farm environment as support in achieving their goals. What I observed was a mixture of farm and vocational education. The magic of a farm environment may not be a new thing. John D. Rockefeller himself on the advice of his Doctor returned to his farm when his nerves got the best of him. His son John D II also returned to the farm when a nervous condition overwhelmed him at age 13. Physical work, exercise, being with the farm animals all played a role in returning the Rockefellers to productive lives. The success rating which Fieldstone experiences is amazing, 90% attendance of students who previously missed well over 50% of their classes. Graduation rates and students moving onto higher education are equally impressive.
My visit to Fieldstone Farm was three days after the tragedy of Chardon, Ohio. I was troubled, frustrated, angry and sad as details unfolded. I looked at what Lynnette had just presented to me and concluded that there may very well be a better way to educate and monitor those students where traditional vocation just doesn’t quite measure up. Thinking way outside the box to improve society and creating greater productivity with a classroom, computers and a working farm of horses just may be a better way.
Thank you Lynnette, your staff and volunteers for the great and much needed work you are doing. Your pioneering spirit is what once made our Cleveland area truly great. This Cleveland, Ohio did not become great by accident. Greatness will return thanks to the kind of folks that run Fieldstone farm.