RAYMOND, NH — The April 2 open house at Lead the Way Equestrian Center for Girls has been a long time coming for Bonnie Eames.
She has followed her heart over many hurdles to get to this moment.
On Saturday the public is invited to come and see what it’s all about during an open house at the farm in Raymond, at 119 Langford Road, from 2-4 p.m. for pony rides, raffles and the official ribbon cutting for a therapeutic equestrian program designed to help at-risk girls.
“We have been trying to get this program off the ground since 2011,” says Eames, who officially launched Lead the Way on March 19. But her husband’s cancer diagnosis, treatment and relapse over the past few years became the priority, says Eames.
“We had to put it down in between battles, but we know that this is what we are supposed to do,” she says.
Eames got involved with horses when her daughter started taking lessons at age 8. They decided to open their barn to boarders in 2009, and also provided a tween camp the following year.
“That was when I was blessed to witness the amazing effects horses had. I knew that summer that this is what I was meant to do,” says Eames.
Through various experiences in running the riding camp for “tween-age” girls, Eames realized that there were many young girls who could benefit from the program who couldn’t afford it. She also witnessed a hardened and reluctant camper sent there by her aunt for one week go through a transformation, once she was able to receive the unconditional love of a particular horse.
“The first day and a half, she barely spoke. The other girls tried to engage her to no avail. She was afraid of the horses, so I took her out to introduce her to each horse in the paddock. I told her about their life stories, how each one came with their own struggles and a past of their own. She quickly fell in love with a mustang named Rusty and each day she began opening up like a rose. We started to see a smile, followed by talking and giggling with the other girls,” says Eames.
“When this girl came to us, she was angry, hurt, scared, and vulnerable. With the help of a fragile, four-legged soul she became a brave, creative, smiling young woman. The process was amazing to be a part of and I consider it to be a gift. She stayed for the second week of camp. When it was time for her to leave, she cried,” says Eames. “I imagine the endless possibilities of what could have been had she had the opportunity to participate in this type of a program long-term.”
And in hindsight Eames believes that experience helped prepare her for what she would go through when her husband’s cancer returned, which triggered depression and anxiety in her own daughter.
“It was then we that we realized our own daughter was a classic at-risk child. Through this incredibly tough time she would seek solace on her horse, Goldie,” says Eames.
That is really the genesis of Lead the Way, a non-profit comprehensive program designed for girls ages 9-14 who are “at risk” for one of any number of reasons: Depression, anxiety, the stress of having a parent serving in the military, a chronically or terminally ill family member, a parent who is incarcerated, of the stress associated with being in the foster care system, due to the uncertainty of multiple home placements.
The hope is that by investing in each girl through the multi-faceted program, which includes not only equestrian grooming and riding, but also creative writing, digital art and life skills programs, the kinds of issues that might otherwise seep into a young girl’s school career and lead to damaging behaviors can be circumvented.
“Our goal is to help these girls to think larger and dig deeper within themselves to explore natural ways to overcome adversity,” says Eames. “Horses are large and powerful animals, with an instinct to fight or to take flight. This quality is similar to the at-risk girls. Through building mutual trust with their horses, girls develop important life skills. We teach our girls courage, patience, and to always have perseverance.”
The program will also help them develop anger management skills, self-esteem, leadership skills, coping skills, teamwork building, responsibility, and respect in a natural non-confrontational way, Eames says.
“Learning happens naturally – primarily through riding and learning to care for their horses. Our girls will have the opportunity to work with their horses on a personal level, work in the earth, and see their environment in a new and creative way, and to become healthy, productive, participating, positive assets to their communities,” Eames says.
She explains that three of their six horses are rescued horses.
“Not because they were not loved, or because their owners didn’t want them, but because life became overwhelming and they could no longer care for them. They loved them enough to let them go,” says Eames. “The beauty of the program is that these horses now can receive the love of a group of girls, who can love them and care for them – and all the future girls who will love and need them, too.”
You can follow Lead the Way Equestrian Center on Facebook.
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Save the Date: Walk/Run to Lead The Way in 2016: Runners will begin at the Wason Pond Community Conservation Center at 603 Raymond Road in Chester at 8 a.m. followed by walkers at 8:30. The event will end at 1 p.m. Registration is $25 for individual walkers and runners. For sponsored teams of five the registration fee is waived. There are two courses – a short trail around Wason Pond and the traditional five-mile walk alone Route 102 in Chester. Click here for more information.
This fundraising event to benefit the program seeks:
- Attendees: If you would like to walk to help raise funds and get some exercise we’d love to see you there.
- Sponsors: Corporate partners are welcome to contact Bonnie Eames at 603-583-9212 or email email@example.com. Also welcome: Sponsor a horse, to provide basic needs, or sponsor a girl to cover the costs of the program.
And in general:
- Donations: Every little bit helps, from cash to things like bridals, saddles, girths, buckets, and blankets for the horses, to barn boots, show boots, show jackets, show shirts, and britches various sizes for the girls.
- Awareness: If you have friends that have experienced the challenge of an at risk daughter, love horses or are supportive of local non profits we’d appreciate you helping to get the word out.