A group of Martha’s Vineyard equestrians has taken on the task of creating a nonprofit community center to train Islanders of all ages in horsemanship, and to facilitate therapeutic equine counseling. To reach their goal, they will have to clear a series of hurdles as daunting as any Olympic course’s.
Organizers of the Martha’s Vineyard Community Horse Center (MVCHC) Misty Meadows have set out to raise several million dollars to purchase the sprawling, state-of-the-art Misty Meadows farm compound in West Tisbury from owners and supporters Jerry and Carol Kenney, key supporters and backers of the effort.
The core group includes Sarah McKay, Julianna Flanders, Tracey Olsen, Samantha Look, Alison Rich Stearns, Rebecca Miller, and Emma McGlynn.
Sarah McKay, one of the driving forces behind the effort, knows something about growing nonprofits. Ms. McKay was one of the founders of the Island Grown Initiative, which raised millions to purchase Thimble Farm in Oak Bluffs, now the hub of IGI activities.
The idea for the center sprouted when Ms. McKay shared her horseback riding and caretaking history with Ms. Kenney. At the time she was unaware that Ms. Kenney co-owned the riding complex with her husband, and that the Kenneys, who purchased Misty Meadows in 1999, were looking for a way to make Misty Meadows, which had gone mostly unused in recent years, more accessible to the community.
The MVCHC website (mvhorsecenter.com) describes the Kenneys’ involvement.
“Carol and Jerry Kenney, who currently own Misty Meadow, came to Martha’s Vineyard in 1991 with their two daughters and, like many others on the Vineyard, enjoyed their first riding experiences at Misty Meadows. Here in the early 1990s, their daughters fell in love with horses at a time when the Vineyard still offered an active and vibrant social network centered on horses … The Kenneys’ daughters went to school in New York City, but they lived for their Vineyard weekends, school holidays, and the summers when they could engage with their Island horse-loving friends. At a young age, their daughters helped with and later led the Camp Jabberwocky equestrian program. Their older daughter went on to obtain her adult certification in therapeutic riding at High Hopes in Connecticut. Later, as part of her doctoral internship in clinical child psychology, she worked at Green Chimneys in Brewster, N.Y., a residential unit for children where animals are used in therapy … To enrich the lives of Island children, the Kenneys would like to see Misty Meadows regain its stature as an equestrian center for Islanders. On top of their original purchase, the Kenneys invested close to $8 million rebuilding Misty, and they are offering to sell it as a nonprofit community facility for less than half that amount. They are also contributing to an endowment to assure Misty Meadow’s viability and continued success.”
The goal, according to the group’s website, “is to become a central facility to rekindle interest in horses through free and/or affordable programs to cultivate a new generation of horse enthusiasts.” Programs would focus on unmounted horsemanship (nutrition; health and anatomy; grooming; leading; and barn chores) and 4-H horse-related instruction.
MVCHC will host an open house at Misty Meadows at 10 am, Friday, Nov. 27, to introduce itself to the community, Ms. McKay said. There will be a series of demonstrations in dressage, natural horsemanship, equine-assisted learning (EAL), and pony rides.
“It’s just a way to really have people see a little bit of what we’re planning to offer, get some input, get some ideas,” she said.
Ms. McKay said that MVCHC is focused on starting very slowly. The first program, taught by Rebecca Miller, debuts in January, and is a six-week self-esteem-building program for high school–age girls. The pilot program is group-centered, and designed to foster relationships between individuals and horses. It will be mostly unmounted.
Samantha Look of Crow Hollow Farm in West Tisbury will teach 4-H lessons, which come from a national curriculum that teaches students about horsemanship in all its aspects, from riding to horse health. Ms. Look took 4-H classes on the Island when she was a child, but the program has since disappeared. She is eager to revive it.
Ms. Look said there is something unique about working with horses successfully. “There’s unconditional acceptance in a relationship with a horse,” Ms. Look said.
Ms. McKay said part of the goal is to make the horse experience be accessible. “A lot of people have a perception that anything to do with horses is very expensive, very elitist,” Ms. McKay said; “that it’s only for people who are going to do serious competition. We’re really wanting to broaden that base, and encourage kids to think of it as accessible and affordable.”
The MVCHC will not be a commercial barn. It will not offer formal boarding or traditional riding lessons. Nor will it be discipline-specific; for example, with a focus on dressage or hunter-jumper riding. The mission is centered around “educating people about the connection and the opportunities for learning and growing with horses,” Ms. Mckay said. “It’s also about having access for Island kids to be around horses, whether it’s riding or unmounted.”
The second component, counseling, will be tailored to a wider segment of the community. Starting out with riding instructors with counseling-related backgrounds, Ms. Mckay said EAL could be applicable to groups such as the elderly or even recovering addicts.
“EAL is a very fast-growing branch of therapy that really gets into the nature of horses, what they can really do to work with people,” she said. “The opportunities are endless.”
Ms. Miller, who is a counselor, described the way a class might work. For example, students complete a task, such as going out into the ring and bringing the horse back to a starting point.
“They may not even know how to use a halter,” Ms. Miller said. The benefit of the exercise, she said, would come from developing a relationship with the horse and working together to develop mutual trust with the animal and with peers. “The real work happens once they leave,” Ms. Miller said.
Initially, the center will operate largely through donations. The Kenneys have three elderly horses at the barn, and other horses will be loaned from owners around the Island. Equipment will also be loaned and donated for horses and riders.
The second step, after starting up programs, will be to purchase the property from the Kenneys. Ms. McKay said this is expected to take place through a series of private donors, whom the MVCHC’s task force is starting to reach out to. Six months, she said, would be a realistic time frame for purchase.
For the time being, the center will be staffed by the seven-member task force that has been working to get programs off the ground, as well as volunteers. Eventually, down the line, the center will hire staff.
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for the community,” Ms. McKay said.