Horse power: Rising Tide fundraiser aids therapeutic horse-riding program

Emily Gilley, left, with Noble the horse. — Michael Blanchard

Turns out we didn’t need cars for any number of reasons, one of them being the loss of — are you ready for this? — the mood boost that comes from bonding with horses.Think of it: Before automobiles, every human on the planet enjoyed daily contact with a horse, even if the human was a duke in the back of a rumbling carriage with velvet tassels. Chances are the duke spent time in the saddle on fox hunts, but also in his stables, patting down his equine stock and loading them up with apples. And as for regular folks who rode into town or worked in the fields, rubbing shoulders with horses was an hourly occupation. And they didn’t even realize — or maybe they did but took it for granted — that contact with these animals made them happy.

Now all of a sudden, psychologists are learning that encouraging their patients to ride horses helps them overcome a variety of ailments. American horse trainer Franklin Levinson, with a practice for troubled kids in Dorset, U.K., was quoted recently in the Observer: “It has been clinically documented that just being around horses changes human brainwave patterns. We calm down and become more centered and focused when we are with horses. They are naturally empathetic. The members of the herd feel what is going on for the other members of the herd.”

So it’s no wonder that programs proliferate for contact with those gorgeous galloping creatures who’ve become out of reach for most of us in our daily lives. Here on the Island, there’s a particular barn down one of those bumpy roads across from the airport and up from the sea. It’s called Rising Tide, and it belongs to therapist and horse lover Susan Fieldsmith, who’s learned in her own practice that people in search of relief from chronic illness or everyday stress may find salvation on the back of a horse. (Or even in the act of mucking out stalls: An Island man normally shy with people shows up for daily work in the barn, and is heard cheerfully chatting with the equine lodgers.)

Dr. Fieldsmith’s ranch, which now includes five horses, two salaried teachers, two part-time instructors, and a handful of volunteers, has attracted a slew of talented supporters eager to help Rising Tide raise funds for more horses, trainers, and riders of all ages. An upcoming fundraiser on May 7, from 4 to 6 pm, with the snappy title “Horse Tails and Cocktails,” has pulled together two key backers, who found an almost mystical tie to the Rising Tide farm and program.

Former teacher Bertie Martin moved here via New York and Ohio in September 2016. Just as she sallied forth from the ferry to start her new life here, she encountered a woman selling pies who, in turn, referred her to Rising Tide as something into which she could, with her son off at college, sink her philanthropic chops.

Ms. Martin is now treasurer and a board member of the stable. With student ridership for the summer approaching 200, Ms. Martin, and everyone else concerned, realized a fundraiser was in order. Ms. Martin volunteered her house in Vineyard Haven for the venue, and the featured guest will be Rising Tide’s new retiree, 26-year-old Noble, who’ll be put out to pasture in the gentlest sense; he’ll still be on hand for cuddling, mane brushings, and carrots.

Ms. Martin is continuously blown away by the fantastic results riders receive from their lessons: “Some of the people we helped this past year include teens who have troubling circumstances in their lives, a person recovering from the death of a loved one, people who feel polarized by their social standing, and people battling with health issues. Being with the horses and nature has a very uplifting effect, especially for those who battle depression.”

Photographer devoted to Rising Tide

Another major contributor to Rising Farm’s success in the community is photographer Michael Blanchard, who splits his time between Portland, Maine, and Martha’s Vineyard. When you talk to Mr. Blanchard, a longtime medical executive in Boston and Maine, and a much-admired photographer during his weekends on the Island (he lines up his weekly ferry reservations a year in advance), it’s easy to see where his bliss has been leading him.

During his first visit to the Vineyard some years ago, Mr. Blanchard was invited to meet up with a friend at the Rising Tide barn. The hour was predawn, and the budding photographer was met with the sight of the Milky Way over the old gray rooftop. He pulled out his camera and caught the shot which, uplifting as it is to anybody who has the pleasure of beholding it today, has for him never lived up to the rapturous experience he had at the sight of the startlingly bright stars in the ink-black sky. It changed him forever. He was possessed by the Island, and devoted to the barn.

Mr. Blanchard has spent the past few years exhibiting his photos at the Kennedy Studios in Vineyard Haven. In the past year he formed a mutual-admiration society with art dealer Julian Weiss, who owns Island Images on Upper Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. Now the two of them are splitting the expansive, brightly lighted space, where the photographer will share his work under the name Island Images & Crossroads. Last year Mr. Blanchard released a calendar packed with his luminous Island photos, and he donated a portion of the profits to Community Services. This year a percentage of his 2018 calendar sales will go to Rising Tide.

The May 7 program includes hors d’oeuvres and drinks, violin music by Atziq Marquez, talks by Michael Blanchard and riding instructor Linda Wanamaker, a raffle of Mr. Blanchard’s photographs, and book signings of Mr. Blanchard’s book, “Fighting For My Life: Finding Hope and Serenity on Martha’s Vineyard.”

For reservations to the event — not forgetting you’ll meet and greet the noble Noble — call 914-260-3141. For a glance at Mr. Blanchard’s sumptuous art, go to