A sunny spring day in the idyllic area known as Little Tuscany near Zichron Ya’acov provided the perfect opportunity to visit Carmel Farm, a horseback riding school primarily for children and young adults with special needs.
Some serendipitous contacts between the Women’s Circle of the Moriah Masorti Community in Haifa and the managing committee of the farm, themselves mothers of special needs children, resulted in a visit to this innovative project which had officially opened in March 2022.
Previously the riding stables at Kibbutz Geva Carmel had included a therapeutic program, but when that site was closed because of land re-zoning, the parents of children with physical or development disabilities began to look for an alternative.
Orly Sivan and Racheli David, two of the parent managers, described their search for an appropriate site which today is rented from the Hadassah Youth Village Meir Shefaya. It was a piece of barren land, so the next task was to recruit volunteers and donors to landscape it and build paddocks and stables.
They were greatly assisted by Geokom Ltd., a civil engineering company in Tirat Carmel whose landscape and construction architects designed the infrastructure and built according to the needs of the farm, using the highest quality of materials, much of them provided by a building supplies store in Hadera.
There are three paddocks. One is a small enclosure for beginners who might be intimidated by their first contact with the horses. The two others are regular paddocks. Beyond that is a meadow where the horses are released for rest and relaxation. The six horses at the stable are immaculately groomed and especially trained to do this work.
One of the horses, named Miri, was donated by a widower in the name of his late wife.
“It is difficult to find a framework for these children and adults.”Sivan David
“It is difficult to find a framework for these children and adults,” says Sivan, explaining how so many studies show the value of therapeutic work with horses.
Horses have been associated with therapy since the time of the ancient Greeks. The physician Hippocrates wrote about the therapeutic potential of horseback riding.
It became more popular as a therapy tool during the 1950s and ’60s. In 1969, the North American Riding for Handicapped Association was founded, later becoming the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International.
As Sivan and David described, the work with horses was found to develop confidence, social skills, ability to form and maintain relationships, trust in self and others, and specifically valuable for autistic children – improvement in communication.
For those with physical disabilities, the gentle and rhythmic movements of the body on horseback improves flexibility, balance, muscle tone, coordination and posture, and motor development.
David says that in cases where riders cannot support their own bodies on the horse, the instructor will sit behind them on the saddle.
While we were listening, David’s son Raz was walking a beautifully groomed horse around the paddock. He was stroking him and talking gently to the horse. His mother said that being with the horses gave him much greater self-confidence and had improved his communication skills.
Some of the youngsters, including David’s and Sivan’s children, live in sheltered accommodation, Habayit L’Chaim in Atlit. There are four apartments supervised by the Ministry of Welfare, where young adults over aged 21 can live as independently as possible and find work according to their special needs and potential.
“Those who enjoy working with the horses help with the grooming and feeding and cleaning, as well as receiving the horseback riding therapy,” says Sivan. “The work provides exercise in the fresh air and increases their self-confidence.”
Yuval Perry, one of the instructors, loves all species of animals and never takes a day off from teaching these youngsters, as well as involving them in the daily maintenance.
The farm also provides programs for disabled soldiers from Beit Halochem who sometimes come with their own children, as well as students from the Leo Baeck communication groups for autistic children. The program is also tailored for those suffering from post-traumatic disorder.
As a nonprofit organization, the only salaried staff at Carmel Farm are manager Ophir Navon and the specially trained therapists. Those salaries and transport are provided by the Ministry of Welfare. Much support was given by Assif Isaac, head of the Hof HaCarmel Regional Council, but all other expenses and staffing need to be provided by fund-raising and volunteer involvement.
A small income is also made from fees from the general public who may also use the facilities. Horseback riding is a healthy and enjoyable activity for all ages. This writer took her own children and grandchildren from an early age, partly so as not to pass on her own trepidation. At the age of five, I was thrown from a seaside pony who bolted. Everyone made such a fuss that instead of putting me straight back in the saddle, I avoided this activity for many years. Determined at one stage to overcome my fear, I vowed to get back on a horse by age 50. On that birthday, my daughter arranged for me to meet the tamest horse at Vered Hagalil, and we gently walked around the paddock. After that, I impressed the entire family when we all went horseback riding during a weekend at Neve Ilan.
The other two mothers on the managing committee of the NGO are Abigail Auderberg and Etti Chen. Like Sivan and David, they have day jobs, as well as coping with their families; but when they see the results of their volunteer work, they persist in spending many hours at the farm.
A newly formed Shfeyeh Western Horseback Riding Academy has selected 20 students from the Hadassah Youth Village to teach competitive riding skills, a project that will encourage members of the public to participate. ■
Carmel Farm warmly welcomes groups and volunteers:
Tel: (972) 054-693-7665