Equine angels. That’s what Susie Bjorklund calls her team of 12 retired show horses. With their help, along with a cadre of dedicated volunteers, Susie brings the benefits of therapeutic riding to special-needs children, veterans and at-risk teens through the non-profit she founded, Freedom Farms.
“It’s been said that ‘in riding a horse, we borrow freedom.’ In 2000, I decided to fulfill a dream to share that freedom with those whose lives, minds and bodies are not as free,” Susie explains. The center boasts all the accoutrements you’d expect in a riding stable, with a indoor arena and scenic outdoor trail. But it’s also home to an on-site, accredited high school, Freedom Academy.
Students participate in a daily class at the Freedom Farm barn, learning to care for their horse. They hone horsemanship skills and learn how to ride, plus they have the opportunity to assist the center’s therapeutic riders, who have special needs.
“Our therapeutic riders and student volunteers all work together with the love and care of the horses as the center of everything we do,” Susie says. “Whether a volunteer or a rider who has autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy or post-traumatic stress syndrome, we give everyone opportunities to find what they CAN do.”
Long-time volunteer Pamela Frauendienst has witnessed many of those accomplishments. She recalls the children with autism, unable to look or speak to anyone, suddenly making eye contact and talking. And the child with cerebral palsy, who could barely hold himself up in the saddle, that grew so strong he could ride independently. Then there’s the teen who struggled with anger and trust, who learned to calmly lead a horse — without a lead rope.
“I have seen my share of accomplishments and small miracles through Freedom Farm’s dedication and deep love for the children and adults who are helped at each session,” Pamela says. “Their programs reach out to so many who need to build confidence or strength, while providing a place where veterans can feel needed, and teens can find hope for the future.”