Mandy’s Farm was the first residential program in the United States designed with an emphasis on adult autism. From its inception in 2000, animals were a key component. At the Farm, individuals with developmental disabilities live and work alongside goats, chickens, alpacas, guinea hens, turkeys, cats, dogs and horses.
For clients who don’t communicate verbally, working with horses and other animals can be uniquely rewarding. “They may not be able to speak, but through touch, they can still learn to control this really large animal,” explains Jesse Calero, development director at the Albuquerque, New Mexico organization.
The farm includes a therapeutic riding program, where clients build muscle strength, balance and fine and gross motor skills, while at the same time developing socially and emotionally. “Before their first ride, we really try to ensure that our clients build a relationship with their animals, and that they understand and assist with their care,” Jessie explains. “Only then do we bring on the riding aspect.”
In the beginning, Mandy’s Farm only offered residential services, but today, it’s grown to include day programming and supported-employment services, too. In addition to animal husbandry programs, clients have opportunities to explore visual arts, music, organic gardening and more. But across all its programming, the Farm has a singular goal: to provide clients with an opportunity to set goals and achieve them. “We really design our programs to meet our clients where they are, celebrating their individual skills and strengths, and allowing them to grow at their pace,” Jessie explains. More than just a place to live or learn, Mandy’s Farm strives to create an environment where clients of all abilities can have meaningful, fulfilling lives.
“You don’t need to talk to be able to compete in a goat show, to groom a horse or to get involved with the regular care that animals require,” Jessie emphasizes. “But in doing those things, we’re providing individuals with opportunities to see what they’re capable of, and to also build relationships with these amazing animals.”