A few years ago, I learned a rather awkward lesson. When someone leads off with “Can I ask a favor of you?” your response should not be “Sure, anything for you!” but instead a more cautious “What’s the favor?”  The latter can keep you out of some sticky situations and you avoid signing up for way more than you bargained for. That said, there are still a few people to whom I reply with the unconditional “yes” response and usually whatever the favor, it’s a win for both of us.

This was a favor for my client Carolyn, whom I adore and have a deep respect for.  Carolyn indicated that she was helping Windrush Farm, a therapeutic equitation farm, on rebranding efforts.  She is  Board Member of the farm with strong competencies in this area.  She believed that having professional photography for their websites and marketing materials would really help spearhead their work and enhance the overall look and feel for the brand.  Would I be interested?  And could I donate my time and skills?

“Sure, anything for you.”

And then I went to the Windrush Farm website and knew within a minute that it would be an amazing experience.  For me.  Because more often than not, the effort of helping others, is really an effort to help yourself.

To provide some background, Windrush Farm is a nonprofit horse farm specializing in teaching physically, emotionally, and learning disabled children and adults to ride and work with horses.  Each year, Windrush provides an array of educational services and therapeutic activities to more than 1,000 children and adults – and their families. Founded in 1964, Windrush Farm was one of the first therapeutic equitation centers in the United States.  Windrush offers equine assisted activities founded on the principle that all of us, disabled or not, are capable of more than we think.

And so that first day, a real spring day, with tulips and daffodils and blueberry skies, I tossed on a tee-shirt, jeans, and old Frye boots, and I set out.  Within minutes of my arrival I found a totally, completely and amazing therapeutic experience.  Again, for me.  Yes, I love mucking around in the dirt, and there’s nothing like an early spring day with things coming to life to create that sort of rejuvenation experience.  But it was more a realization that there was almost NOTHING more important than me being at the farm, documenting the incredible work that is done by everyone involved in the process.  Being able to capture people who have far greater challenges than I ever will, while they overcome barriers and obstacles with poise, dignity and grace, was far more relevant than anything else on my to-do list, client related or not.  It made me think that perhaps I had more to give in life than just being a busy working mom.

And so what is it about Windrush that makes it so amazing? 

The staff, teachers, and volunteers.  They are so giving, supportive, authoritative yet gentle.  Giving direction when needed, a cautious support system, yet letting riders take supervised chances so they can grow.  They are so in tune with not only each rider, and their specific challenges and disabilities, but also with each horse.  Every minute they have to be present, and they are, and they are smiling.  To quote one of the volunteers “I don’t know why, we just do it, we just come here, this is the place we come to help.  The whole family, each kid, as they grow up, they know this is where we volunteer.”

The riders.  To a degree, horses still sort of scare me as I try to figure out which direction to step, how close to get, will the shutter sound be bothersome, will I be a distraction?  These riders either climb, are helped, or are placed up on top of these animal and put their complete trust in them and with a small shift of their weight, or a tug on their mane. They guide them through a course with far more skill and dexterity than my able-body and mind could.  They too are smiling.  It almost makes your heart hurt to see because you never knew pride could be so pure.

The parents.  They brought their children here. They put their trust in the staff, teachers and horses.  They thought “maybe, just maybe, there is an alternative way to approach this situation.”  They watch the lessons from afar, with looks of relief, concentration, a little bit of worry, sometimes relaxation, and almost always a smile.

The horses.  The horses are these amazing creatures that are so strong and determined, but they are gentle, and sensing and knowing.  Each has a different temperament suited for different styles of riding, but they all know, inherently, why they are there.  When you watch them being saddled, with sometimes layers of cushion and support, and guided through a small pass so they can be mounted, often by an unsteady and unsure rider, and then they move ever-so-slowly out to the ring, led by guides, or knowing that a tug on their mane means go.  You almost suck in your breath, and then let it out so slow, and you too find yourself smiling.

As for me, I have boldly asked if they’d have me for a while longer, so I can return, refine my images, and learn more, and of course, serve up a little bit therapy for me.