/Spring Valley Road: a place for healing
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Spring Valley Road: a place for healing

a picturesque country road, surrounded by sprawling hills and farms,
bordered by a diverse wealth of trees, located just outside of Minden’s
downtown, is the beginning of a dream built upon a passion to help.Led
by Jennifer Semach and her husband, Walkabout Farm has found a
permanent home. The therapeutic riding academy brings together horses
(and hopefully other animals) and the public for a chance to improve
mental health and development. This facility draws those who want to
help and those that need help.
It’s taken more than a year but Semach couldn’t be happier with the newly acquired 27-acre property on Spring Valley Road.
best part about this permanent location acquired earlier this summer,
Semach said, is it gives her total control and enables her to operate
full time.
“Those things are huge,
huge,” she said. “This is a more welcoming environment. People can drop
in. It’s more approachable. I’m in control, which is wonderful.”
benefit of this permanent location is how it is ideally situated on a
dead end road, minimizing traffic volume to encourage regular horse
rides to where the McCutcheon family lives (with two boys who have
Angelman Syndrome). The boys love the visits and the family appreciates
the opportunity for social interaction. 
Currently, there is one six-acre paddock and a round ring, which was recently added.
of this would have been possible if it weren’t for Minden resident
Royce Miller, who approached her with the miraculous proposition late
last summer.
“He said, ‘I don’t know if
you could use this property, but if you can I would sell it to you and
only you,’” she said. “That was really nice of him to do that. He didn’t
have to do it. He just wanted to do that. He just wanted to give us
that space because we were desperately looking close to town. It had to
be close to town so our people could get here themselves.”
location also provides plenty of wild sustenance for her horses, who
can feed on the foliage. It can sustain them all year. She called it an
incredible feature in a county of “rock and trees.”
met Miller through his wife Donna Jennings years before. Jennings died
of cancer several years ago. With his daughter Sam involved with horses
growing up, he had an interest in the Walkabout Farm and was aware of
their attempt to find a permanent home from their Facebook posts, Semach
Open to adults and children, the
farm provides the public with an opportunity to establish a bond with
resident horses Valentino, Coconut, Jasper, Gracie and Chewbacca. Semach
believes there is a power through the bonds developed between people
and horses, who are in tune with human emotions. 
programming also offers life skills training for people with
developmental delays through their help around the farm, which also
includes a lesson on farm management. Horse riding offers physical
benefits to riders, particularly those with disabilities such as
multiple sclerosis.
Semach said providing the programming for free is a gift to the community from her and her husband.
“Many of our programs are just covered by my husband and I. That’s our gift to the community,” she said. 
This farm also offers a unique benefit for anyone suffering from depression, anxiety or PTSD. 
all about emotional support and using the animals for opening up doors
for some of the issues that they’re dealing with,” she said. 
of the horses, Chewbacca, was a rescue with a sad back story. The
nine-year-old horse is the largest of the group and was purchased at the
Whispering Valley Equine Sanctuary, located near Renfrew. He and six
other horses were pulled from a slaughterhouse. He endured abuse and has
a deformed nose from a previously embedded halter. Although the largest
horse at Walkabout Farm welcomes the touch of a child, his fear of
adults continues. He is the poster-horse for Walkabout and shows how
anyone can move forward from a traumatic experience.
thought, even if I can’t use him in the program, I can talk to kids
about moving forward and past trauma. He’s wonderful. He’s like riding a
couch,” she said. “He’s pretty amazing to ride and he’s a good boy.”
the interview was being conducted, Tom Prentice was delivering a load
of sand for the newly installed round ring. As of writing, the round
ring was going to be dedicated to long-time volunteer, Jen Casey. Casey
died from cancer several weeks ago. She not only provided hours of help
to the farm, but was very vocal about getting people to donate money in
her name to fund the round ring. It’s a 50-foot enclosed area, employing
a post and wood fencing. There is a plan it will include shelter
seating area for loved ones to watch participants. 
is a hope to add a five-acre and a two-acre paddock. This will not just
enable more programming to run concurrently, but would allow them to
add boarding horses in order to offset costs to operate programming.
Ideally, the future plans also include the construction of an eight
stall barn. The size of the barn will be determined largely by the money
There have been 40
participants, not including youth outreach, who have experienced what
Semach wants everyone to feel when around the horses. This number
doesn’t even include the many students who help and can also get
volunteer hours toward graduation.
teenager may not be getting volunteering hours since she is
home-schooled, but she is gaining something far more valuable. Peace of
Maxi, who has anxiety and
depression, believes working with the horses (like her favourite
Coconut) the past three weeks has enabled her to direct her energy to
the wellbeing of the horses rather than listen to the negativity that
swirls in her mind.
There is an openness
the 16-year-old has adopted when it comes to her mental health
challenges since working with the horses the past two weeks, each day
for an hour at a time. 
“It’s helped me not be ashamed of it,” she said, adding this opportunity is amazing. 
developed a love for nature and desire to help animals at a young age
from her father, John Martin, and her grandparents, who owned a large
farm in Penetanguishene. 
“If it wasn’t
for my dad and my grandparents and the upbringing that I was blessed
with none of this would have come together. They really taught me a love
for nature and farm work. My grandparents were always welcoming
everybody to come and sit and talk. They had exchange students from all
over the world staying at the farm. I just loved how they were able to
connect with anybody through the farm. It was a real draw for people to
come spend time,” she said. 
She adds
her grandparents opened their farm and their hearts, hosting many
exchange students from around the world. The experience at that farm had
a lasting impact on Semach.
She wishes
her father could have lived to see her dream come true. He had hoped to
see her realize her dream, but died from pancreatic cancer in
Earlier this month, over the
long weekend, Semach hosted a tree planting ceremony in honour of her
father, which included family from Colorado and England. 
the tree and having his brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews come
from all over world to help me plant that tree in his honour, that’s
going to be pretty incredible.”
weeping willow was close to 15 feet high and was the same type of tree
she and he planted near the ravine by his house 30 years ago. “It was
always our tree,” she said. 
A John Martin memorial fund has been launched. 
has worked for the YWCA, at a residential treatment centre for kids
with mental illness, for the OPP and as a volunteer with the Minden
Hills fire department. 
Semach wants to build a barn, but obtaining a loan from the bank is proving to be a challenge.
than dwell on what isn’t happening, she is looking on the bright side
of things and said getting the property is the start and a key to her
“That’s the most important thing
so we can build a shelter for the winter for the horses and hopefully go
from there and get what we need as we go along, but we’re just happy to
be here and starting. We have got a lot of kids that need us and
they’re coming out every day. We’re really busy and loving every second
of it,” she said. 
With files from The Minden Times