By Jenn Watt
Published March 30 2017
Jennifer Semach wants to create an inclusive healing environment at Walkabout Farm. Using a herd of horses and potentially other barnyard animals the equestrian is turning her passion into a business that she hopes can help the community.
With a background in both horseback riding and crisis support Semach saw a natural fit in a therapeutic riding academy based in the Haliburton Highlands.
“I saw the need for services here for inclusion” she said in an interview with the Times .
“It came to me one day that this is what I could do for the community bringing together my experience with horses and having a specific skillset to work with people with special needs.”
She 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.
“All of these life experiences I’ve been able to bring into my business plan” she said.
Semach grew up in Orangeville riding horses. Her parents supported her passion and she learned horsemanship and riding by working with kids at the volunteer-run Teen Ranch in Caledon.
“That’s where I really was able to spend as much time as I wanted with horses” she said.
There she met her riding instructor Christine Smith-Avery.
“I ended up working for her for over 15 years. She was my mentor” she said.
Several years ago she and her husband and son moved to the Highlands. She then had a daughter and was a stay-at-home mom.
Her time in the Highlands has demonstrated the need for subsidized programming.
“Particularly our high poverty rate that we have. I’m running it as a non-profit because a lot of our participants and volunteers don’t have the opportunities as other urban centres with the funding available and resources available to them to pay for it” she said.
Using government grants private donations and business sponsorships Semach is hoping to achieve her dream for Walkabout Farm.
Currently she has two horses she owns and two that she leases and another that’s boarded at Briarwinds Farm in Ingoldsby the temporary location for the business.
Her complete vision includes other animals however such as goats ducks and dogs.
Horses seem to have a special connection to humans Semach said particularly because they are in-tune with human emotions. You must be calm when you approach a horse in order for it to feel comfortable with you. Participants can learn how to calm themselves in difficult situations through training with a horse which can then be applied to high-stress situations elsewhere in life.
The physical action of horseback riding also offers good exercise and can be well suited for some disabilities such as multiple sclerosis she said.
“[The horse’s] movement is the same movement that our hips make” she said. Those with disabilities “can work those muscles without doing all the work. … It’s been proven to improve circulation and balance.”
It’s also good for posture.
One of the horses Semach has on the farm is an eight-year-old named Chewbacca which she purchased at the Whispering Valley Equine Sanctuary near Renfrew.
“He was pulled along with six other horses from a slaughterhouse where their fate was sealed as they awaited processing” she wrote in a follow-up email to the paper. “He was extremely fearful of people had a deformed nose from a previously embedded halter and had definitely been severely abused. I’ve spent the last 17 months gentling him training him to be ridden understanding his triggers and desensitizing him to human touch.”
Semach said “Chewy” is an ambassador for the program proving that “you don’t have to be perfect to succeed and find fulfilment in life and that there is a definable place for us all to move forward from the traumatic experiences and hurdles in our past.”
At present Walkabout Farm is working with kids with mental health issues and is taking on volunteers and has made a partnership with Community Living. Eventually Semach wants to be able to bring in occupational therapists and physiotherapists more animals create a youth outreach program and employ adults with special needs doing barn work.
The first steps are getting the program started and attracting funding. Semach wants those who could benefit from the program to be able to access Walkabout Farm no matter their socioeconomic background. To do that she’s hoping local businesses will sponsor riders or horses and has employed a grant writer to help bring in funds. They can also take donations through their partnership with Community Living.
“She reached out to us and we do absolutely believe in what she’s trying to create. We are partnering about innovative programs that we can create at Community Living that we can run at her farm” said Teresa Jordan executive director of Community Living Central Highlands.
Those who wish to donate to Walkabout Farm can do so through Community Living which will hold the funds in trust and can issue tax receipts.
Semach is also looking for a permanent home for the farm – a location close to Haliburton or Minden.
To find out more or to get in touch with Semach you can email email@example.com.