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Equus Therapeutic Riding Program Growing, Thriving
By Stephen Dravis, Williamstown Correspondent
06:02PM / Wednesday, November 07, 2012
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The new riding ring at Wedgewood Stable in Lanesborough.


Therapists Jenna Gancarz, left, and Sandy Brown work with a youngster riding Elvis at Equus Therapeutic's new home at Wedgewood Stable.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — After 30 years in Williamstown, Equus Therapeutic has a new home and a burgeoning demand.

"We moved here a month ago, and we're just delighted," Equus program director Janet Renard said of the non-profit group's new digs: Wedgewood Stable at Wirtes Farm on North Main Street.

"In the past month, we have 10 new riders and a handful of volunteers. We're very much alive and growing."

Equus began at Williamstown's Oakhollow Farm as a project of Marcia and Larry Gross. Over the years, Equus grew into a separate 501(c)3 corporation but continued to be housed at Oakhollow on Henderson Road.

Equus' mission is to allow children and adults with special needs to "maximize their physical, emotional, and intellectual potential through the development of their relationship with horses," according to the program's website, www.equustherapeutic.org.

This summer, it became clear that maintaining the farm and playing host to Equus was an increasing burden on the Gross family, Renard said.

"Myself and another instructor and the board of directors said, 'The farm can't keep going, but we can't let the program die,'" she said. "We are in a growth phase, and there are clients for whom this is the best thing in their lives."

Good fortune struck for Equus, when Deb and Tim Wall, owners of Wedgewood Stable, stepped up. Tim Wall had done work as a farrier for the program.

"Deb Wall was going back to her father's farm, Wirtes Farm in Lanesborough, and she had built a brand-spanking-new indoor riding arena," Renard said. "We approached them and asked if they would be willing to be our hosts for the program."

Renard was surprised Wednesday to learn there was a rumor circulating that Equus was folding, but she said the false story may have started because the program had not publicized the change in location.


Director Janet Renard with a young boy on Magic, who is being used as a model by the Berkshire Carousel project.
"We hadn't put out a great deal of information to the general public about the move because we were so focused on making it happen," she said. "The work involved to move 30 years of tack and equipment and coordinate volunteers and the horses — it was a rather large undertaking."

Equus currently has four active horses used by riders from throughout Berkshire County and Bennington County, Vt. Off the top of her head, Renard could not recall whether any riders currently in the program call New York home, but it is not uncommon for Equus to draw from over that border as well.

"We're the only nonprofit equine-assisted therapy program in Berkshire County that follows PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) standards," she said. "There's a woman who runs a program by herself, but she doesn't have non-profit status, and there's a program in Great Barrington that doesn't follow PATH standards."

This month, Equus has a major show planned on Sunday, Nov. 25, when its riders and teams from as far away as Amherst will gather for the third annual "Dancing with the Horses" drill team event.

Next month, two Equus instructors are scheduled to test PATH certification, which would double the number of certified instructors in the program, Renard said.

And Equus needs plenty of instructors.

"We're very close to having a waiting list [for lessons] right now," Renard said. "We have some openings in the morning, at 9:30 in the morning. ... As spring and summer comes, we imagine, if things continue the way they are, we're going to be full pretty soon."
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