NAUGATUCK — Dyslexia is a constant battle for 10-year-old Ryan Setaro of Beacon Falls.
He has trouble with reading and writing, which affects the rest of his school work, and he often discusses feeling stressed and anxious.
Ryan has learned to control those emotions since 2012. That was when he met his close friend Carlos, a 9-year-old equine who once had a career as a show horse and is described as having “a heart of gold” by his stable owners at Hidden Acres Therapeutic Riding Center, 45 Gabriel Drive.
Since he started working with Carlos and other horses, Ryan has gained self-confidence and a deeper compassion and empathy for animals and people alike, said his mother, Liz Setaro.
“Being at Hidden Acres really boosts his spirit,” she said. “Working with the horses is something for him to look forward to every week. It’s always a positive experience. It’s uplifting. He’s finally able to relax and feel calm and at peace.”
Ryan is one of 200 children and adults who Hidden Acres worked with in 2014, its sixth year in existence. The 501c3 nonprofit organization works with people who have physical, developmental and emotional challenges. Last year, the organization provided more than 1,200 therapeutic sessions.
Hidden Acres is gearing up for its fourth annual “Night of Caring,” the organization’s largest fundraiser, Sept. 19 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Proceeds will be put toward the organization’s mission of improving minds, bodies and spirits through the benefits of therapeutic riding and other equine-assisted activities.
Tickets are $45 per person if they are purchased before Saturday; they are $60 if they are purchased later. The event includes hors d’oeuvres, wine and beer, plus a silent and live auction. The headline sponsor is the Petit Family Foundation; Dr. William Petit will deliver the night’s opening remarks.
Hidden Acres owners Mary and Theron Simons want everyone to have an opportunity to learn on the farm, so they do not turn away anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Last year, the organization gave out $85,000 in scholarships to riders, said Kristin Lauver, the organization’s development associate.
“It really makes a life-changing difference for these children and adults who suffer from everything from physical challenges to mental challenges,” she said.
Hidden Acres has also expanded in the past year by collaborating with youth services agencies from Naugatuck and Waterbury, and the Naugatuck Juvenile Review Board, which offers diversionary programs for teens who have been in legal trouble.
Students from the juvenile review board had some profound takeaways, said Jeanna Pellino, program director and a certified riding instructor.
“They were understanding, especially the high school-level students, the metaphors between how we communicate with the horses and understanding the horse’s nonverbal body language and how it translates to people,” she said. “They learned how to be more effective in their communication, as well as personal safety.”
Liz Setaro said Hidden Acres has also seen a marked improvement in her son’s ability to communicate. It has also made him more giving, she said.
“Ryan is always thinking about the horses and buying them gifts as a way to thank them for what they do for him,” she said.