Hidden Acres Farm uses horses to undo damages heightened by pandemic

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By Raquel Williamson Republican-American

NAUGATUCK — Rebecca Caruso describes Hidden Acres Farm as an “oasis,” and 10 horses help deliver that peace and tranquility.

“This is a place where people can reconnect with both themselves and the world around them,” said Caruso, program coordinator and riding instructor for horse therapy sessions designed to heal mental health issues. “When we are around horses, we have to be aware of what’s going on in the present moment to be safe and connected to the horses.”

The 81-acre nonprofit farm on Gabriel Drive focuses on issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which heightened anxiety and depression for people of all ages.

The 100-year-old farm, founded in 2008 by Mary and Theron Simons, became a nonprofit in 2010. Hidden Acres offers therapeutic riding, unmounted horsemanship, equine assisted learning and therapeutic carriage driving.

Sandy Lee, the farm’s director of development, has seen a surge in participants after launching the wellness programs last fall.

“Since January, we have had 47 people who have taken part in unmounted group programs,” Lee said. “Right now, we have a waitlist of almost 30 people.”

Hidden Acres has eight full-size horses and two miniature horses, ranging in age from 7 to late 20s, and plans to add another paddock so it can expand its herd to meet the demand.

Caruso described the horse therapy sessions as a way to rebuild connections that get severed while going through emotional and physical obstacles. She said clients learn about their authentic selves through their connections with a horse.

Caruso noted the impact of the therapy sessions is almost immediate.

“By the time someone has finished one session here, they’re definitely feeling a restoration of their spirit and a reduction in their level of anxiety,” she said.

Air Force veteran Bob Blozzon of Monroe brushes and grooms Quinn inside the stables at Hidden Acres Therapeutic Riding Center in Naugatuck. Blozzon was instrumental in getting a veterans program going at the center, which has seen an increase in demand for riding horses to help with mental health needs. Jim Shannon Republican-American

Air Force veteran Bob Blozzon began his time at the therapeutic riding center last fall, and worked with Lee and Caruso to start a veterans riding program last winter.

“As a veteran, a lot of stuff is held inside, and when you’re doing that, your mind races because you want to get those things out, but you can’t,” Blozzon said. “When you come here, it’s just so peaceful. You’re not thinking about those things anymore, you’re just thinking about being present with the horse.”

He said the beauty of the farm is there’s no expectation of what’s going to happen.

“They allow you to go through your experience at your own pace,” Blozzon said. “That experience is your experience, which might be different from everyone else’s experience. When you’re here, you’re a family. That might look like a horse, but he has my back and I have his back at that moment.”

Maggie Waluk, mother of Amy Waluk, brings her daughter for half-hour lessons every week through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“We love it here. We have signed up for lessons for the rest of the year,” she said. “Amy has a balance issue, so horses are very therapeutic for her. She has low muscle and has seizures, and she has gotten strength from the whole thing. She’s actually started jumping and running because of these lessons.”

Mindfulness, healing and growth are the foundation for all group programs at the farm, and “help people practice making good, healthy, trusting connections with others,” Caruso said.

For information about the farm’s horse therapy programs, visit hiddenactrestrc.org or email wellness@hiddenacrestrc.org.

Donations to help fund the farm’s new paddock and horses also can be submitted at hiddenacrestrc.org.