Hidden Acres set to build arena

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Maya Williams, 7, rides a Morgan horse named Carlos at Hidden Acres Therapeutic Riding Center while guided by her instructor, Jennifer Ford of Orange. The center will break ground next month on a new indoor riding arena. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — The horse lovers who run Hidden Acres Therapeutic Riding Center say they have a lot to be thankful for this year.

After a fundraiser and a grant, they have the $75,000 they need to build a covered arena so lessons can go on in the rain, snow, and ice.

“It is an amazing blessing that we have so much support, that people feel so strongly to continue what we provide,” said Mary Simons, who owns the 45-acre farm with her husband Theron. “Definitely a dream come true.”

The facility on Gabriel Drive gives therapeutic riding lessons to people with physical, emotional, or developmental disabilities. Riding horses strengthens their muscles, and bonding with the animals helps them emotionally, but that process is set back when bad weather cancels sessions, said Program Director Jeanna Pellino.

“Probably half of our lessons we have to either do unmounted or we have to cancel them because of the weather,” Pellino said. “Especially the ones that have physical challenges, they need continuity to progress.”

Hardly any lessons were held during the winter two years ago, when blizzard after blizzard blanketed the area, Simons said. The 11 horses in the stable also lose conditioning when bad weather keeps them in their pens, Simons said.

Simons said her family has wanted an indoor arena since they began planning for the facility about five years ago.

The covered arena will be at least 60 feet around, made of steel and wood, with heat and electricity, Pellino said. The plans were donated by Amity Construction & Design of Old Lyme, Pellino said.

HTS Construction, a company owned by the Simonses, will most likely break ground on the new arena next month, Mary Simons said. Construction should be complete within a few months.

The organization’s “Night of Caring” fundraiser and auction last month raised $60,000 for the new arena, and the remaining $15,000 was given as a grant from Naugatuck Savings Bank, Pellino said. Last month’s event also raised about $50,000 for horse care, operational costs, and scholarships for riders, Pellino said.

Marcus Melchionno, a rider at Hidden Acres Therapeutic Riding Center in Naugatuck, poses for a picture with Charmer. –CONTRIBUTED

“We are so fortunate to have a program like this in our community,” said Tina Melchionno, in a release issued by the center.

Melchionno’s son, Marcus, suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2008 and has been riding at Hidden Acres since July.

The new arena is not just exciting for riders with disabilities. The center also runs a community program for able-bodied children who want to learn horseback riding.

Borough woman Robin Gerber, 37, watched her 7-year-old daughter, Maya Williams, trot around one of the outdoor arenas last week atop a Morgan named Carlos.

Maya has been taking lessons since the summer and usually participates in unmounted activities, such as grooming and taking care of horses, when the weather is bad. Gerber said she was excited that her daughter would be able to ride no matter the weather.

“It only helps her confidence grow,” Gerber said.

For more information, visit www.hiddenacrestrc.org or call (203) 723-0633.