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Building a dream
FETC ready to build covered arena to honor memory of first student
orion 2
Construction on a covered arena at Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center, adjoining the work station behind Orion, a 17-hand high thoroughbred. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Over the next several weeks, a covered arena will be erected at Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center, a tribute to and a manifestation of the dream of its first student.

Construction should start within the month on the arena

“I’m real excited about it,” said FETC director Bonnie Rachael. “It is going to be just absolutely beautiful.”

Danielle Collins had spina bifida but died suddenly last year at the age of 29.

“Danielle’s dream, as was ours, was to build this covered arena so that we could help more kids,” Rachael said. “When she died, the family wanted to do that in her memory.”

The Collins family has raised $68,000 since to build the arena, which will be named after Danielle. The goal is to have the facility up and ready for a March dedication, coinciding with what would have been her birthday.

“The amount of money they raised in such a short time shows you how much people cared about and loved that girl,” Rachael said.

The arena will be 60 feet by 120 feet and it will allow the center’s riders to take lessons, practice and perform in inclement conditions.

“When the weather’s bad, we can’t ride,” Rachael said. “It’s not safe for the horse. So we have to cancel classes if it’s raining or it has rained.”

The arena will go up on five acres FETC purchased. The organization leases five acres already.

“Buying this property is huge for our expansion,” Rachael explained. “We’ll be able to serve more people. We’ll be able to serve them under a cover. It’s just amazing.”

In addition to the arena, Rachael wants to put in sidewalks so a wheelchair-bound person can traverse the entire property.

“This whole facility is going to be very unique,” she said. “It’s for people with disabilities. Especially for people in wheelchairs, there is no place for them to go, where they can do independently in their chair and get around in an activity, especially a farm.”

The sidewalks also will allow riders to enter the tack shed in their wheelchairs and retrieve their riding helmet and other gear. Sidewalks will extend to a small fishing pond, where a dock to be built will enable wheelchair-bound anglers a chance to drop a line.

“It’s up to us as a society to give them an opportunity to be as independent as possible,” Rachael said. “That’s the principle we’re built on. It’s going to be an all-around facility.”

There is a mounting ramp, where a person can go from a wheelchair on to a horse. There will be another such station under the protection of the covered arena — and the sidewalks leading to the arena also will be covered.

“We still have a lot of sidewalks to do,” Rachael said. “We are extending this whole place. A wheelchair will be able to traverse anywhere independently. It’s very unique because there is no such facility anywhere like this.”

Sidewalks to the covered arena will connect to the educational center. Everything in there is handicapped-accessible, too.

“This whole facility is going to be very unique. It’s for people with disabilities,” Rachael said. “Especially for people in wheelchairs, there is no place for them to go, where they can do independently in their chair and get around in an activity, especially a farm.”

A bus turnaround will be built, too, between the arena and the educational center. Children will be dropped off under a covered walkway and then go to either the arena for riding or to the educational center.

“We need money to do it,” Rachael said.

The center still is in need of help, from volunteer labor to financial contributions.

FETC has received assistance from near and far. Mose Mock provides hay for the horses, Gulfstream employees put in 700 feet of sidewalks and turned a modular building into an educational center, and an Ohio church congregation visits every summer. Members from Trinity Lutheran Church, in Circleville, have put in sidewalks and also erected a blacksmith shop, which will be used to help veterans. They also built the work station, adjacent to where the arena will go up.

“We are non-profit,” Rachael noted. “I need money to make this happen. We do have donors. But to make it what it needs to be I need paid staff and we are 80 percent volunteers. This is a community service. This is being built for the community. We need people to keep pitching in. We want people to take an interest and say, ‘I want to help, I want to make this happen.’ It’s all come this far from people doing that.”

More than being on a horse

Four schools bring students to Faith Equestrian five times a week. Faith Equestrian serves not only those with physical challenges but also emotional problems.

“We use the horse as a facilitator to help us teach these kids,” Rachael explained. “We’re an education center. If a child has autism and has sensory issues, it’s a big thing if you can get him to touch a horse. The teachers are excited about the accomplishments the kids make just because of the horses.”

FETC has a curriculum it follows, with equine-facilitated learning and equine-facilitated psychotherapy.

“We cover a lot of ground,” Rachael said.

There are about 60 riders who use FETC. They come on different days, and there are evening and Saturday classes. Currently, there are two instructors, and Rachael wants to raise enough money to hire another.

“We’ll be able to increase our clientele and take on more children,” she said.

There are 11 horses at FETC, and under the rules of an accredited equestrian therapeutic facility such as Faith, a horse can work no more than six hours a day.

“They need a break, too,” Rachael said.

Not just any horse can be a therapy mount, she added. And horses also are chosen to fit the rider. A child who has hyperactivity might be saddled on a slower horse. A child who has problems with sluggishness is partnered with a more active horse.

The 10-year goal is to be able to at least have 300 children come to FETC, added Rachael.

Aside from the therapy and beneficial interaction with horses and other animals at Faith Equestrian, there is a Special Olympics competition team training there. Michael Holton, who was the second student at Faith, has been riding for 10 years.

“And he walks, trots and canters his horse,” Rachael said. “He is a totally independent rider.”

A dream fulfilled

During their rides and walks together, Rachael and Collins talked of their common vision of a covered arena, almost back to the time when Faith Equestrian opened in 2006 with three horses.

“That covered arena and our growth was something we’d always talk about,” Rachael said. “She was such a wonderful girl. Her disability didn’t bother her a bit. She was always about helping other people. She helped me when I was getting started and working with people with disabilities.”

The Danielle Collins Memorial Arena will help Faith Equestrian continue to fulfill, and expand, its mission, much to Rachael’s hope.

“If you have a special challenge and you want to have a place that’s your own place, that’s what this place is,” she said. “There is nothing like it.”