Boscawen therapeutic riding program looking for new home

By on Mar 2, 2017 in Stories |

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Everything about Whispering Horse Stable is understated, quiet.

The therapeutic riding center is obscured behind Tim Reese’s Boscawen home on Corn Hill Road. Its small barn is occupied by just one horse, Cloud Dancer – also known as C.D.

And most days this winter – due to abundant ice and snow – owner Heather Wunschel said she’s mostly stayed inside, completing barn chores and leaving rides on C.D. until mud season ends.

Cloud Dancer the horse stands outside while his owner, Heather Wunschel, and life skills student and volunteer Tia Hoyt clean out the horse’s paddock. Hoyt is one of two students from Merrimack Valley who volunteers each Monday, and in the spring, Wunschel expects to begin working with 13 Special Olympics athletes.

By that time, though, Wunschel will need a new place to run her business. She said that Reese informed her that the current barn space will no longer be available as of April 15, her one-year anniversary of opening the business.

Wunschel is now on the lookout for a new home in Boscawen. If she can find one before the warmer season, her business will be bustling: she’ll again start up riding lessons for her two current clients, bring in her volunteers from last summer and, if her plans work out, get a second therapy horse to meet growing demand.

“I got in touch with the Special Olympics – they got interest back from 13 athletes who would like to come and ride in the spring,” Wunschel said. “We’re growing.”

Community connections

Even before the snow and ice melts this winter, Wunschel’s operation does see some life on Monday mornings. That’s when one or two Merrimack Valley High School students in the special education life skills class come to job shadow Wunschel.

Stepping through the narrow, slippery path to the barn on Monday, 20-year-old Tia Hoyt was greeted by Wunschel and C.D., who stood ready in the aisle.

Hoyt has been job shadowing Wunschel for four months, learning how to groom a horse, clean tack and – everyone’s favorite job – scoop up horse poop.

She started with brushing C.D., whose paint-patterned coat was still fuzzy with winter hair. Wunschel reminded Hoyt to brush C.D.’s mane, and then the pair went searching for a horse treat.

Heather Wunschel helps life skills student Tia Hoyt clean up some manure in Cloud Dancer the horse’s paddock at Whispering Horse Stable Monday.

C.D. knew exactly what was up – he nickered at Hoyt and stretched his neck for the black bucket she held. Inside was his treat.

The three of them then went to the barn.

“Got some raking for you to do today,” Wunschel told Hoyt.

With C.D. safely secured behind a fence, Wunschel and Hoyt set to work picking up the poop not frozen to the ground. Initially Hoyt was equipped with a rake, but she wanted the mucking fork – that was what she had learned to use before.

Horse cleaned, poop picked up and some shavings swept inside the barn, Hoyt was done with her job – and was off to her next job shadow that day.

At age 20, Hoyt would soon be legally required to leave the school system and go to an adult services agency, like Community Bridges. Now, she is eligible for jobs working with horses.

Merrimack Valley special education administrator Elaine Dodge said the school district tries to work with local businesses to provide a range of skill sets for students – Wunschel’s stable is a relatively new addition.

“I believe she’s very willing to take on our students,” Dodge said. “Certainly a connection with animals has always been powerful for some of our students with some of the most challenging disabilities.”

Making Boscawen home

To maintain that involvement with Merrimack Valley students, and generally act as a resource for an area that doesn’t have another therapeutic riding program nearby, Wunschel has put out Craigslist ads requesting another Boscawen property for running her business.

So far, she hasn’t received any responses. But Wunschel plans to contact town co-administrator Alan Hardy, who acts as the go-to guy when it comes to coordinating agriculture projects in town.

When that happens, Hardy is ready to help.

Whispering Horse Stable owner Heather Wunschel works with Merrimack Valley School District life skills student Tia Hoyt while the two brush Cloud Dancer the horse Monday. Wunschel is looking for a new home for her therapeutic riding business.

“She knows we’re receptive here,” he said. “It’s what she offers for kids. What she does, not a lot of people do.”

Through its agricultural commission, Hardy said Boscawen is dedicated to supporting businesses like Wunschel’s, or like Tom Giovagnoli’s chicken farm.

“It’s where we came from,” Hardy said. “People either worked on the farms or they worked in the mills.” And because people in town are interested enough in agriculture to volunteer for the town’s commission, Hardy said, they will be proactive about situations like Wunschel’s and advise the planning and zoning boards accordingly.

“I think there’s a difference between allowing something to happen and supporting it,” Hardy said. “Our folks support.”

Wunschel said she’s felt that support ever since she began looking for a place to start up her therapeutic riding business in New Hampshire.

“I did the research for two years before we moved up here (from Florida),” Wunschel said. “Everything kept drawing me back to this area.”

With quiet beginnings growing into a full-fledged business there in just a year, Wunschel plans to stick around Boscawen – if she can find the right place.

“I love it here,” she said.

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter
@elodie_reed.)