By Debra DeHoff
Leading by Example at Serenity Farm, Where Sharing Natural Horsemanship “Never Gets Old”
Upon receipt of a Parelli Foundation grant, the founder of Serenity Farm Equestrian Center in Luckey, Ohio, expressed a burst of gratitude for help from licensed 4-Star Parelli Professional Jesse R. Peters.
“Typing ‘thank you’ isn’t enough,” said Debra DeHoff, who is also the executive director of Serenity Farm and certified by both the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International and Equine-Assisted Growth and Learning Association.
For 17 years, Serenity Farm has provided equine therapeutic services to northwestern Ohio citizens of all ages. With the use of miniature horses, ponies, and full-size horses, programs include therapeutic riding, hippotherapy, and equine-assisted learning.
DeHoff said: “Our work is dependent on great working horses, gracious volunteers/staff, and a solid partnership between the two at all times in each program. The Parelli method is absolutely perfect to ensure a strong foundation.”
Handlers and instructors are required to study and attend Parelli Natural Horsemanship functions. “It’s never a hardship to make this request—the interest is always overwhelming,” said DeHoff. “This added training to our volunteers goes a long way to ensure safety in our therapy sessions and keep our horses working at the top of their game.”
Prospective therapy horses for the farm are evaluated carefully. DeHoff explained: “For the past 14 years, we have been able to attend a Parelli clinic with any new therapy prospect to get a real feel for the horse’s behaviors and skill level, in addition to our farm protocol for acceptance into the programs. This procedure has served us very well.” Clinics offer a double advantage for certified instructors because they provide continuing education credits to professional development.
“Our scheduled clinics with Jesse have added more benefits than we had originally anticipated,” said DeHoff, specifying:
- “Solid results of team building between instructors and horse handlers. Stronger retention of volunteers to programs.
- Increased confidence between horse handlers and various horses. We ask a lot of our horse handlers for programming safety and dedicated time needed to accomplish the relationship.
- Increased confidence with our horses to accept different horse handlers. This aspect is where Parelli Natural Horsemanship comes into perfection. My main reason for making the Parelli method our foundation to handle horses at the farm is so that we are all communicating in the same language.
- Fun is an understatement for attending Parelli clinics! Hard work is present, but learning from professionals each and every year is the key to keep on adding to our skills and correcting what is not working.
- For instructors, we have been able to extend auditioning Level I on line and begin at liberty with five of our therapy riders. What a joy to rider, parents, and volunteers to share in this process!”
Basically, Peters understands Serenity Farm’s needs. “He is quick to evaluate each horse and volunteer relationship and offers quality training to help us succeed in the world of equine therapy,” said DeHoff.
In 2019, current horse handlers and instructors will be encouraged to complete auditions for Level I and venture into Level II. DeHoff said proudly: “Our horses are amazing. I see the smiles on our volunteers’ faces when they have achieved something on the audition checklist and then go on to share that with one of our precious riders! This never gets old! Now to start offering certificates and savvy strings for a job well done!”
To set an example, DeHoff plans to audition for Level III.