The week of September 23, Mint Hill’s firefighters participated in a training exercise at Mending Strides Ranch.
The purpose of the training was two-fold. “We want to let them know that we’re here for them, that we can help,” says Mending Strides Owner Maria Hogge. “The big push now is about resiliency and getting the word out that it’s not weak – it actually takes strength, it takes bravery – to ask for help, so we want to help spread that word.”
Hogge’s second goal was to equip the firemen with the skills they need to respond to an emergency situation involving horses like a barn fire, a trailer accident, or a loose horse. The firefighters learned practical skills like how to halter and lead a horse, or even fashioning a makeshift halter and lead line out of a length of rope. Hogge introduced the firefighters to different types of latches and locks they may encounter and showed them were halters would usually be stored in a barn.
The firefighters also learned about horse body language and senses. “A horse can be standing still, and you think ‘calm horse,’” says Hogge, “but if they have things like pursed lips or their tail is clenched to their rear end, or they’re not breathing, then they’re just a bubbling pot inside.” Understanding how horses think and communicate is critical for first responders to handle the animals confidently and keep themselves safe.
The firefighters visited Mending Strides mid-morning, when the horses usually nap, which enabled them to practice using their own energy to lead them. “With our horses, they had to bring their energy up to get them to walk,” says Hogge, “whereas when they go into these emergency situations, they’re going to have to be bringing their energy down. We taught them things like using their breath and a soft, calm voice.”
“Horses read facial expressions,” continues Hogge. “When they’re dressed in their full gear, horses are probably not going to recognize them, especially if they can’t see their eyes. Just their outline is going to be frightening.”
When Hogge first opened Mending Strides last year, the fire department came out to help her place fire extinguishers and measure the distance to the street so they knew how many hoses to lay down in case of a fire on the ranch. Their visit was a wake up call for Hogge, who began to think about how she’d deal with an emergency. “This is the first barn I’ve had; I’ve always boarded everywhere else,” she says. “Planning for an emergency was always someone else’s problem. But now it’s my responsibility.”
Although the chances that the Mint Hill Fire Department would respond to a barn fire may seem small, Hogge feels it’s vital that they be as equipped as they can for any possible emergency situation. “While they were here, one of my board members – the barn where she kept her horse had actually burned down that morning,” continues Hogge. “So it happens, it does. There are also a surprising amount of small farms tucked into neighborhoods here, so they could very likely be dealing with loose horses.”
Hogge hopes the training exercises she conducted with the Fire Department will mark the beginning of a successful relationship. She hopes to partner with the Fire Department in the future for fundraisers like a pancake breakfast or a barbecue cook off.
In addition to individual therapy sessions, Mending Strides is offering several unique programs in the upcoming months. On October 19, “Mending the Counselor’s Heart” aims to help therapists, counselors or anyone on “helping” professions to recognize the signs of and cope with burnout. In Mid-October, they’ll begin a 6-week long program that aims to help participants find balance in their physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, vocational or social lives. In November, Hogge plans to offer a program on coping with grief during the holiday season.
Mending Strides is always in need of volunteers to keep the ranch and the business running smoothly. To learn more about Mending Strides’ volunteer needs and programs, visit their web site: http://www.mendingstridesranch.com.