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Jane Bolles got involved with the High Hopes Therapeutic Riding center more than 30 years ago when one of her daughters started as a client. Today, the co-owner of the Saybrook Country Barn is on the riding center’s board and is helping organize the upcoming How Sweet It Is High Hopes gala. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Here’s what you will need: 4,300 bales of hay, 91,250 gallons of water, and 18,750 pounds of grain. Here’s what you will get: 25 well fed horses—more precisely, the 25 horses used by High Hopes Therapeutic Riding.
Jane Bolles of Essex has been on the board of High Hopes for some 16 years, but her association with the therapeutic riding center in Old Lyme stretches back more than 30 years.
High Hopes is hosting its annual gala, the organization’s only fundraiser, on Saturday, June 9. The evening includes cocktails, dinner, a silent auction, and dancing to a band named Sugar, hence the gala’s name, How Sweet It Is.
High Hopes services clients with a range of physical and mental challenges from cerebral palsy to intellectual impairments and autism. There are even some veterans suffering from PTSD who find a path to recovery through therapeutic riding at High Hopes.
The organization’s services cover a wide age spectrum, currently, Jane says, from 4 to 92, though some 80 percent of the clients are 20 years old or younger. In addition to the professional staff trained to work not only with horses but with High Hopes target populations, there are more than 600 volunteers. They assist in various areas, from holding the lead rein and walking next to young riders to caring for the horses, all of which, like the volunteers, have undergone special training to participate in the program.
The pace is a gentle walk; eventually, after much experience some riders can progress to a trot, often with a staffer running alongside. Instead of sitting astride a horse, some of the participants, with appropriate staff, learn to drive carriages. Like the horseback riding, the carriage program helps promote coordination, balance, posture, and emotional wellbeing.
“It covers many areas of physical therapy,” Jane points out. “The kids really bond with their horse; [the horse] becomes a friend. Some kids who have communication issues and have never spoken before have their first words come out when they are talking to the horse.”
Jane first discovered High Hopes when her daughter Lindsay, who has developmental challenges and very little hearing, was five. Lindsay, now in her early 30s, still participates in High Hopes programs.
“When she started, she was so scared she wouldn’t get near the horse for six months,” Jane recalls.
Today Lindsay can ride the horse at a trot on her own, with an instructor in the center of the ring relaying commands through an auditory tuning system that allows Lindsay to hear as she rides. On a recent visit Lindsay was eager to talk about riding and her horse.
“I like Vixen. I take her through the cones,” Lindsay said, referring to of one of the riding exercises in which she is proficient, and adding that one of her favorite activities is the annual horse show.
Participants in the program come from towns throughout Connecticut, some sponsored by school programs. In general, therapeutic riders pay one-third of the cost of an hour lesson, about $30. There are scholarships for those who can’t afford the fees.
The benefits of High Hopes doesn’t stop with the riders, according to Jane. It is also a chance for parents to meet other people whose children face similar issues. Some of the parents, Jane adds, remain uncomfortable around horses, though their children progress from fear to familiarity.
Learning about horses was not a problem for Jane. Growing up in East Hampton, Connecticut, she loved riding.
“It was a small town, a rural town; it still is,” she says.
At the University of Connecticut, she got a degree in physical education, adding there was not a particular sport in which she excelled.
“I think I was good at teaching them,” she says.
Jane took a job as recreation director in Rocky Hill, but soon her career veered off on a different path and she worked in personnel and labor relations at Pratt & Whitney. She still uses her personnel skills, but now in her own business. Jane and her husband Keith own Saybrook Country Barn in Old Saybrook, the business started by his mother.
At one time Saybrook Country Barn consisted of one building, with furniture, rugs, and window treatments. Now, it has expanded to a complex of several buildings including in addition to the original merchandise, a home goods shop, and men’s and women’s clothing, as well as a restaurant.
“Every 10 years we added something on,” Jane says.
A different kind of addition is their son Keith, Jr., who has worked with them for the past four years as vice president of operations.
Though they’ve gained expertise in each new area in which the shop expanded, there’s one exception: Jane and Keith don’t run the restaurant.
“That’s something we knew nothing about so we leased it out; that made sense,” she says.
In the world of increasing online shopping, Jane says there is still a place for shopping in brick and mortar stores.
“People still want to touch, feel, and see things,” she explains.
And she knows there is nothing like a bit of shopping to make a day going wrong turn out better.
“Retail therapy. It hasn’t gone away,” she says.
One of the things that Jane and Keith have done at Saybrook Country Barn is to hire, as interns or full-time workers, people with challenges, some from High Hopes and other from organizations like Vista that work with similar populations.
“They can do the job if they have a chance; we know that,” she says.
She adds that Saybrook Country Barn contributes to a wide range of local organizations involved in community work.
“It’s all part of giving back and that’s something we feel very strongly about,’ she says.
When Keith Jr. and their daughter Kara were growing up, Jane says they were often asked what it was like to be a part of a family with one member who had special needs and struggles. Jane says Kara told people that Lindsay was the best thing that ever happened to her family. Keith Jr. replied to comments suggesting it was harder to grow up in his situation with the observation that he never thought anything about it.
“He always said that it was normal to him,” Jane recalls. “And that’s good. It’s all good.
Lindsay now works at Saybrook Country Barn four days a week and the fifth at a local farm.
“Whatever a child is, that child can be successful. Every child has struggles,” Jane says. “We don’t know what the outcome will be, but we can help them find out.”
And for Jane and her family, High Hopes has been an important part of that process of discovery.
High Hopes Gala
High Hopes hosts its annual fundraiser gala How Sweet It Is on Saturday, June 9 at 5 p.m. at High Hopes, 36 town Woods Road, Old Lyme. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit highhopestr.org or call 860-434-1974.
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