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[General] Charity at Christmas

Unknown Monday, December 22, 2008 , , ,
For the past few months, my daughter has been asking for a horse. Or a pony, it doesn’t really matter to her as long as it is something along those lines. It is, I am told, quite a common request for a three year old girl, quite similar to the desire to be a princess and living in a castle.

Naturally all of these are impossible demands for most of us but as any doting father will confirm, it is hard to disappoint your little treasure. How can I convince her that it is too big an animal too keep at home, that it needs a lot of care and that she’ll probably have to make do with a little orange fish in bowl?

This is what was going through my mind as I was talking to Sue Arnett. A self confessed horse nut, she grew up among horses in her family home and confesses to “skiving school in order to go riding horses.”

And Sue unwittingly presents me with a potential answer to my dilemma. The owner of twenty four horses, she is thinking of letting people adopt some of them. “The plan is to allow people to adopt a horse. They pay for part of its upkeep and they can them come here to help take care of it as well as ride it.”

At this point, it is probably right to point out that Sue’s is not your typical animal farm. You can tell that simply by taking a look at the place’s name: Funny Farm. “It is a bit of a joke from my part,” she tells me with a giggle. “Funny Farm is also what a mental institution is sometimes called and if you think about it you have to be a bit crazy to do the work that we do here.”

There is, however, a very serious edge to her work: most of the horses that live on her farm have been saved from being put down. “I got my first horse when I was about 18 years,” she explains. “In 1993 I moved her to a farm and decided to get a companion. I was referred to a man who had a horse for sale but when I went there I was shocked to find that he was both a dealer and a butcher.”

The common belief is that horses are put down only when they are severely injured or when, due to sickness, it is inhumane to let them live. The horses at the Funny Farm, however, prove otherwise. They also have some horrific stories to tell.

"Some time back we bought a beautiful mare but soon started to notice how she was growing larger and larger. After an examination by the vet, he concluded it was pregnant. We, let alone the butcher, had not known this and it would have been slaughtered if we had not rescued it. The foal is now four years old.”

Inevitably, education is big on her agenda. “Last year we went to a couple of schools to tell them about what we do and you could see that the children were a bit taken aback. Even the teachers came up to us to tell us that they weren’t aware that healthy horses were put down as well.”

Going on is quite a struggle. “It costs around €200 per horse per month and if you stop to think about that it is a hell of a lot of money,” she says. It is hard, however, to see her giving up simply because of monetary reasons. Her passion for horses and the strong belief in what she is doing will see to that.

Yet it would be wrong to leave the impression that it is simply the horses which count. “My dream is to set up an equine therapeutic centre that would enable more people who have problems to come around, spend time with the horses and actually work with them.“

“Horses are very relaxing to be around. If I were to set up an institute then I think that it would help a lot of people.”

She has proof to back this up. “Last year we had some people coming over during their drugs rehabilitation process. Well, today a couple of them have completed their program but keep on coming up to the farm to work as volunteer.”

Her beliefs are shared by Nathan Farrugia who runs another farm, although a completely different one to Sue’s. As the chief executive of the Razzett tal-Hbiberija – literally the Farm of Friendship – he has seen the benefits of children with disabilities interacting with animals.
“We have found that by allowing them to be around animals like horses and also smaller animals, these children open themselves more emotionally and that gives us a window through which to put to work.”

“Take for instance a child who is confined to the wheelchair. Letting them ride horses helps them physically by working on their spine. Yet at the same time, it is boosting them psychologically because it allows them to move around more freely than they are used to doing and with a greater degree of control. It works wonders for children low on self-esteem or confidence”
Stand to reason, then that the Razzett’s animal park is one of the success stories. It is far from the only one. Founded in 1989, Razzett is a non-profit charitable organisation that offers an array of recreational and therapeutic services to persons with a disability free of charge.

“Our aim is to offer for free professional therapy services to people with disabilities. It is for free because we believe that everyone has the right to receive such help and it has to be by professional people because that is how you can get the best results.”

As objectives go, few are nobler than that. “We help everyone who comes,” Nathan continues. “For us, success means improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.”

One of the ways to achieve this is through leisure education. “It is a way to push through a message using leisure activities,” he explains. “For instance, by doing pottery and crafts the children are having fun yet at the same time they are being stimulated creatively. We use play therapy and multi sensory therapy to help them develop without them necessarily realizing that it is a therapy session.”

Inevitably, for a project with such lofty ambitions, money features highly in Nathan’s list of problems. “We need around €1 million each year and 98% if that comes through donations.” That explains the hard work that is routinely put into fund raising activities.

Some of which Nathan has put on himself: in order to raise money this year he is aiming to take on the Malta Half Marathon in February, the London Marathon in April before concluding his tour de force in July at the grueling Ironman in Austria.

Given such passion for the charity, it must be hard for Nathan to switch off. “You need to have a vocation to work in this field. It is important to be trained professionally,” he says. “Yet we are care workers so we have to care for the people we are looking after. That is the attitude that you need in order to work here.”

This article was published in the December 2008 issue of Skylife magazine.

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Copyright 2010 Paul Grech: Writer