Rowan Pettinella’s recent trip to Walkabout Farm Therapeutic Riding Association went more smoothly than usual.

The nine-year-old has limited mobility, often relying on a walker or a wheelchair. Although trips for the nonprofit’s horse therapy program have been great for him, according to his mother Karen Pettinella, they required a lot of effort by both him and his supporters.

But that changed with a new accessible pathway and shelter finished July 30.

“He was just able to be up close and hands-on and feeling that sense of independence,” she said. “The farm, in particular, provides such a therapeutic and calming environment.”

Walkabout owner and operator Jennifer Semach said the project was completed with a $10,000 federal grant, with the youth innovation component of the Enabling Accessibility Fund. The project includes a paved walkway going up to the horse enclosures, as well as a shelter and safe grooming station, enabling more access compared to the rough terrain that was previously there.

“Being in a farm setting with uneven ground and unpredictable terrain, between ice and mud, it wasn’t suitable all-year round for participants to access our services,” Semach said. “It was incredibly important to myself to make sure we had a fully-accessible farm.”

Other donations included $3,334 through the Youth Philanthropy Initiative at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School and in-kind donations headed by Wilbee Construction to stretch the dollars, Semach said.

Brittany Gautreau partnered to write the grant for the project as a youth accessibility leader. She said she connected with the farm in late 2019 and felt it was a worthy cause.

“I decided this would be a great idea, so they can be more accessible for wheelchair users and the walker users,” Gautreau said. “We got the paperwork to actually fill out … It became a bit of a challenge. I wanted to give up, but my determination kept me going.”

Pettinella said her son had a particularly special day using the new path, forming a connection to the farm’s new pony Sweet Pea, whose shorter stature made her easier to access.

“It’s removing barriers and allowing more accessibility,” she said. “Allowing us to experience the farm to the fullest without thinking about what obstacles might be around.”

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