After a difficult few years manoeuvring through the COVID-19 pandemic, operations at Minden’s Walkabout Farm have never been better, says owner Jennifer Semach.

Located on 100 acres along Spring Valley Road, the farm specializes in providing equine-based programming and learning supports to hundreds of Highlanders annually. In 2022, the site registered more than 800 visits, helping people with varying levels of developmental and physical disabilities, mental health issues, and other considerations.

Semach says she’s actively working with around 60 people full-time, with half of those enrolled in the popular therapeutic riding program. She also runs regular recreational activities, peer support for those looking to improve their confidence and learn positive leadership qualities, while also developing ‘working’ schedules for those who want to help around the farm and tend to the nine horses that live on-site.

Now that pandemic-related restrictions have been lifted, the farm has also become a favoured destination for high schoolers looking to complete their volunteer hours.

“It’s been a really amazing year for us,” Semach said, noting the farm received charitable status from the Canada Revenue Agency last spring. “That opened up so many doors, the possibilities for what we can do with this program now are endless.”

After struggling to keep the program – provided to participants free of charge – running for the past five years, Semach said she now has some breathing room, which is enabling her to plan for the future. In 2022, the farm received $107,000 in donations. With operating costs stable at around $85,000 a year, there’s some leftover money to go towards a long-term project that Semach said would be game-changing for Walkabout’s programming.

“We want to establish a welcome centre – indoor accommodations that will allow us to provide accessible programming year-round,” she said, noting that, due to the weather, the farm is usually closed through January and February. “Our friends with intellectual impairments or developmental delays need the routine. When that’s disrupted, they don’t understand why the thing they love to do is being taken away… it causes a lot of stress and anxiety for them.

“If we can regulate their exposure to our programs, and make sure they can get in to work with the horses every single week no matter the conditions, that’s going to be immensely beneficial to them,” Semach added.

She’s pegged initial estimates for a build at between $150,000 and $200,000.

A cornhole tournament held in Norland March 11 raised $2,500, with an online fundraiser coming in May expected to bring the kitty up to five figures. Last year’s event brought in more than $7,500.

Minden’s Tim Hortons franchise announced last month that all proceeds raised locally through its annual smile cookie campaign would go to Walkabout.

“It really takes a whole village of people to support us and support our mission. We’re doing the best we can to make sure this program is successful and viable longterm, because it does so much for so many people,” Semach said.

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