ABOUT FREEDOM ACRES
Freedom Acres Farm exists to provide equine therapy to teach children who have experienced a disability, abuse or financial struggles the love of Jesus Christ through horses.
Holly Firely grew up knowing that no two children are alike. As a toddler, her younger brother Richie became very ill with meningitis, leaving him with physical and intellectual disabilities requiring around-the-clock care. Inspired by watching her mother tirelessly care for Richie, Holly became a Registered Nurse and started caring for other children both in the hospital and as part of a home care team.
Being a part of these special children’s lives and seeing how families struggled to care for them weighed on Holly. After much discussion and prayer with her husband Marty, the couple decided to create their own in-home agency, Harleysville Pediatric Home Care.
Always looking for ways to do more, they expanded through a medical daycare and pediatric residential program, as well as residential homes for older clients who had aged out of the pediatric population.
But Holly and Marty realized that providing for clients with physical and intellectual disabilities meant more than just meeting their physical needs — and that their social and emotional needs were often neglected.
Wanting to provide their clients with the kinds of everyday experiences that others take for granted, the Firelys started a Camp for Kids program in Bradford County, PA.
By taking children and young adults away to camp, it allowed the parents/caregivers to have a respite while providing the opportunity for the “kids to be kids,” which included taking boat rides, going to amusement parks, and more. The one activity that was the most popular was the one reason why Holly and Marty worked so hard to make this camp happen: horseback riding.
Marty and Holly’s daughters had grown up owning their own horse and taking riding lessons, and they witnessed firsthand the special connection between the children and the horses. And since they also were caring for the medically fragile population, the Firelys were already well aware of the benefits of equine-assisted therapy (EAT) for disabled and at-risk children. But they also knew it was not an approved insurance-covered treatment — which made it cost-prohibitive for most families.
With a desire to provide EAT affordably to more children, the next step became clear: They needed their own farm.
Marty and Holly were more determined than ever to make their dream a reality, but of course, nothing worth having is ever achieved without effort. The Firelys purchased a 46-acre farm that was once a well-established ranch that had fallen into disarray. To reach their goals, they are committing substantial time and sweat equity into restoring the land and buildings.
The family has stayed motivated knowing that their goal is in sight: providing children who would not normally have it access to open land, horses, and an array of therapeutic activities in the great outdoors — which translates to freedom from their everyday issues, including chronic medical issues, physical limitations, emotional and social issues, and intellectual disabilities.
When it came to naming the farm, the Firely family wanted to express their desire to serve others, their determination to get through the worst of times, and their deep spirituality. Through this reflection, the name of the farm came easily: Freedom Acres Farm.
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” — Galatians 5:13
THE BENEFITS OF “EAT”
Equine-assisted therapy (EAT) — treating a wide array of issues through activities with horses that promote human physical and mental health — has roots that date back to Ancient Greece. It wasn’t until the 1960s, however, that the concept of horses as healers gained more widespread popularity and recognition.
Today, it is well accepted that both children and adults with various physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities have great success in reaching their personal goals when EAT is combined with other therapies and activities.
Physically, caring for or riding a horse helps with balance, muscle support and control, flexibility, and posture. In addition, emotionally and intellectually disabled individuals find that caring for such a large animal increases empathy, decreases anxiety, improves a person’s attention span, and allows them to focus on the required tasks at hand.
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