If you want to change how you feel and think, try do something new and different – this is one of the core lessons from Roca’s cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program. For the high-risk young men and women in Roca’s Chelsea program, an opportunity to do that came in the form of a hooved animal, one that Chelsea rarely sees.
Through a connection with the local high school, Roca was connected with the Ironstone therapeutic horse farm in Andover, Massachusetts. The farm was eager to work with Roca, providing an opportunity for participants to come out and learn how to care for, and eventually ride, the horses at the farm.
The first session of this project took place over four sessions inviting 12 young men from Roca Chelsea to learn the basics of horse care and training. This was a part of the young men’s usual Wednesday class schedule, giving them a change of scenery from the usual classroom.
The first week the men learned the basics of horse care, and the second and third weeks went into more detail about training, grooming, and care for these animals. The final session allowed them to finally ride the horses.
“Because this is a therapeutic horse farm, the staff there works with people who have disabilities or have dealt with traumatic life events, so they understand the population we work with more and wanted to create an experience where you can related to the horses,” explained April Spataro, a Roca program manager.
“We also try to incorporate CBT into this experience, talking about how they felt working with the horses—one of the big surprises is that these young men thought caring for horses was easy, but it’s not.”
Even though this counted as class time, it didn’t feel like it. Over the four sessions, all 12 participants were eager to learn and try out their new skills. Spataro said based on the success of this first group, she hopes to make this a regular course for participants to try.
Roca, Inc. is an organization based in Chelsea dedicated to helping the highest risk young men and women break the cycle of poverty and incarceration through relationships, relentless outreach, and programming. In Roca’s monthly column, we highlight some of the highlights happening from their headquarters.
By Joe Prezioso
Empty barns and buildings line the back lot of Suffolk Downs.
Birds and bees have made their nests and hives; and plants grow where horses once trained.
Some buildings look like they haven’t been used in a long time, some might have been, but not last weekend.
On Saturday, Oct. 3, there was life where there hasn’t been any for a while.
It was rainy and cold and Friday morning as trainers, owners and jockeys prepared for the big day of racing the next day, Oct. 3.
The barns were damp and workers like Moises Sanchez were hard at work getting ready for Saturday’s race.
Racing returned to Suffolk Downs for a second time this year.
The barns that were only home to the birds and bees are now full of hay and Thoroughbreds that are waiting to run. Owners brought their horses from up and down the East Coast to return to racing at the historic Suffolk Downs.
“I am always excited to be home,” said Jay Bernardini as he pet Navy Nurse, a celebrated Thoroughbred.
A horse owner and trainer, Bernardini brought nine horses to Suffolk from his stalls at Laurel Park Racetrack in Maryland.
“I am a Lynn resident. My wife and son actually stay behind and I kinda co-habitat in Maryland and fly back and forth,” he said. “I have been racing here my whole career. When they are not racing here, I go somewhere else. I am a full time trainer, so I have no option but to leave my family and go somewhere else. Where there’s racing is where I’ll be.”
Hellen Honsdottir and Moises Sanchez were on site at 6 a.m. last Friday to prep the horses for Saturday’s racing. Giving the horses fresh food, fresh hay, washing them down and making them look good. Some horses had their shoes replaced and others just went round and round the barns getting some exercise with the hot walkers.
Honsdottir was excited to be back at Suffolk.
She started working with horses just over two years ago while the track was still open. When she got the chance to be back here for three days, she jumped at the chance. Unlike many of the other groomers, trainers and hot walkers, Honsdottir has not migrated to another track and took work in Waltham at a stable, but she would rather be working with racehorses.
The owners greeted their horses, talked to them and embraced them Friday morning. Like spoiled dogs, these horses have it good.
The racing day also brought back local employees that haven’t been out on the track since the last racing day in September.
“I thought it was very encouraging. It was like you can’t kill the place. Open the doors and people will come,” said Outrider Cathy Chumbley in regards to the last racing day in September.
Most of the owners and crews know each other and share a camaraderie that is not seen in other workplaces. Everyone does everything; owners train and groom their own horses and then possibly for someone else.
The lure of a day of racing even brought back Wayne Marcoux, a trainer and a owner who had no current horses on site.
A Revere resident, he came down just to help.
“My father was a trainer,” said Marcoux. “I took out my trainer’s license and came down to help out.”
Not everyone can just walk on over though for a day of racing.
Owners like Bernardini, who came from Maryland, had to drive many hours.
“We have known about these races for 30 days, so all the prep work is down. We left at exactly 11 p.m. (Thursday) and we got over the George Washington Bridge (NYC) at 3 a.m.”
However, once they arrived at Suffolk they realized they had left the bridles back in Maryland and had to get someone on an airplane flight right away to get them. Such is the challenge of a one-day, ship in racing card.
Bernardini said that what his horses need now is “rest and relaxation.”
With the racing on Oct. 3, there will be one more day of racing on Oct. 31. Many people want to get more racing at Suffolk, but it’s an uphill battle. “Suffolk Downs in not interested in opening up and losing money,” said Bernardini. “There are
Abel Mendoza grooms ‘lu lu la la.’
other people trying to force racing where there is none and I don’t think that’s a realistic thing. It has to be a two-way street. The racetrack has to be able to be viable and feasible financially and offer a product that is feasible for me. I have to be able to make a living.”
Where racing in Massachusetts will end up is anyone’s gamble right now, but for the past weekend, the horses and their teams were back at the historic oval.