The Thing About Horses

By / Photography By Johnny C.Y. Lam | July 10, 2016
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In the small towns and rolling countryside of Prince Edward County, there’s a palpable reverence for good food and good wine. Dig a little into the rural idyll and you’ll find a community of residents and producers who are deeply passionate about what they eat, what they drink and what they produce.

Suzanne Latchford-Kulker is all of these things. A long-time resident of ‘The County,’ she grew up near Picton, travelled the world, and now lives on a horse farm close to Hillier. Latchford-Kulker, who has a culinary background and is a trained pastry chef, has combined her love of horses with a creative approach to food to fundraise for her not-for-profit organization, Heal with Horses.

As far back as she can remember, horses have been a part of her life. “I was a horse-crazed person as a child,” she recalls. But when modelling and a relationship took her abroad, she spent 10 years without them.

But then, as anyone who knows anything about horses will know, once a horse person, always a horse person. She decided she just couldn’t go on without them. “So I decided I wanted them back into my life, but in a different way. In a more revered way, acknowledging their emotional strength and intuition.”

Latchford-Kulker completed a Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning certification program and founded Heal with Horses on her small farm near Hillier in 2009. Here, she offers programs to help with anxiety issues, PTSD, autism, behavioral issues, ADD/ ADHD, depression, eating disorders and low self-esteem as well as self-discovery and spiritual growth.

As animals of all stripes are increasingly becoming involved in therapy, Latchford-Kulker knew she would be able to help people with horses. There are up to 16 of all ages, shapes, sizes and breeds on her 35-acre farm, as well as a couple of miniature pigs. Many of the horses are older, but not all of them. They live together, freely in a large field in a happy herd. And what’s most striking about the group is that they’re exceptionally calm. On an early spring day they stand quietly close by one another, sunbathing as they wait for Latchford-Kulker to remove their winter blankets.

Many of the Heal with Horses programs do not even involve sitting on a horse. Rather, participants work with horses from the ground, which allows the animals to mirror emotions and interact directly with participants. Many of the farm’s clients have never been near a horse before. Some are fearful. It takes courage to interact with a horse, because the thing about horses is that even if they’re small, they’re powerful. But the other thing about horses is that they’re incredibly aware, empathetic and intuitive. They can tell when you’re having a bad day and they can tell when you’re nervous or angry. They can be assertive and pushy if you don’t stand up for yourself. But at heart, they’re curious and kind. This makes them great partners for the kind of profound emotional and behavioural work that Latchford-Kulker offers.

Clients for Heal programs come from far and wide. Latchford-Kulker recently had a family with a little boy with autism sign up for 24 sessions. Lessons include the whole family, siblings too, if they want to get involved.

For Karen Farrington, mother to three boys, two of whom have autism and attention deficit hyperactive disorder and one who is being tested for ADHA, the opportunity that Heal with Horses has offered the family has been restorative and profound. “It’s been really great for the kids,” she says, “as they get outside and have so much fun. They look forward to it every week and it’s an activity we can all do to de-stress and just be together, enjoy the fresh air and slow down for a time. It’s been the greatest thing for us.”

For Farrington’s eldest boy, 11, speech has been a struggle. But since starting at Heal with Horses in October, says Farrington, “he speaks cleaner and longer sentences. It’s amazing the change in him.”

Her middle boy, 8, has high functioning autism, but this is accompanied by anxiety disorder. “This has decreased since starting,” says Farrington, “and he starts asking when we are going again as soon as we leave. We love Heal with Horses.”

So while therapy work with horses is incredibly rewarding, it’s expensive. The thing about horses is that they never stop eating. Their feet grow constantly and occasionally they get sick. All this adds up to an expense account worthy of a minor Hollywood executive. Horses cost money to keep happy and healthy so that they can offer their best selves to help humans. And since Latchford-Kulker tries to keep her hourly fees at about half the market rate so that her programs remain accessible, she needs to find funds elsewhere to support the operation. “I am so grateful to Suzie for making it cost efficient. She does lots of fundraising to help this,” says Farrington.

This is the junction between a love of food and a love of horses. Two years ago, Latchford-Kulker with friends and volunteers Deb Tattersall, Suki Tattersall and Doreen Rafuse Westall, founded Cotton Candy Cowgirls. They found a used cotton candy making machine on Kijiji and started to experiment.

Their first flavor was maple and they sold nearly $2,000 of it at their first outing. Now the trio sells their all-organic, all-natural spun sugar in the Quinte Mall in Belleville, at festivals and events across the county and as wedding favours. They’ll even bring a portable cotton candy bar, and plenty of fun, to your party.

From a simple maple start, the candy menu has expanded to more than 20 flavours, including as vanilla, lavender, ice wine, Christmas chai, chocolate, pina colada, orange, cherry bubblegum, raspberry truffle, cookies n' cream, mango, mocha and Champagne, flavours that explode in your mouth and fizzle on the tongue. Last year alone, sales of cotton candy brought in $10,000 to support Heal with Horses.

In March, the Heal with Horses farm was a venue on the Maple in the County tour and Latchford-Kulker sold homemade dark chocolate maple crunch bark, maple cupcakes, maple popcorn and huge quantities of cotton candy.

Now, the ever-resourceful mother of three is branching out into wine. Last fall, she organized a "Chardon-neigh" wine tour. Fortyfive riders on horseback gathered at her farm and 10 people rode alongside on a wagon pulled by a pair of Percheron horses. The group visited six local wineries, stopped for lunch at The Grange of Prince Edward County. Latchford-Kulker sent them all home happy with a wine glass stuffed with cotton candy.

“What’s really great about what I do is the opportunity to utilize all of the talents that I’ve acquired in my life thus far,” says Latchford- Kulker. “The creativity in making delicious food and my love of animals and nature — it’s so good to be able to share all of these gifts.”

Heal with Horses
997 Danforth Rd., Hillier, Ont., 613.399.5952

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