ANDOVER — This type of therapy and support has a lot of horse power behind it.
And for veterans returning home from service and combat, being on the back of a horse could be just the kind of help and friendship needed.
Ironstone Farm continues to support veterans with horseback riding therapy and other services and is now building a home for those veterans to stay when coming to the 19-acre Lowell Road farm for retreat weekends and other programs.
At a ceremony Friday morning, Ironstone supporters, volunteers and staff gathered to celebrate the new home's progress, and also a $50,000 donation from Raytheon, a big supporter of what the farm does to help veterans and others of all ages with varying degrees of disability or challenges.
Raytheon's Employee Veterans Network, not only provides financial support, but volunteers are helping build the new farmhouse retreat.
For the veterans, being at the farm can offer simple solace interacting with the resident horses, either riding, or just being near the animals.
"They relax here, it's respite," said Neil Fater, Ironstone marketing director. "That's why having this house is so important."
The farmhouse is the original, but will grow and be renovated into a larger, 14-bedroom facility, Fater said.
Ironstone was founded in 1960 as a facility for thoroughbred horses but later, through the vision of founder Richard Donovan, became a place to share with and support people with challenging disabilities through therapeutic riding sessions. That vision led to the formation of a nonprofit, Challenge Unlimited, that took control of the farm in 2001 to ensure children up through adults continued to benefit from the therapy and farm programs.
That included veterans returning home from service, transitioning back to civilian life and often finding themselves needing support in various ways, even on the back of a horse.
Ironstone, with its 35 horses in residence, may see up to 1,500 clients per year, with 200 volunteers also at the farm to assist with therapeutic riding and other educational, recreational and life-skill programs.
Ages of those taking to the back of a horse can range from toddler up to an elder 80-year-old.
Fater said therapists bring their clients — cancer survivors, at-risk teens, children with special needs, elders suffering from memory issues, and veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorders — to Ironstone to spend time with horses, whether just gently walking alongside, or eventually climbing into the saddle. It's about gaining trust, and learning acceptance and self-discovery.
"It's a mutual connection," Fater said. "Horses can sense people's emotional state."
For veterans, being on the back of a horse can be life-changing for someone coming back from the military and needing to adjust to regular life among family and friends.
They come to Ironstone from local veterans hospitals, programs, or may be homeless, and want to turn their lives around, Fater said. Veterans also volunteer at the farm in a variety of ways.
The farm expects to offer 19 weekend retreats to more than 340 veterans and their families this year.
The program Home Base Veteran and Family Care has also sent hundreds of veterans and their families to Ironstone this year during immersive weekend retreats.
Armand Hunter, Home Base Associate Director of Veteran Outreach and Peer Support, said his organization welcomes veterans from all over the nation to take part in programs at the farm.
"We take them to Ironstone, they spend the weekend to recharge their batteries," Hunter said. "Some ride, some don't."
Shelby Baecker, retired commander in the U.S. Navy and now a Raytheon employee, said the farm and its veterans programs have meant a lot to him as he returned back to civilian life last year after serving 20 years in the military.
Being back on the home front is often a big challenge, Baecker said. For him, it was adapting to his family life again and his two small children.
Baecker served seven overseas deployments, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Japan. He offered thoughts during Friday's ceremony saying the new veterans house will offer a safe haven for generations to come.
"Some of the things we bring back home may be a little difficult," he said, adding at Ironstone, he feels like he's found a family and place to grow.
"It helped me understand what it means to come home," Baecker said. "And (Ironstone) you give them a home to come home to, you accept whatever challenge they are coming home to."
And when Baecker climbs on the back of a horse, it's a two-way street where respect and relationships are built.
The animal can sense emotions, the physical heartbeat of its rider, and when in perfect concert, both rider and horse can share a sense of emotional peace and contentment, Baecker said.
"And I think of myself as a reflection of the therapy animal," he said.
Ironstone Executive Director Deedee O'Brien said the farm's partnership with Raytheon has made the dream of providing a safe home for veterans a reality.
"The keyword is partnership," O'Brien said. "We have a common goal. They give so much for us."
As Veterans Day nears, area communities will honor their veterans with community services, events, breakfasts and parades.
Here is a listing of some of what area towns and cities will offer to celebrate veterans and their service.
Andover: Andover holds three brief ceremonies on Monday, Nov. 11, followed by a luncheon at the Ballardvale United Church at 1 p.m., 23 Clark Road. The ceremonies will be held at West Parish Cemetery at 10 a.m.; Spring Grove Cemetery at 11 a.m.; Ballardvale Green at noon. Veterans Day ceremonies are held rain or shine. If there is moderate to heavy rain, a brief ceremony will be held at noon at Elm Green, followed indoors at Ballardvale United Church.
Haverhill: On Monday, Nov. 11, parade forms at 10 a.m. in front of 64 Kenoza Ave. (former VFW), then marches at 10:30 a.m. to Monument Square, down Main Street to Global Peace Monument on Ginty Boulevard for traditional ceremony. Buffet lunch follows at the American Legion Farm, 1314 Main St.
Lawrence: Disabled American Veterans Queen City Chapter 2, holds a wreath laying ceremony on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, at the memorial honoring World War I and World War II veterans at the end of Ames Street, above the reservoir. In keeping with tradition, the ceremony honoring those who gave their lives for freedom, takes place at 11:11 a.m. All are welcome to attend. Disabled American Veterans Queen City Chapter 2, chartered in 1931, is oldest active D.A.V. chapter in the state of Massachusetts and has an award-winning service center located at 112 East Haverhill St. in Lawrence.
The City of Lawrence Veterans Services will host a veterans memorial ceremony, 11 a.m. Monday, Nov. 11, at South Lawrence East, 161 Crawford St. Keynote speaker is Councilor David Abdoo.
Methuen: On Monday, Nov. 11, Ron Marsan’s annual veterans breakfast at Country Kitchen, Hampshire Street, 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. Annual parade forms at 9:30 a.m. at American Legion Post 122, 200 Broadway, steps off at 10 a.m. Parade route heads north on Broadway to clock tower, left on Hampshire Street, left on Lowell Street past Central Fire Station, left onto Grove to Walnut Grove for ceremony. After ceremony, parade reforms and returns to American Legion Post 122 via same route.
Arnold Greenwood Post 8349 holds a ceremony at the veterans’ lot at Elmwood Cemetery, 130 North Lowell St., noon.
City of Methuen Veterans Office poster contest winners announced at VFW Post 8349 at 1:15 p.m.
If parade is cancelled due to bad weather, the ceremony is held at the American Legion Post, 200 Broadway at 10 a.m. For more information, contact the City of Methuen Veterans’ office at 978-983-8585.
North Andover: The Patriotic Committee hosts a Veterans Day parade and ceremony on Monday, Nov. 11, 10:15 a.m. The parade starts at First and Main Plaza, with ceremony immediately following at Patriots Memorial Park. In the case of bad weather, services are moved to the middle school’s Veterans Auditorium at 10:30 a.m.
Atkinson: A veterans breakfast and ceremony is held Monday, Nov. 11, at the Atkinson Community Center. A light breakfast for veterans, their families and friends begins at 9 a.m. with a ceremony held outside at 10 a.m., co-sponsored by Atkinson Recreation, Atkinson Lions Club and Atkinson Women’s Civic Club. Local Scouts will be participating.
Danville: Monday, Nov. 11, a service is held at 11 a.m. at the veterans memorial. Veterans and guests are invited to share time afterward at American Legion Post 115, and Kingston Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1088.
Derry: On Monday, Nov. 11, Pinkerton Academy hosts its annual Veterans Day breakfast, 7 to 9:30 a.m., sponsored by the Class of 2023.
A Blessing of Veterans service is held Nov. 11, 10 a.m. at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 63 East Broadway, followed by services in MacGregor Park at 10:30 a.m. Following the services, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1617 hosts an open house at the post home on Railroad Avenue, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., with visits to veterans at area nursing homes and retirement facilities to follow.
Hampstead: Monday, Nov. 11, Veterans Day observance, 11 a.m. to noon at Hampstead Middle School cafeteria. The program includes patriotic songs, an Air Force JROTC Color Guard, and special presentations. For information contact Howie Steadman, chairman of the Patriotic Purposes Committee at 603-329-4288.
Londonderry: Veterans are honored Saturday, Nov. 9 with the annual veterans breakfast, beginning at 8 a.m. in the high school cafeteria. A ceremony will be held following the breakfast at the high school. The parade has been cancelled due to construction at the Town Common.
Newton: Monday, Nov. 11, Veterans Day pancake breakfast, 10 to 11 a.m. at Memorial School, 31 West Main St., honors ceremony outside at 11:11 a.m.
Pelham: Monday, Nov. 11, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion rifle squad ceremony, 9 a.m., Veterans Park. Service at 11 a.m. at Pelham Gibson Cemetery. After cemetery service a light lunch is served at Pelham VFW Post 10722.
Plaistow: Monday, Nov. 11, 9:30 a.m. services on Town Green, if raining, services moved to Great Hall.
Salem: Monday, Nov. 11, service at Veterans Park at Town Common, Main Street, followed by visits to Pine Grove Cemetery.
Sandown: Sandown Heritage Commission honors Veterans Day with a special program, “The History of the U.S. Submarine Force and the Loss of U.S.S. Thresher” on Sunday, Nov. 10, 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Sandown Town Hall, 320 Main St., Local submarine veteran Peter J. Koester gives a multi-media presentation on the history of the United State Submarine Force.
Light refreshments will be served and donations accepted to support the Heritage Commission.