A passion for animals
Heather Blouin has always loved horses. Now she is hoping to inspire others to draw on their passion for animals by visiting the Grand River Ranch.
“It’s like I put two and two and two together,” said Blouin, who started the Cow Girl Strong program at the ranch to help girls and women with special needs to learn life skills and ranch work. Blouin, who owns the ranch with her husband, Rick, says what helped with the decision was seeing how well her daughter responds and learns when she is with animals.
“You can see it when she comes into the barn. She’ll go see every animal, touch them, smell them; she uses all of her senses taking in every bit naturally.”
Currently there are about four participants in the program, which runs Wednesday evenings and Friday during the day.
Karen Chapman is one of the participants.
Through the program, Chapman has seen the number of migraines she suffers decrease substantially.
“I used to have about three migraines a week. Now I rarely have any.”
Chapman’s favourite part about coming to the ranch is seeing a horse named Cinderella’s Fantasy.
“Cinder is my horse. When I think of coming to the ranch and think of Cinder, nothing else matters,” said Chapman, as she brushes the horse’s mane.
“Coming here makes me happy. I have a routine and I know I’m coming to a place where I’m loved. It makes me feel like I have somewhere where I belong.”
This has been the best summer ever, said Chapman.
“I look forward to my time when I come here. It has really helped me.”
An average day for the program’s participants starts when the girls arrive and begin to clean the animals’ pens and food and water dishes.
“After the barn is tidied, we’ll go in for our own treat and have a cup of coffee or a snack in the house.
“After that we’ll head back out and they’ll groom the horses and make sure they have everything they need.”
But the participants take on other jobs as well.
“We manage part of what was Cackleberry Farms Orchard.”
A farm up the road owns the other portion of the former Cackleberry property.
“The girls have helped me prune the trees and get the orchard prepared. In the fall they’ll help with picking apples.”
Chapman says working in the orchard is fun because it allows them to drive the Gator.
“We’ll load the bed up with branches and go for a ride. It’s a lot of work but a lot of fun.”
Blouin says what makes the ranch special is the ability to share her passion.
“It’s really great when you can take your passion, use it to help someone and then see them develop their own,” she said motioning to Chapman and Cinder.
“They get to build relationships and bonds, but also learn how to work with their hands. What’s more, they get the opportunity to think of something other than themselves.”
Heather Blouin, left, owner of Grand River Ranch, Karen Chapman and Kayla MacLeod near the horses’ paddock with some of the other ranch residents.
Karen Chapman pets horse Cinderella’s Fantasy at the Grand River Ranch. Heather Blouin and her husband run the ranch. They offer services for those with special needs to come to the ranch and learn new skills.