GREENFIELD — A local horseback-riding therapy center will expand its programming under new ownership.
After years of struggling to sustain itself, nonprofit Edelweiss Equine-Assisted Therapy Center has donated its assets, including horses and tack, to Agape Therapeutic Riding Resources. Agape, which has sites in Cicero and Martinsville, has pledged to continue local services at 531 W. County Road 100S and also add additional riding classes at the newly christened Agape East.
Agape recently signed a three-year lease with the Hancock County Community Foundation, which owns the property where Edelweiss operated. During the transition, Agape leaders announced plans to offer group riding classes in Greenfield, a staple at Agape’s two other locations, when the season starts April 30.
Both businesses have historically specialized in offering therapeutic riding to people with disabilities.
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The Greenfield farm, boasting some 155 acres, was donated by Louis Strahl in 1999 to the foundation; 23 acres comprise the pasture where the therapy center is located.
Edelweiss, founded in 1995 by Elisa Bell, was designed to help students overcome the challenges of physical and cognitive disabilities through working with horses. Edelweiss boasted a roster of about 50 volunteers over the years and worked with an annual operating budget of some $160,000.
The transfer of assets to Agape comes after years of instability for Edelweiss, with two executive directors named to the organization in as many years. First, Thomas Flanagan, a former band director for the Eastern Hancock school district, took over as executive director in January 2015. Cara Pfaff, a former military police officer in the U.S. Army National Guard, followed, taking on the role nine months later after Flanagan stepped down for personal reasons. Pfaff left in early 2016.
Bethann Kropacek then stepped into a leadership position as a program director for the nonprofit. Another executive director was not named.
Community foundation president Mary Gibble said she’s pleased to partner with Agape, which has operated in central Indiana since 1986, to continue to provide therapeutic riding services area residents came to enjoy under Edelweiss.
She knew the decision to dissolve was not easy for Edelweiss’ leaders, who “cared passionately about the mission” to serve those with special needs, she said.
In addition to difficulty maintaining its staff and volunteer corps, property accidents troubled the organization over the past several years. A November 2015 windstorm damaged three horse barns, leaving the charity’s nine horses without shelter for the winter months. Pfaff asked the community to help raise about $5,000 to replace the damaged barns.
In August 2016, a horse in training to become a therapy animal at the site was struck and killed in a hit-and-run accident. Police said it appeared the horse became entangled while trying to jump a fence at the property line, causing the horse to fall into the road, unable to free itself. A car then likely ran over the horse before driving away from the area, police said. The animal — a standardbred named Malachi — was dead when officers arrived.
In December, the organization’s leaders again reached out to the community for help with its goal of raising $16,000 to replace dilapidated fencing in response to the horse’s death.
Agape executive director Amanda Bocik said Edelweiss laid a foundation for the organization to build upon.
“We are honored to continue this mission alongside the Hancock County Community Foundation,” she said.
Agape Founders Cheryl Miller and her daughter, Dawn Miller, began the organization with a summer riding program for children with disabilities but dreamed of offering the therapeutic riding services year round, Bocik said. Dawn Miller died in 1992, and Cheryl Miller fulfilled their dream in 1994, purchasing a farm north of Indianapolis to become a year-round therapeutic riding center, she said.
Agape is a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship Certified therapeutic riding center, offering therapeutic riding and carriage driving. Equine-facilitated learning classes for groups of five to 20 teach and reinforce life skills like communication and confidence; and leadership and youth development classes aid individual and team performance, according to Agape’s website.
Agape will continue the Edelweiss veterans’ program pairing vets with therapy horses and children with disabilities, Bocik said.
The 10 horses formerly owned by Edelweiss have been moved to Agape’s other locations for the winter, but they will return to the site in April before classes begin April 30, she said.
The organization seeks to hire a site manager and instructors for its newest location. Those who volunteered with Edelweiss are encouraged to apply to volunteer with Agape as well, Bocik said. A form is available at agaperiding.org. Those who sign up will be taken through an orientation and training process to bring everyone up to speed, she said.
All former Edelweiss volunteers received an email this week encouraging them to sign up with the new organization, said volunteer and former Edelweiss board member Jill Snyder.
She said it’s been a smooth process, transferring to Agape’s leadership, and it’s customary for volunteers to be re-trained every year, so going through Agape’s orientation will not seem unusual.
“I’m thrilled for our classes in April, and I can’t wait to get back out as a volunteer,” she said. “I anticipate our program will be bigger than ever, and I’m incredibly excited for it.”
She encouraged all past riders and volunteers to return to the pastures this spring.
Blue Jeans and Dreams
6 p.m. July 12
11951 East 30th St., Indianapolis, IN 46229
Tickets are $50 and include food, games and entertainment, music and line-dancing. Hancock County band Joe Hess and the Wandering Cowboys will perform.
More info: bluejeansanddreams.org.