OAKDALE — It's said it takes a village to raise a child. A village with horses, kids at Day on the Farm might add. The annual event north of Oakdale put on by the Society for Handicapped Children and Adults lets children with special needs pet animals, and their families feel like part of a village.
As Jessica Petty, 18, and Scott Wickham, 15, ate lunch, grandmother Roberta Petty said the teens liked the horse rides the best, but her favorite thing was the socializing. "A lot of times they're kind of isolated, in their special classes," she said.
Scott, who is deaf and autistic, has gained the most, Petty said. "He's so much more social than he was. He would have been sitting out under a tree a few years ago," she said, watching her grandson eating happily in the center of a crowded table.
Petty has raised the two since her daughter's death when they were young. "God has given me the best thing to do with the rest of my life," she said.
Day on the Farm gave her a chance to bring more smiles to their faces. "It's just amazing to see them being able to do things that other kids can do, the enjoyment they get," she said.
Nine-year-old Hannah Ternus rode a horse, held a kitten and petted a range of barnyard animals Saturday. Mom Pam Ternus said she heard about the event from other parents and plans to attend other events with Hannah, who wears a leg brace and can struggle with balance.
"There's just nothing for kids with disabilities. I've asked even the medical professionals. There's nothing out there," Ternus said. She's looking forward to a bike clinic the society holds each spring to teach even tippy kids to ride.
Wheelchair rider Tayler Greener, 13, held kittens in her lap and met other animals touring the barn and petting area. "We're finding more venues she can go to," said dad Chuck Greener. Bowling, he added, has been a hit.
Hay rides, a petting zoo, storytelling, planting seeds and crafts were all part of the day at Sanchez Farms outside Oakdale. But riding horses seemed to be the runaway favorite.
Owner Jim Sanchez, now retired, raises thoroughbreds for racing but has acquired a wide variety of rescued or hand-me-down farm animals he keeps just for the kids.
Sheep, longhorn steer, llamas, miniature horses, a donkey, calves and others came when called with a shake of a food bin. They earn their keep putting up with petting from clumsy hands and overly eager admirers.
Preparation takes time
Patti Sanchez said it took days of cleaning to get the paddocks and airy barn ready for company. The Sanchezes became farm day hosts after volunteering at a Day on the Farm event three years ago, the same day the farmer was notified he would lose his property to foreclosure.
They volunteered their ranch to keep the event going. The Oakdale Lions pitch in, barbecuing lunch for the 46 participants plus dozens of volunteers. "We love doing these programs," said organizer Mike Mack. "The best part for us is just knowing that these kids are being taken care of."
Day on the Farm is only one of the society's annual events, said Executive Director Marci Boucher. The first of four water skiing days is coming up Saturday. Winter snow skiing, bowling, golf, horseback riding and sign language classes also are offered.
Watching parents chat while kids rode calm quarterhorses led by volunteers, Boucher said: "The best part is they're doing it as a family, together."
For more on events of the Society for Handicapped Children and Adults, go to http://societyforhandicapped.org.