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Manes and Tails finds new home, programs on North Street

HOULTON, Maine — For years, Manes and Tails Aroostook, a non-profit organization formed by a network of volunteers to provide equine-assisted learning programs, dreamed of a centralized location where they could offer a variety of services to children throughout the region.

Now, thanks to the hard work of MTA board members, providers and countless volunteers, area children are now reaping the benefits of their efforts.

In May, Manes and Tails moved into its new home at the former Shiretown Stables on 560 North Street.

Shelley Taylor, president of Manes and Tails, gathered there on Aug. 21 with Jessica York, vice president of the organization, as well as Donna Chase, a clinician, and three of the volunteers who have spent the summer renovating and maintaining the infrastructure at the new location.

Cam Knowles, 3, rides a horse during the York’s of Houlton Kid’s Day on Aug. 23, 2018 to benefit Manes and Tails of Aroostook. In May, Manes and Tails moved into its new home at the former Shiretown Stables on 560 North Street. Manes and Tails has spent the summer offering pony camps to local children, teaching them basic grooming skills with a goal of learning how to ride. They also have offered private lessons, therapeutic sessions and horse agility.(Courtesy of Kathleen Harrigan)

“We could not have done all of the work that we have without our volunteers,” Taylor said. “We have some volunteers who are coming here for at least four hours for six, sometimes seven days a week to help us, while others have come two or three days a week. It really has been a team effort.”

Manes and Tails participated in the Houlton Entrepreneur Challenge last year, and although the organization did not win, they impressed the judges with their efforts, according to Nancy Ketch, economic and community development director for the town. After refining their business plan, the group obtained the funds to purchase their new stables.

The process of revamping the expansive farm remains an ongoing process, according to the group. They have one significant fencing project remaining along with some internal fencing work, in concert with roof repairs, painting, insulation and winterization to be completed and construction remaining on kick walls in the shelters and a wall inside the arena.

While that is underway, Manes and Tails has spent the summer offering pony camps to local children, teaching them basic grooming skills with a goal of learning how to ride. They also have offered private lessons, therapeutic sessions and horse agility.

All of that is leading up to one of their biggest goals thus far at the North Street facility, an after school “Farm Life” program open to all Houlton and Hodgdon students each day that school is in session. The equine therapy program will take place from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and will feature a variety of equine and student support services that both Taylor and York believe will benefit not just the children involved, but their families as well.

York said the equestrian programs will teach the students skills such as how to interact with the horses and build relationships while also creating boundaries and raising their confidence levels. They will also work on their focus, using their voices and stepping up as leaders. At the same time, Manes and Tails will be offering tutoring services at no extra cost, along with art lessons, goat milking, soap making, music lessons and more.

Taylor said that “there is no limit,” to what they could potentially do with both the program and the facility, adding that volunteers were signing on to assist with workshops centered on woodcraft and small engine repair.

Nancy Ketch, Houlton’s economic and community development director, said Tuesday that the town had received preliminary approval for a $50,000 application it had submitted to the Maine Community Development Block Grant  program on behalf of Manes and Tails in June. Ketch said Tuesday that she has already participated in a required training to administer the grant. The public service grant will support the expansion of equine assisted learning and therapy programs targeting youth from low to moderate income families.

York said that the grant will enable them to expand scholarship opportunities so that more children can take part in their equine therapy program.

Taylor said that there is a lot of support for Manes and Tails in their current location.

“We have gotten some great feedback from the community and we’ve had a great summer here thus far,” she said. “I can’t say enough about the response from our volunteers. It has just been tremendous.”

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