Our Narnia – where the five senses and horse sense, collide.

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” – John Burroughs
Photo by Jessie Wiley

Photo by Jessie Wiley

In April 2013, a group of sixteen individuals – therapeutic riding instructors, music therapists, parents, teachers, medical professionals and equestrians – came together in the middle of Rocky Creek Ranch, a 524-acre equestrian property in Statesville, NC. It was here – amidst a property rich in history and wild in nature – that The Discovery Trail at Rocky Creek was born, and an equine-accessible, multi-dimensional outdoor sensory experience [intended for therapeutic and educational use], would come to be.

A year later, and after a lot of planning, the very first posts went in the ground, launching a mission to create an environment for all ages and abilities to: experience the outdoors in a safe and delightful way; reach for and achieve therapeutic, educational and personal goals; and have an opportunity to learn from, and develop a relationship with horses {and other animals, including wildlife}.

For those in the therapeutic riding or equine-assisted therapy fields, the idea of a “sensory trail” is not a new one. By definition, a sensory trail is a sequential outdoor experience that incorporates cognitive, visual, auditory, tactile and olfactory sensory integration, promotes fine and gross motor skills, visual tracking, hand-eye coordination, and motor planning. Often, sensory trails incorporate the letters of the alphabet, A through Z, to mark the stops along the way. Sensory trails are commonly seen at Therapeutic Riding Center facilities, allowing children and adults the opportunity to experience cognitive development and stimulation while on the back of a horse. And while The Discovery Trail is home to a herd of wonderful therapeutic equines, the creators of the project felt that a sensory trail experience can be useful to more than just riding clients, incorporating mental health development and treatment plans, adult respite and learning, youth education, family fitness and a true love for nature.

Featuring twenty-six sensory stations (A-Z), a family-friendly Fit-Trail, and a "hands-on" Equine Lifecycle Experience, the Discovery Trail aims to set an example as a best-in-class facility for experiential therapy and learning; offering therapists, educators, parents, groups and equestrians an opportunity to expand the experience of their clients, children and themselves. Each of the sensory stations, inspired by a letter of the alphabet, incorporate experiential therapy and learning; sensory integration and natural play. Guests can explore the trail and stations on their own, or they can request guidance and curriculum. There are also private, safe spaces for therapists and their clients to trade in traditional talk therapy for nature’s office; incorporating eco-based or equine-facilitated activities to positively impact one's personal growth and development. While still under construction through 2016, the Discovery Trail is growing daily, and allows others the opportunity to field-test the stations, programs and therapeutic spaces.

In addition to accessing the stations on horseback or on foot, the Discovery Trail allows participants to become immersed in nature, to practice compassion and mindfulness, and to gain a greater understanding of how we should care for animals and each other. Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and boasting a historical lineage, diverse wildlife and miles of trails, the peacefulness of the space provides all who visit a chance to truly benefit from the wonder of our wild and natural environment, and learn first-hand from our equine partners.

As kids, we learn about our “classic” five senses: hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste. And even though they become the core of our sensory environment, The Discovery Trail believes there are so many more than that – one's sense of humor, balance, creativity, wonder... and of course, horse sense.

Wikipedia describes Narnia as: “...a fantasy world… where some animals can talk, mythical beasts abound, and magic is common....rolling hills rising into low mountains... and predominantly forested except for marshlands in the north…. where humans, usually children, enter from 'our world'...”

Those who drive by the farm, refer to it as “the mile-long fence” – literally, one mile of three-board horse fencing, with no sign of a building, animal or human from the road. But to those of us who enter the gates, it feels more like our own little Narnia. {There may even be a lion, somewhere...}

• • • • •
{Originally published in The Carolinas Equestrian Magazine, April/May 2016 Issue}

The Discovery Trail at Rocky Creek is a project of Equuvation Inc., a 501c3 non-profit organization. If you would like to volunteer, learn more about the programs offered, or utilize the space for your own clients, please visit: www.rcdiscoverytrail.org or www.facebook.com/thediscoverytrail