Local therapeutic riding program could be forced to close because of pandemic

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LUCKEY (WTVG) - The pandemic has put a real strain on a lot of families, businesses and non-profit organizations around the region. Serenity Farm is no different, having to make deep cuts, and its future is up in the air.

The Wood County therapeutic riding program in Luckey has been a vital part of the community for nearly two decades. It has used horses to help hundreds of people heal since it first opened its doors in 2001.

However, the program may come to a halt because of the COVID-19 crisis. Some of the horses could also be sold.

Karis Wenzel, 3, has made remarkable progress at Serenity, thanks to the people and a special pony named Sky. Her mother Rachel says it has been a life-changing place for the family.

"My child went from not being able to sit up independently, to being able to sit up, play with toys, lay down on her own. And it all came from the horses here at Serenity. They do have a magic about them," said Rachel.

Karis has a neurological disorder called Rett Syndrome.

"If this isn't here, I don't know if she will regress. Rett Syndrome does not stabilize, it continues to get worse. And if she does not have this therapy, I do not know what that will mean long-term for my daughter," said Rachel.

The horses help people both physically and emotionally. The programs focus on working with everything from PTSD and physical abuse to people with autism and multiple sclerosis.

It's hard for the woman who started it all to imagine a world without this place. Debra DeHoff combined her love of horses and social work to create the farm.

"It's emotional to think about losing this place. The people and the horses here have made such a difference in this world. We just take it one day at a time. We pick out the good things in that day," said Debra.

Serenity's budget has taken a huge hit because of the lack of fundraisers and no therapy programs.

"This is not what we thought we'd be doing this year. We had a sold out program, we had a sold out curriculum. Everything was sold out. We did not open in April, May or June. Our budget is about $50,000 short because of everything. We are hoping for a soft opening in July with a limited number of people," said Debra.

Deep budget cuts have been made, but if this goes on much longer, those cuts may not be enough.

"So many people have worked for so many years to keep this going. The thought of it all going down the drain because of this unbelievably strange year, is heartbreaking to think about," executive director Amanda Cajka said.

The cuts could eventually include having fewer horses.

"All of our horses love their jobs and they are here because they do an amazing job. They are hardworking. The thought of them losing their jobs through no fault of their own, is hard to think about," said Amanda.

The hope is that Sky and all the other horses and ponies at Serenity can continue doing what they've done for Karis and so many others for years to come.

"We need to re-invent ourselves, and we need the community behind us to keep us here," said Debra.

A GoFundMe campaign has been started to help Serenity Farm.