The founder and operator of the therapeutic riding program at Hinchinbrook Farm in Blockhouse is encouraging businesses and organizations to consider hiring people who have special needs, suggesting they often bring more to the table than other employees.
"The special needs is the least of it. They're still people inside. In fact, they might be even more developed inside because of the isolation that they've dealt with. They might be even more capable, in many ways, than people without disabilities who have had all of the advantages," says Patricia McGill.
McGill recently hired one of the riders she had coached in the program for the past 10 years. And she couldn't be happier with her performance.
"She's very good, very precise in her work. I love the work that she does," McGill said of 18-year-old Jaime Collicutt, who assists with cleaning the barn and grooming and feeding the animals, as well as leading some of the lessons for children.
McGill hired Collicutt, who lives in Willeville, through a Service Canada grant for youth development. With the grant funding and money raised by the Hinchinbrook Farm Society, Collicutt earns $12 hour for the 30 hours a week she works on the farm.
Two other students are employed at the farm through government programs as well.
Collicutt has Dravet Syndrome, which has manifested in seizures when her body temperature rises with a fever, for example.
According to McGill, it's not an issue while she works on the farm. She's never had a seizure there and even if she did the volunteers are trained in what to do. Equally important, Collicutt now is self-aware enough to prevent herself from overheating.
McGill says they don't do anything special with her. "I've sent her out to the woods and she's been out there putting up tents by herself. She's been out there cleaning boats by herself."
Collicutt speaks in a very calm and measured tone. She told LighthouseNOW the farm animals have been therapeutic. "I don't know how, but something in between them and me, it helped make me stop having seizures when I was around them. And we're trying to keep it going," she says.
McGill notes that a horse's magnetic field is proven to have a healing or stabilizing effect.
Collicutt recently graduated from Park View Education Centre. In September, she'll be entering into the Achieve Program at the Nova Scotia Community College's Lunenburg Campus in Bridgewater.
"It has a social perspective. It has an independence perspective. And it also has a perspective where you can set your own goals and achieve them," explained Collicutt.
Afterwards, she would like to "do something that involves people or animals or possibly both," she says.