Horsey Healing: Behind the Magic of “Paddington” and Possibilities Farm

GOOD Morning Wilton writer Lily Kepner wrote this story in early February, shortly before COVID-19 appeared in our area and monopolized the headlines. We’re publishing it now because we wanted to share a GOOD story about healing thanks to an unexpected source, and show how everyone is adjusting during the pandemic.

Even though social distancing has forced many of Possibilities Farm, LLC‘s in-person operations to be put on hold, owner Carrie Brady has swiftly acted to make resources available online for the community. The online support includes 12 free COVID-19 support videos centered on soothing sounds and relaxation, as well as an opportunity to schedule private phone coaching, phone horse wisdom coaching sessions and distance energy work. On April 24, Brady hosted her first Zoom “open house” to spread horsey joy virtually with the community. Additionally, Brady has created many other virtual opportunities, including Virtual Equine-Assisted Reiki, Virtual Coaching with Horses, and Virtual Meditation/Horse Wisdom Circles available through Zoom. She also just released a link where clients can make donations to help support her business during COVID-19.

On one particularly chilly day, a “mini-mobile” rolled into Stamford Hospital‘s parking lot, with Paddington, a miniature pony from Wilton resident Carrie Brady‘s Possibilities Farm, LLC, in tow for a very special visit.

Sydney, a 17-year-old equestrian, had been forced to take a break from riding and was a patient at Stamford Hospital. She was receiving treatment for a rare condition called Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome (MALS), in which the median arcuate ligament puts pressure on the celiac artery, creating inflammation that can prevent the patient from eating.

But thanks to Paddington and Brady, Sydney’s recovery did not have to be horse-free, when they stopped by to offer a surprise greeting and visit. The petite pony instantly boosted the spirits of not only Sydney but two other patients as well, giving them the unique joy that comes in a furry, four-hoof-ed package.

“That childlike sense of wonder and joy comes back for people, even people who are having very difficult situations in their life, physical challenges or whatever, that might be bothering them,” Brady said. “They take one look at Paddington, and that’s all gone.”

Brady said one of the most touching parts of the visit was when Sydney told her that she hopes to start her own mini-horse therapy visits in the future.

“She was just amazed and so excited and just immediately reaching out to Paddington and just thrilled,” Brady said, adding how moving it was to help Sydney experience it.

The reaction to Paddington was captured in a video posted by Stamford Health on Facebook. The gleeful response of the patients greeting the pony were infectious:  the video was viewed more than 6,000 times.

For Paddington, this is his calling, Brady said. Knowing she wanted a miniature pony for in-person visits away from the farm, Brady spent a long time looking for the perfect pony. In 2017, Paddington was the 39th horse out of the 40 Brady met at a rescue, and almost instantly she knew he was the one.

“He just seemed to me like the kind of horse who would love it,” Brady said.

Since then, Brady has exposed Paddington to nearly every stimulus she could think of to de-sensitize him and make him road trip-ready. Over about six months, Brady exposed Paddington to wheelchairs, crutches, tarps, applause and even a giant stuffed pig to make him amenable to being on the go; in turn she learned his signals to better understand and communicate with him when they do visits.

Today, three years since joining Possibilities Farm, Paddington is still up for anything and more than willing to meet new friends.

“If you say the word ‘adventure’,” Brady said, whispering so Paddington couldn’t hear, “He’s ready to go, trots up the hill to the van, pops right in and goes. He loves to go,” Brady said.

Paddington has traveled to the Wilton Hardware Store, outside Town Hall, Petco by Walmart and Dover Saddlery in Ridgefield, always delighting people when he appears. He has been to Nursing Homes, Ridgefield Shakespeare Festival on the Greens, and has even been a “spokes-horse” at a non-profit launch event.

“It’s been a really lovely community thing,” Brady said.

When he’s not out on the town, Paddington lives tucked in the woods of Wilton along with Sweet Potato, the farm’s “Chief Equine Officer”; Mere, “the Scout”; and Moon, Paddington’s miniature pony companion at Possibilities Farm, where even more healing happens.

Possibilities Farm was a dream of Brady‘s ever since she was little. When she was a kid, no matter what she was doing she felt better around horses, she said. Possibilities Farm was created to be a place where even people who weren’t interested in riding could appreciate horses.

“I wanted to create a place where people would interact with horses … because I am convinced they’re so good for us and they have so much to teach us about how to be in the moment and how to operate as a herd and support one another,” Brady said.

Brady said that because horses are herd animals, they are in tune with each other in a way most humans are not.

“They have a lot to teach us about different ways of thinking and being in the world and accepting who we are, what our strengths are, and recognizing all the possibilities,” Brady said. “That’s why I called it Possibilities Farm, because horses will meet you where you are in the moment and if […] you change your behavior or change your way of thinking, they respond immediately because they’re with you.”

As she spoke her horse Mere let out a resounding whinny. “Yes!” Brady replied, “We are the dream come true!”

Possibilities Farm offers Personal Retreats centered around mindfulness, navigating change, self-care, and confidence, Team Building, Equine-assisted Reiki, drum circles, Meditation, and Powerful Play, a program that helps people reignite their child-like creativity. Brady said she has had groups from mental health and addiction services, sports teams, groups of entrepreneurs, and groups of teenagers participate in retreats and will customize the event to a group’s needs.

The horses participate in these activities on their own volition and give Brady unique insight and assistance, she said.

“Everything that happens here the horses do by choice, they’re never required so they can go in and out as they see fit. But it’s been three and a half years and they always show up,” Brady said. “I’m very blessed that they love what they do.”

Each program takes advantage of the idea that horses can provide unique wisdom into what it means to be present and additionally, because of their experience in a herd, are a tune to recognizing emotional or physical changes in individuals–horse or human alike–and responding.

Brady recounts a story of something that happened during a recent retreat, during an activity where participants write on a post-it what they believe is holding them back and then stick each note to a cone throughout the horse pasture. They then lead the horses through the cones. During this particular instance, Sweet Potato approached one cone, picked it up with its mouth, and began swinging it around, acting uncharacteristically aggressive to the object. The client leading him began to cry, Brady said, confessing that the sticky note on the cone said “you’re not good enough.” Through Potato’s response to her body language, the client was able to realize that what held her back wasn’t any of the reasons she thought, but rather because she didn’t believe in herself.

Whether at the hospital, at their home base, in the Walmart Parking Lot or in Town Center, horsey healing is in the air with Possibilities Farm.

“It’s amazing and I’m grateful every day for these horses and their willingness to do this,” Brady said.