by Gloria Welton
During the National AccessAbility Week in May, ResourceAbilities and the Supported Employment Network of PEI presented an award for Inclusive Employer of the Year.
The Excellence in Employment Inclusion award went to Heather Blouin, owner of Grand River Ranch. The ranch offers alternative programming for all abilities.
Inclusive employers recognize the value of diversity and actively seek to create a workforce that is representative of different backgrounds, cultures, experiences, abilities, and identities and create an environment where all employees feel respected, supported, and empowered.
“Heather Blouin and Grand River Ranch are an excellent example of this,” says Devon Broome, ResourceAbilities Executive Director. “We are proud of our relationship with Heather and look forward to continued collaboration in supporting our clients.
“By embracing equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility we tap into a wide range of perspectives, ideas, and insights that can lead to innovation, creativity, and problem-solving. We encourage all employers to follow Heathers example and to reach out to us for more information on becoming a disability confident employer.”
“We offer equestrian programing,” says Heather. “At the ranch we believe animals and nature offer an opportunity for growth.” Most people are referred to the programming through the provincial AccessAbility Supports program.
“Each week, about 70 participants gather at our ranch and the horses are the teachers. Seven years ago, we had two participants, and the number has increased to where we are today.
In 2020, amidst pandemic restrictions, it was decided to build an indoor facility. “Staff from ResourceAbilities were instrumental in pointing out slight changes that were needed to make the new building fully accessible.”
Heather says all the suggestions were put into place without it being a huge expense. Suggestions included where to put the light switches, having fully accessible washrooms, and adding lighted exit signs. “The small changes made a huge difference to our facility.
“Our business philosophy is about working hard, and about how everyone has something to offer. We emphasis teamwork, and we say things in a positive manner. And we simply care about the people and animals around us.
“I have been around horses my entire life. I have worked in various areas. I am a Social Worker, a Probation Officer, and a Homecare Coordinator. Seven years ago, I had a young adult at my home for respite care on the weekends. She did incredibly well working around the farm even though the rest of the world was a challenge for her.
“I am a single mother of two adopted children. I realized early on that if the whole world was a barn yard, my daughter would be very successful. I decided to combine my social work background with my love of horses and find a niche to deliver what we are today.”
Heather says she is an example of that old saying: if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.
The research around horse therapy is powerful. “Horses give immediate feedback on the energy we share with them.
“They create a sense of mindfulness like no other and this has a huge impact on one’s mental health.”
She explained that horses live in the moment and react in real time. In order to engage with a horse, the person must be in the moment and concentrate on clear and concise direction and care so that trust can be built.
“Horses give us a sense of calm, which was not fully understood until recently. It was discovered that because a horses heart is four times larger than human’s, it only beats 30 times per minute, which is much slower than humans. Research showed that when we are close to a horse, it will calm our heart down. Endorphins get released and affect our stress levels in a positive way.
“There is also a huge sense of accomplishment when working around horses. We work with people to help them to see the correlation between their accomplishments with horses and how they can build relationships with people.”
Heather says when people learn to deal with horses kindly, clearly, and sometimes firmly, that learned behaviour can be transferred to their dealings with people.
“Horses provide great relationship-building experiences. It is a really cool process when you start working with a 1,000-pound animal and get incredible results by using the right methods. People can transfer that into their relationships.
“Our participants take on all the care the horses require for the daily needs, including feeding, cleaning the stalls, grooming, riding, and more.
“We see so much growth in the people who come to our ranch,” says Heather with great emotion. “Each and every day my team posts photos on Facebook of their great progress. I often joke it is like having a birthday party every single day.”
Heather started her ranch with two horses and now there are 10. “My staff has grown to 11 people, and we are blessed with 15 more key players. We have an impeccable team of certified riding instructors, we have people from community services programs who come to work for us, we have a retired counsellor onsite, we have teenagers who are getting great exposure to this field of work, and we have those who are working on their education plan.
“We provide continuous learning opportunities to our team to make sure we are on the leading edge of training and services.
“We make every effort and take every opportunity to ensure our participants and our key players receive the most professionally-delivered program of its kind in the province. Few people are doing what we are doing, and we want to lead this industry on the Island with both safety and inclusiveness in mind.”