GO Spring Horse Show

GO Spring Horse Show

Viewpoint of our student’s experience

It’s spring, which means show time! Saturday, May 28 our students, volunteers, staff, board members, and families came together to showcase the progress of our students.

BBQ Lunch was served and new Great Oak merch proved to be very popular! View the photos, below.

“A Toast to Great Oak” a Great Success

“A Toast to Great Oak” a Great Success

“A Toast to Great Oak” was held at Great Oak Equine Assisted Programs on Sunday, April 24, 2022.  During a beautiful Spring day on Great Oak’s 40-acre farm, 200 guests enjoyed a Working Equitation exhibition performed by Carlos Carneiro, followed by a lesson demonstration taught by Lead Instructor, Eva Finnan where three of Great Oak’s students had the opportunity to ride their favorite “GO” Pony through the Working Equitation obstacle course, featuring advanced level obstacles such as the speer ring, the bell corridor, and the sidepass rail.

Carneiro is a talented classical dressage trainer, instructor, and breeder of Lusitano horses from Portugal who has recently moved to Aiken.  His demonstration aboard Beleza, a 15-year-old Lusitano displayed the discipline of Working Equitation which promotes collaboration between traditional styles of riding used during ranch and fieldwork in various countries, like Spain, Portugal, and Brazil.  After his demonstration, Carlos met each rider from Great Oak and offered them some tips for navigating the course!

As the guests entered the Bruce Duchossois Indoor Riding Arena they were presented with a buffet featuring some of Aiken’s finest chefs, including Blue Collard, Newberry Hall, The Willcox, Solo Vino, Board in Aiken, La Parisienne, New Moon, Teresa Fash, and Busy Bakers in a beautiful arena decorated by Liz Turnquist and Carol Pexa with greenery from their personal gardens and decor from All Star Tents and Events. One lucky attendee won a raffle basket with a three-night stay at the Greystone Inn, a personalized picnic from Cedar Mountain Outpost, and a gift certificate to Prime Steakhouse.  

Attendees were educated on the growth of Great Oak’s programs and service offerings during the last four years and Great Oak’s Executive Director, Nicole Pioli, expresses her gratitude to the Events Committee, chaired by Judy McConnell and Gail King, for their efforts to put on a beautiful event which allowed so many guests to come to the farm for the first time. “’A Toast to Great Oak’” was the first opportunity we have had to host an event on the farm to raise much-needed support for our life transformative programs that are offered every day on the farm.” said Great Oak’s Executive Director, Nicole Pioli.

Great Oak’s mission is to provide equine assisted activities that promote the physical, emotional, and psychological health of individuals with disabilities.  Great Oak is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that currently provides these services to over 300 individuals per month. Contributions from “A Toast to Great Oak” support the care for the herd of horses and Great Oak’s Scholarship Fund.

Great Oak x Garden Club of Aiken Collab

Great Oak x Garden Club of Aiken Collab

Members of The Garden Club of Aiken visited Great Oak Equine Assisted Program on April 14 to enjoy a lesson for the students, a tour of the facility, and see the historic live oak trees on the property that the garden club is helping to save.

This is a unique situation where one nonprofit is coming to the aid of another. Five live oaks on the property have been diagnosed with Ambrosia beetle infestation and required spraying four times this year. Four members of the garden club brought the proposal to the club for help as they are also affiliated with Great Oak. It was a win-win situation.

The Garden Club of Aiken is a private nonprofit service organization founded in 1924, whose purpose is to promote the love of gardening, the knowledge of horticulture, the protection of birds, and the conservation and beautification of the environment.

The Garden Club of Aiken is a member of The Garden Club of South Carolina and The Garden Club of America.

QP and Kerry Rains

PATH Region 3 Conference

PATH Region 3 Conference

The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) Conference was a hit. Great Oak welcomed attendees from throughout the Southeast and East Coast. Lots of learning and fun was had, with a Saturday night dinner at Great Oak’s facility. Great Oak was also awarded three PATH Region 3 Awards – Veterinarian of the Year (Dr. Reda of Southern Equine Veterinarians), Volunteer of the Year (Kerry Rains), and Horse of the Year (QP!)

Thank you to everyone who made this event possible especially, our board, staff, volunteers, and the attendees.

Great Oak Annual Report

Great Oak Annual Report

Keep up with all that’s happened in the past year by reading “Oakology”, Great Oak’s version of an annual report.

Great Oak Joins USEF Community Outreach Program

Great Oak Joins USEF Community Outreach Program

Great Oak is happy to announce we have been accepted into the United States Equestrian Federation’s Community Outreach Program.

The USEF Community Outreach Program includes a directory of organizations that provide equine-based learning opportunities and support the positive impact horses can have within their local communities. Organizations must apply and be accepted for inclusion in the USEF Community Outreach Program. 

Fourth Anniversary Party

Fourth Anniversary Party

Thank you to everyone who came out to celebrate our Fourth Anniversary/Valentine’s Day! We appreciate all the volunteers, sponsors, and students who have made the past four years possible. Here’s hoping the next four are just as successful!

The Horse Eye View – How ‘QP’ Sees Things At The Farm

The Horse Eye View – How ‘QP’ Sees Things At The Farm

Before you continue reading, please allow for and enjoy some creative writing from one of our dedicated Volunteers. We have asked this Volunteer, who works with QP, to share insights of the farm, the barn staff, the volunteers, and the donors from a ‘Horse Eye View’.

QP with Wendy

As one of Great Oak’s original “GO” Ponies, I feel I have the ‘EyeQ’ to tell you what really happens here in the Paddocks, The Stalls, and The Arenas. So here it comes, “straight from the horse’s mouth!” You see, I had to dictate my thoughts to one of my favorite “GO” Getters because these damn keys on these computers you all use are the size of Chicklets. They are not horse hoof friendly at all. One of you should reach out to Apple and put in a request for an equine-friendly keyboard. And while you’re at it, will you ask one of those computer companies to donate 5 mobile laptops to the Great Oak Barn Staff? Aside from needing a truck to tow us to events and the occasional vet visit, these ladies all need new laptops!

Our Volunteers at Great Oak make me smile, laugh and flop my mane! They are what makes Great Oak, Great! Seeing all of them walk and run around the barn and farm in their bright blue shirts is fun for me to see. And when we get to be in a lesson together with a rider on my back on the Duchossois or Groat Arena, I am amazed at their conscientiousness and compassion for each rider. I do my part to follow the Instructor’s commands in the lesson, but these Volunteers are what make it all happen, and really make things great for all of us horses. Over the years, I have grown quite fond of Kerry Raines, because she has her lunch with me each day when I am in a barn stall and she is at the picnic table. Also, Nina, Jackie, Jessie, Maria, Hannah, Janet, Tequila, Maria, Beth all make my day easier when they come out to fetch me from a paddock in the morning or turn me out later in the day. I always feel so lucky being escorted by them for my daily duties for our riders.

Over the years, I have gotten to meet many of the donors that have made Great Oak possible. Like this past Holiday Horse Show, I was able to meet Cissie & Michael Sullivan.  What a nice couple they are. Also, Tracy Turner is so nice and awarded my rider a Blue Ribbon that day. I also have gotten to know the Gertmans and the Spitlers over the years when they come and visit. And when I am in the indoor Duchossois Arena I enjoy looking at all the nice placards on the wall from MDVIP, Aiken Tack Exchange, Aiken Pest Control, Bradley’s, Southern Equine, etc. We appreciate what you all do to keep us fed, groomed, and in great shape for our sessions and lessons. Please come back to the farm and visit us. We love visitors! And if you would, please ask one of the Barn Staff Members if you can come out to our Paddocks and give us a treat!  That is always a great moment for us!

Kody Perseveres with Help of Boomer

Kody Perseveres with Help of Boomer

Each month, our lead instructor, Eva, picks a student for our “Blue Ribbon Moment.” A “Blue Ribbon Moment” represents an achievement, both small and large made by one of our students.

Kody, a Great Oak student, hugs GO pony Boomer prior to his leaving.

Fall is the season of change. The weather gets cooler and the leaves start to change color. Many of us embrace it. Yet there is always some sadness associated with change, and sometimes even fear. What will the change bring? Well, at Great Oak we also just experienced some change. One of our herd, Boomer, left us to return to his owner and to start a new job.  For Boomer this is exciting, he will be happy, and we look forward to seeing him around town, perhaps as a Volunteer Mounted Police horse.

For our students, however, change brings anxiety and worry. Our Blue Ribbon Rider this month is Kody. Kody joined us at Great Oak initially as a volunteer, helping us around the barn. Cleaning stalls, cleaning the aisle, helping to make the feed for the horses, and any other task other than handling the horses. Kody, like many young people today, struggles with anxiety. His goal was to find something he enjoys and to learn a new skill that could translate into work.  After a few months, Kody became more confident and was enjoying his work at Great Oak. We began talking about the possibility of him riding. He expressed a fear of horses. Time passed, then one day Kody approached me (Eva) and said he would like to ride. So, it began. His initial goal was to find something he enjoyed but also to try something new and to overcome his fear of horses. Soon he set a new goal. He wanted to improve his posture.

Showing the results of his efforts, Kody conquered his fear of horses and improved his posture at the same time.

Kody began riding Boomer. Boomer is a wonderful horse who has taught many students many things, but he is also a challenging horse in that he demands that you know what you want. Kody connected with him and worked hard on building a relationship with Boomer. Kody also worked very hard on his posture. Boomer challenged him almost every day and Kody rose to the challenge. Boomer taught Kody to manage his frustration and to persevere.  

However, this story is not so much about Boomer and Kody but about Kody. Kody had to say farewell to Boomer and has had to understand that we, at the moment, don’t have another horse that he can ride. He has had to process that everyone doesn’t always stay around, that change happens, that it is difficult, but can open other doors. That other door for Kody was his first lesson after Boomer had left. I suggested that we do some groundwork and see if Kody could connect to Buddy at liberty. Kody and Buddy walked into the arena and stood in each other’s space with Kody grooming him and quietly talking with him. Kody suggested that Buddy back up a little to offer him more space and Buddy backed up. We worked through some groundwork steps and I then suggested we take off the halter and ask Buddy to join up with Kody and go for a walk around our “large” arena. Kody hesitated and laughed a little.  

Kody joined up with Buddy, a 1200 pound horse, who could have chosen to go anywhere in the arena, especially to the barn gate or to any person observing, but he didn’t. He clearly told Kody that he wanted to be with him. That he was there for him through the change that Kody was experiencing. The change gave Kody another opportunity and Kody embraced it. For this Kody gets this month’s Blue Ribbon moment. Good job Kody for overcoming fear and for embracing something new, again and for realizing how wonderful that is.