Saddle up: Agape Therapeutic Riding fundraises for move to Noblesville

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After nearly 30 years of operating at its Cicero location, Agape Therapeutic Riding is moving to Noblesville. Executive Director Stephanie Amick said the move will allow more room for the nonprofit to grow.

Agape is a therapeutic riding center that offers services for individuals with disabilities starting at age 4. The nonprofit serves more than 50 diagnoses, such as autism, addiction disorder, ADHD, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and a variety of mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

“(The Cicero site) has served us well,” said Amick, who lives in Fishers. “But it’s like a plant in a really small pot. At some point, the roots have gotten all balled up.”

Amick said the new location, which will be built on the former Stoney Creek Farm property on Ind. 38, will triple the number of clients Agape annually serves.

Agape leases land in Noblesville and will take possession of it later this summer. Amick said Stoney Creek Farm is a “very iconic” location in Noblesville. Prior to closing, it was known for its fall festival and pumpkin patch and also as a place where people could cut down Christmas trees. Amick said although those services won’t be offered any longer, the farm will serve as a home for Agape.

Agape recently launched a capital campaign to raise $14 million to cover building costs. Fundraising will take place over the next 18 to 24 months.

Increased demand

Amick said Agape has seen a large uptick in clients with mental health illnesses. Agape recently hired Marsha Farias its first mental health provider to address the growing needs. Farias is pre-licensed, meaning she is waiting on the state to grant her mental health license.

Farias, a Noblesville resident, said the COVID-19 pandemic played a part in increasing the demand for mental health service.
“We are designed to be in connection with others, and when we don’t have access to that, we have negative outcomes,” she said.

Farias said the demand also could be because of an increased awareness of mental health illnesses and an attempt to normalize those illnesses.

Farias began volunteering with Agape in 2009. She received her Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International certification in 2015.

A rendering of the future Agape location in Noblesville. (Rendering courtesy of Stephanie Amick/Site Architecture)

Serving the family and the client

Steve Petrick, Noblesville, said Agape has greatly benefited his family. Petrick’s 34-year-old daughter, Ashley, was diagnosed with autism at age 3. Petrick said Ashley functions at a 3-year-old level. She requires assistance with feeding, clothing, bathing and other activities.

The Petricks moved to Noblesville in 1996. Ashley began riding with Agape in 2002. Petrick said Agape has benefitted the family in numerous ways.

“(Riding is) very good physical activity for (Ashley), for her muscles,” Petrick said. “Ashley has difficulty in walking. She has scoliosis, and she walks with assistance. So, keeping her strong and upright and walking is very important to her overall health.”

Agape also has provided socialization for the Petricks. Petrick said Ashley is nonverbal, and there are few social activities available for her in the community.

“Going to Agape is a chance for her to see people,” he said. “It is so heartwarming to go to a facility and everyone says, ‘Hi, Ashley, how are you?’ because that rarely happens to someone with no language and no real friends.”

Petrick said his family has connected with other families using Agape services as well.

“You really have an opportunity to sit down with a group of people just like you in the same set of circumstances,” he said. “You can share stories, share resources, discuss problems. You can talk about things the average family doesn’t.”

Amick said she hopes the new location will allow Agape to continue to enhance mental health services. It also will provide more space for corporate team building.

“We want to continue to grow to diversify our revenue and create an additional stream of revenue for sustainability,” Amick said.

Agape mostly serves clients from Hamilton, Madison, Marion and Hancock counties. For more, visit agaperiding.org.

Why horses?

Pre-licensed mental health counselor Marsha Farias said horses can assist in therapy because of their alertness.

“Because they are herd animals and they are prey animals, their survival depends on being very aware of their surroundings,” she said. “They will pick up on the energy that person has. So, if someone is nervous or upset, (the horse) can sense their breathing, their heart rate, if they’re upset. The horse tells us how the person is doing. If a person is able to calm themself and take deep breaths and be aware, present and mindful, the horse will relax and put its head down and take a deep breath. It’s a cool back-and-forth interaction they have.”

By the numbers

  • 1986: The year Agape opened
  • 30: Years it has operated in Cicero
  • $14 million: Amount to be raised for construction of a new Noblesville location
  • 4: Age clients can begin riding at Agape
  • 50: Diagnoses served by Agape
  • 2: Locations — one in Greenfield and one in Cicero, which soon will move to Noblesville
  • 20: Full-size horses
  • 5: Miniature horses
  • 150: Volunteers assisting Agape each week
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