There was a silver lining when Susanne Haseman shattered her leg.
Haseman was in a horseback riding accident in 1992. Her foot got left behind in her stirrup after her saddle slipped from her horse, all because the girth wasn’t tight enough, she said.
The simple mistake led to the worst kind of lower leg fracture you can have, doctors told her. Haseman, who calls herself a “late in life equestrian,” had only started riding three years before she got hurt.
“(Riding) was something I had always wanted to do but didn’t have the opportunity to do as a kid,” she said.
Haseman didn’t know at the time that horses would help her heal from this accident-not only that- but the accident would lead to a program that’s helped hundreds of others overcome physical and developmental disabilities.
Haseman knew nothing about therapeutic riding at the start, but she needed to do something-anything-to not feel sorry for herself.
Haseman is one of several founders behind High Horses Therapeutic Riding Program, a nonprofit established in 1993. The program works with those who have Autism or Down Syndrome, for example, and all kinds of other challenges.
A car ride conversation with equestrian Liz Gesler led to the program’s humble beginnings. They came up with the name and designed the logo and while High Horses was established, it started to help Haseman.
Haseman was still injured at the start and she couldn’t do much, but she could be a “sidewalker”-a necessary aid that walks beside horses to guide the students. Haseman built her strength by walking around the arena and leaning on horses for support.
Haseman walks the horse she was injured from. Photo provided.
Soon, Haseman defied doctor’s expectations. Haseman was not only walking, she was riding her Morgan/Thoroughbred cross named Nick again.
Hasman, a mental health professional, believes in the power of horses to be healers so much that she’s made it her life’s work.
It’s been about 25 years since her fall now and Haseman has watched horses improve social skills, develop positive parent/child relationships, help trauma victims, and provide companionship.
“Horses are so intuitive,” Haseman said. As herd animals, they develop sensitivity to other horses around them, she said. Horses extend that sensitivity to humans.
Haseman has seen horses improve physical disabilities through their steady rhythms,which can help improve core strength and make their riders more balanced-more capable of doing everyday activities. The rhythm of a horse also helps trauma victims stay calm while they work to heal from their experiences.
High Horses has morphed and evolved over the years and in doing so, it’s changed locations several times. It now makes its home in Sharon, VT.
It is the first therapeutic riding center in Vermont to attain “Premier Accreditation” by Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.)- a rigorous program that holds affiliates to the highest standards for safety and equine management.
Haseman, meanwhile, left High Horses to start a similar operation called First Light Farm in Cornish, NH, which partners with horses to help those with mental health issues.
Haseman’s accident is a thing of the past now, but it’s changed her life forever.
“There is nothing sweeter than taking something you love and finding a way to make it a service to others,” she said. “That thought has led me all kinds of places over these 25 years.”