LongRun graduates provide hope and healing at EALC

LongRun graduates provide hope and healing at EALC

Danni Canfield can never quite tell who gets the most out of the interactions – the retired racehorses or those on the receiving end of their unconditional love.

When she took over the reins of the already established Equine Assisted Learning Centre (EALC) in 2019, Canfield was looking for a breed of horse that would be a perfect fit for the programs offered at the Ontario facility.

That mission took on even more importance in 2022 when the centre expanded its offerings to support people with mental health challenges, as well as those with ADHD and ASD.

The search for the right type of horse for EALC’s needs brought Canfield to Facebook, specifically, to a page dedicated to one of the most respected horse retirement and adoption organizations in the world.

“We found out about LongRun,” said Canfield, of the organization established in 1999, which holds status as the first industry-funded adoption program in Canada. “We had to fill out an application and write about what we were looking for, what we do and who we are. Lauren [LongRun farm manager, Millet] reached out to me right away and said they have several horses that might be what we are looking for.”

It would, in fact, be exactly what everyone was looking for.

The first LongRun horse to come to EALC was Gold, a chestnut gelding who was donated to the former by Hall of Fame trainer Josie Carroll and owner Earle Mack.

Known as I Love Gold over his brief racing career, the son of Will Take Charge was bred in Ontario by Track West Syndicate.

In the following years, Canfield welcomed other LongRun graduates to the property in Priceville, a village about a two-hour drive northwest of Woodbine Racetrack.

Two more ex-racehorses are with family members.

Canfield has seen the impact both have had in their new calling. ​

“My two nieces also have horses from LongRun,” noted Canfield. “Silent Friend (donated to LongRun by trainer Mike Doyle and owner Scott Abbot), which was also his racing name, came along, and he went to my young niece who is going through some life challenges. After that, my other niece, who is dealing with life challenges as well, adopted Crash from LongRun. It’s been cool to watch their bond grow with the horses.”

Connections that are deeply meaningful for Millet.

“Crash, who was donated to us by Brian Cullen and Sheldon Pettle, and trainer Steve Attard, is one of my favourite horses to ever come through LongRun during my time here,” said Millet of the horse known as Manicou during his racing days. “Unfortunately, he tried to jump out of a paddock early on during his stay here which resulted in him not being ridable anymore. However, he was so sweet and kind, and really had a lot to offer people. He absolutely adored people and attention. 

“I wasn’t ‘searching’ for a home for him, but if the perfect home popped up, I would consider him for it. When Danni contacted me about a non-ridable horse for her niece, I knew Crash would exactly fill that role.”

Her intuition proved to be bang-on. 

“When Danni brought her niece to the farm to meet Crash, he definitely picked her as his person,” recalled Millet. “It was like he knew he could help her – she needed him, and he needed her. It was a great match almost instantly, and I’m so happy Crash can fill the role I knew he could do.”

Canfield is impressed by how each LongRun grad is able to make a quick transition from high-level competition to a much slower pace. ​

Stop Who's That, given to LongRun by Dura Racing and Mike Doyle, as well as Celebratory, donated by trainer Don MacRae, are also part of the EALC band.

“They go from competing on the racetrack to being with one human. The horses we have come to us fairly quickly from off the track. We can see their demeanor change and they immediately understand what their new calling is.” ​ ​

Canfield knows, first-hand, the healing power of horses.

Her connection with horses started at a young age in the show ring and has been a staple in her life ever since.

As a teenager, Canfield struggled with her own challenges: abandonment by a parent, moving to different places, and low self-esteem. 

Horses, then and now, have always been a source of support for her.

Over time, Canfield developed a particular fondness for Thoroughbreds.

“They are very intuitive to humans. We have all kinds of horses on our property, but Thoroughbreds are more intuitive to emotion. They know when you are having a bad day – they sense it.”

It is something Canfield sees regularly at EALC.

“Many of our clients are on the autism spectrum, some folks are completely non-verbal. We also welcome many clients with Down Syndrome, Schizophrenia, and more.

“We have to be very selective with the horses we bring here. The ex-racehorses we have are so gentle. We have photos of caught moments that show the bond between them and those who are in our programs. They capture those connections beautifully.”

There are many picture-perfect moments not caught on camera.

It is commonplace for people outside of the programs to interact with the horses on the grounds.

“We have one grandma who brings a family member and I think it is just as therapeutic for her as it is for her granddaughter. They brush the horses together and spend time with the horses.

“Then there are the parents walking through the barn and going up to spend time with the horses. All of it is wonderful to see.”

There are plans in the works to expand the farm’s offerings beyond the current complement of programs.

Canfield is hoping to add drop-in hours soon.

“It would allow people to come and spend time with the horses, talk to them, pet them – whatever it might be.”

If she does need to add to her equine band, Canfield will go to a familiar place.

“I can’t say enough about LongRun and what they do. The facility is amazing, and everyone who works there is fantastic. They are so careful about who they give their horses to. I send pictures all the time, we talk if I have a question – they are always there for us. And they are constantly checking in, which makes them feel like family.”

Canfield views her horses in the same regard.

“Thoroughbreds have this wonderful way of showing emotion. They will hang their heads out of the stalls when the clients come in. The horses drop their heads and invite people to come see them.

“We often hear that our horses are amazing, that they are full of personality and that they are loving.”

Which is exactly what Canfield wants everyone who comes to EALC to take away from their experience.

Whatever challenges program participants are navigating, there is, Canfield noted, a moment when horse and human connect.

“Everybody is thankful for what these Thoroughbreds are – kind, gentle creatures, who respond to the needs of each person. What they do for us is simply amazing.”

Chris Lomon, Woodbine Communications / @WoodbineComms

Grace Martin
Grace Martin Communications Specialist, Woodbine Entertainment
Horse Racing - TB
About Woodbine Entertainment

Woodbine Entertainment is the largest horse racing operator in Canada, with Thoroughbred horse racing at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, and Standardbred horse racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park in Milton. Woodbine Entertaiment also owns and operates HPIbet, Canada’s only betting platform dedicated to horse racing. Woodbine and Mohawk Park are host to several world-class racing events including The King’s Plate, three Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races, and the Pepsi North America Cup. Run without share capital, Woodbine Entertainment has a mandate to financially invest all profit back into the horse racing industry and the 25,000 jobs it supports across Ontario.   

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