If it takes a village to raise a child, sometimes a farm can help to grow a community. As a certified therapeutic riding coach, a graduate of hotel and food administration, and the founder of Arion Therapeutic Farm, Heather Henderson knows about cultivating memorable, nurturing experiences. Starting Arion as a horseback riding program in 2009, Heather’s dream of inspiring physical wellness soon evolved into a vision of building a larger facility where anyone from tot to senior could visit a natural environment, be themselves and gain a sense of belonging, and reach their personal potential — ultimately for a better society.
Spend some quiet time with the animals. Volunteer to work on the grounds while the birds sing above. Join in on a cooking class. Sip tea with a friend in the café of the new Creative Centre. Connect with others facing similar challenges. For Heather, the way to sustainable well-being is through the empowerment born of heartfelt choices, shared experiences, and fun participation. Everyone who comes through the gates leaves feeling better.
Many individuals and organizations in Kelowna share her vision. She has seen the Arion community thrive with visitors, partners, and sponsors, and they are poised for growth in the coming year. So we were excited Heather took some time to tell us about herself, Arion, and some wonderful plans for the future.
First of all, what a fantastic world you’ve created! What struck me was the broad, inclusive nature of the farm. You have something for participants and volunteers of all ages, and yet there’s a common goal at the heart of it: well-being. What does this term mean to you?
My experience has taught me that well-being is all about how you feel, and feeling a part of something, and that can mean something different for everyone. That’s what appealed to me about focusing not on rigid programs but broadly on a facility as a safe place to come and create your own meaningful experience. Whether it’s riding, visiting the horses and helping in the riding lessons, or weeding the garden, we encourage visitors and members to come and go freely, to enjoy their time here in whatever way matters to them.
What always bothered me about many stop-and-start programs is not only that their effects are not lasting, but they aren’t inclusive; they’re limited by diagnostic and demographic factors. As a result, some with challenges fall through the cracks. I saw the need for a community where people could be at ease, develop at their own pace, and empower themselves to become healthier and happier members of society. It was more important to offer a place regardless of program funding. The place is what is healing to everyone!
We’ve had stressed-out adults, at-risk youths, and special needs children come here, and each one has a unique experience. Some come for a quick ride, some to quietly feed the horses, and others volunteer full-time for months. I’ve seen people come here for years, eventually offering tours to new visitors. There are no time restrictions. And the door is always open for people to return, as well as their family members, like being part of a little town. For some, just being here and away from their troubles for an hour is enough. It’s like watching a silent therapy session. People simply want to feel better, and seeing them find creative ways to do that is a big part of the fun and satisfaction for me.
I’m always fascinated by people’s journeys and the motivations that have compelled them along the way. What inspired you so deeply to create this space and help others?
In Bermuda, where I was born and raised, we were always outside playing, riding, and climbing trees — often barefoot. We even had tree forts. So engaging with nature was just a given for us. But then one day I broke my back during a nasty fall, and my dreams of competing in the Olympics were over, so I became a riding coach.
Needing a change, I moved to Toronto and studied at George Brown College. Then I got married and my husband and I moved to Bermuda to start a family. There we saw WindReach Farm, which offers all sorts of learning and recreational activities for the community. I thought it was super cool! You could say the first seed of the idea was planted then. Later we studied the model of Maplewood Farm in North Vancouver. It operates on a much larger scale, but the principles are very applicable here in Kelowna.
After running a landscaping company in Bermuda for eight years, we decided to move back to Canada, settling on Kelowna for the weather. Once here, I heard the call of my love for horses. When I got certified to teach therapeutic riding and started Arion Therapeutic Riding Association, I never imagined we would grow into such a thriving and broad social enterprise. This amazing transformation has presented both learning and financial challenges along the way, but these have only helped to shape the farm and clarify the role it can play in the greater Kelowna community.
We now offer a vast array of fun activities and helpful services for families and businesses — catering, classrooms, and a B & B, and more.
We are excited about the future!
Speak of which, I see some fantastic developments are afoot at Arion! Can you talk briefly about your upcoming projects and why they are important to Arion’s mission?
Two of particular note are the Accessible Nature Playground and the Creekside Habitat Garden Project. We’re looking forward to these starting, as we think they will really kickstart a greater awareness of Arion and what a great place it is for families to spend some rewarding time together. These two projects offer something for everyone, to create and play. Besides, who doesn’t want to play with dirt and rocks out in the sunshine? We’re currently seeking sponsors for these exciting new amenities. Please contact me to find out how to get involved!
We like to wrap up our profiles with a fun fact, something about you others may not know. Anything you wish to share?
Growing up in Bermuda, we didn’t watch much television. We didn’t even have a movie theatre! As I mentioned, we were always active, enjoying the outdoors. So it wasn’t until I moved to Canada that I even heard about the Bermuda Triangle!
2457 Saucier Road
Kelowna, BC V1W 4B8
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