Catherine “Cappy” Farrell has read every book on horses at the library. She clutches a stack of worn bindings while sitting on the family’s couch in their Whispering Woods home. Two stuffed mustangs snuggle in her lap.
It’s easy to see she is crazy about horses.
“I love horses,” Farrell says. “It’s my heart. It’s special.”
So when her mother took her to Quantum Leap Farm in Odessa it was a surprise for everyone when she was scared of the horses’ size. To get her familiar with the steeds, staff had her paint on a white mare. From then on, she was no longer afraid.
In just six months, Farrell, who has Down syndrome, went from being timid to riding all by herself.
When she was born, Farrell was given two weeks to live. She had a hole in her heart, which required surgery. After the operation, Farrell’s life expectancy improved to just five years. But her spirit has proven resilient. Farrell is now 23.
Over the years, she’s battled, among other illnesses, Addison’s disease, low bone density, two stomach surgeries and familial dysautonomia, where her nervous system shuts down with no warning. She has been on feeding tubes for eight years. Because of this, she has a pacemaker.
Every day Farrell takes a cocktail of medicines, which come from more than a dozen orange prescription bottles lined up on the kitchen counter. Because of her delicate condition, it’s been hard to find Farrell a hobby that involves physical fitness.
When her mother, Doe, noticed Farrell’s infatuation with horses, she decided to give Quantum Leap Farm a try. The farm specializes in helping people with special needs enjoy the equestrian sports. People including disabled veterans and children with learning disabilities enjoy the farm.
“They do all kinds of stuff for people like Cappy,” Doe Farrell says. “They’re just really, really dedicated.”
Farrell and her mother drive 42 miles to the farm once a week. Wednesdays are Farrell’s riding days. She bonds with her dark brown horse, Tie.
“He’s tall, he’s smart,” Farrell says. “Horses are like people, like human beings.”
At the farm, Farrell can complete obstacles with Tie, including guiding him in and out of flags, over ramps and around barrels.
“I think she thinks, ‘Here I am riding this huge thing,’” Doe says. “There’s not a lot of things in her life she can control.”
It’s not uncommon for Farrell to spend 10-hour days seeing doctors in St. Petersburg.
But Quantum Leap Farm provides a haven, a break from reality for Farrell and other participants. It has led to a healthier lifestyle for Farrell, both emotionally and physically. She’s lost 20 pounds riding and gained confidence throughout the process.
When a younger girl was placed on horse and began to cry, Farrell went up the ramp to be eye level with the girl. She hugged her and told her not to panic, that everything was going to be all right. At that point, Farrell was still frightened of the horses. The younger girl ended up riding the horse. So did Farrell.
“She did wonderfully,” Doe Farrell says about the day her daughter declared she wanted to ride alone without assistance. “I cried.”
And it’s not just the horses that have changed Farrell’s life. She has had an impact on the farm, too. She represented Quantum Leap Farm during Hope Week last month at the Yankees’ Steinbrenner Field. Farrell threw out the opening pitch.
“It’s an important part of Cappy’s life,” Doe Farrell said. “I want people to know what a great place it is.”
About Quantum Leap Farm
Quantum Leap Farm Inc., a nonprofit organization located in Odessa, was founded in 2000 to serve local adults with mental and physical disabilities. Quantum Leap Farm’s mission is to enrich and enhance the lives of handicapped adults by engaging them in a variety of equestrian activities designed to promote and improve physical, mental and social wellbeing. Quantum Leap also performs research documenting the many benefits of therapeutic horseback riding.
For more information on Quantum Leap Farm, visit quantumleapfarm.org or call (813) 920-9250.