Michaela’s Trail opens at Hidden Acres

by Elio Gugliotti, Editor

NAUGATUCK — A new trail has been blazed at the Hidden Acres Therapeutic Riding Center — one that will help special needs children explore all their senses.

A three-quarter mile long sensory trail now winds its way through the center, which was founded four years ago with a mission to improve the minds, bodies, and spirits of special needs children and adults through equine-assisted activities and programs. Horseback riding improves the strength and balance of riders and provides emotional health benefits through bonding with the horses.

Six sensory stations are set up along the trail where riders can partake in a number of activities designed to stimulate the senses, including shooting basketballs, playing musical instruments, and ridding through hanging foam noodles. All the stations are accessible while horseback riding.

“It brings the ability to meet and reinforce sensory goals in a fun way,” said Jeanna Pellino, program director at Hidden Acres about the trail.

For some, Pellino said, touching a squishy toy or a hitting a tetherball is a simple act. “For children with special needs they are big accomplishments,” she said.

The trail was built through a collaborative effort. Occupational therapy students at Quinnipiac University designed the trail as their capstone project, and HTS Construction, owned by the riding center’s founders Theron and Mary Simons, built the trail.

The materials for the trail were purchased through a $2,500 grant from the Petit Family Foundation, which was founded to honor the memories Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley and Michaela, who were murdered during the Cheshire home invasion five years ago.

The Petit Family Foundation’s mission includes supporting the fight against chronic illness. Jennifer Hawke-Petit had multiple sclerosis.

Hidden Acres was picked for the grant because the trail will help children and young adults with chronic illnesses and disabilities, according to Rolande Petit, an administrative assistant at the foundation and the wife of Dr. William Petit Jr.’s cousin.

On June 5, William Petit Jr. visited Hidden Acres to open and dedicate the trail in memory of his daughter, Michaela, who loved animals and the outdoors and who the trail was named after.

“We really thought that it would be a nice way to remember her and what they gave to us,” said Pellino about naming the trail Michaela’s Trail.

Hidden Acres’ gesture was not lost on the Petit family and foundation.

“Dr. Petit, the Petit family and the board of directors love that the trail is named after Michaela,” Rolande Petit said.