Employing horses in a working farm environment, Ironstone Farm provides beneficial therapy for people with a wide range of physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities. The two primary programs are Challenge Unlimited and Ironstone Therapy – both using the horse’s unique ability to enhance a person’s movements and touch a person’s heart, inspiring strength, hope and encouragement. The farm’s professional staff of over 20 licensed instructors and therapists work with about 35 program horses and about 200 volunteers to serve 450 to 500 children and adults each week, year round. Coming from more than 90 cities and towns throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire, participants enjoy the aesthetic beauty of the farm while receiving valuable therapy in collaboration with other service providers to best address their physical and emotional needs.
The Ironstone Farm mission statement: To provide therapeutic, educational and recreational opportunities using horses and the working farm environment to help people achieve optimum quality of life.
Ironstone Farm was founded in 1960 by owner Richard Donovan as a breeding, training, and rehabilitative facility for thoroughbred performance horses.
The nonprofit Challenge Unlimited was created out of the Donovan family’s desire to share Ironstone Farm with people whose lives have been challenged by disability. Located more than 18 beautiful acres in Andover, Massachusetts, the property consists of pasture, woodland, ponds, and is home to about 35 horses, donkeys, and a variety of wildlife, making a visit to the farm a memorable experience for all ages. In 2001, after a two-year capital campaign, Challenge Unlimited purchased Ironstone Farm so that the property and programs will be preserved for generations to come.
Challenge Unlimited at Ironstone Farm is governed by a Board of Trustees and managed daily by an executive director and full-time and part-time staff. The full board meets quarterly, with an Executive Board and standing committees meeting monthly or more often as needed, and reporting to the full board. In addition, Challenge Unlimited receives support from an Advisory Council that joins the Board of Trustees for an annual meeting (second Wednesday in May) where audited financial statements for the previous year are presented. The IRS Form 990, which includes the MA Attorney General A/R form and the Mass. Form PC, is also made available for perusal.
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Ironstone Therapy is governed by a Board of Directors.
Milestones for Ironstone Farm
1960s – 70s Richard Donovan builds farm, and breeds, raises and trains thoroughbred horses.
1970s Donovans begin offering field trips to Ironstone Farm for groups of children with special needs.
1983 Challenge Unlimited incorporates as a nonprofit charitable organization offering therapeutic riding to individuals with disabilities. All services are donated by Ironstone Farm to the 25 clients.
1985 Challenge Unlimited receives tax exempt status with the IRS as a 501( c)(3) organization.
1986 Establishes programs with National Birth Defects Center/Genesis Fund.
1987 Establishes association with Massachusetts Special Olympics.
1988 Challenge Unlimited establishes lease arrangement with Ironstone Farm to enable programs to grow.
1988 CU becomes first Massachusetts organization to host Special Olympics Equestrian Event.
1989 With 200 clients now being served, organization is open year round and establishes Annual Yearbook Fundraiser that riders can use to help raise money for their riding.
1991 Organizes Therapeutic Riding Research Committee.
1992 Begins summer camp
1994 Richard Donovan builds Physical Therapy Building for Challenge Unlimited programs. Initial pilot therapy programs are born.
1996 Signs first public school contracts with Lowell for physical therapy and occupational therapy services. Farms programs are now serving 400.
1997 Establishes Ironstone Therapy as medically-based physical and occupational therapy service provider.
1998 Incorporates Ironstone Therapy as non-profit 501( c)(3) organization.
1999 Now serving 700 clients, Challenge Unlimited at Ironstone Farm begins plans for expansion of facilities and programs to support future generations.
2000 Begins contracts with Early Intervention and numerous educational and medical providers.
2000 Massachusetts Special Olympics Hall of Fame inducts organization.
2001 Challenge Unlimited purchases Ironstone Farm, including barn, arena, farmhouse and 14 acres, from Dick Donovan.
2005 Lowell Spinners Charity of the Year
2007 Opens doors on new 80- by 200-foot indoor arena built entirely through donations.
2008 Closes on Mass Development tax exempt bond enabling the purchase of abutting home and four acres for development of after-school programs.
2009 Launches Equine Encounter Program and begins affiliation with Dana Farber Cancer Institute to support people with cancer.
2010 Establishes affiliation with Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange to offer special annual event; chosen as the three-year focus charity of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Lawrence.
2011 Establishes partnership with Lowell General Hospital to provide services to people with cancer. Receives Enterprise Bank’s Celebrate Excellence Non-Profit of the Year Award.
2013 Launches Equine Encounter Program for US veterans, and campaign to secure the continued growth and future of Ironstone Farm.
Geographic reach and disabilities served
Challenge Unlimited and Ironstone Therapy serve approximately 480 individuals weekly, year round, with representatives from more then 80 cities and towns throughout Greater Boston, the Merrimack Valley, and Southern New Hampshire.
Disabilities include the following:
- Cerebral palsy
- Attention deficit disorder
- Pervasive development delay
- Seizure disorder
- Learning disability
- Developmental disability
- Mental handicap
- Mental retardation
- Traumatic brain injury
- Spinal cord injury
- Down syndrome
- Williams syndrome
- Apert syndrome
- Huntington disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscular dystrophy
- Spina bifida
- Visual and hearing impairment
Ironstone’s herd of about 35 horses includes 22 Haflingers – a breed originating in the Austrian Alps, and used extensively in the United States by the Amish. Safe, reliable and pretty, the Haflingers have proven to be excellent school horses and have become “dream ponies” for the children at Ironstone Farm. The rest of the herd includes a variety of breeds chosen to meet the diverse requirements of our clientele.