Name: Susie Bjorklund
Hometown: Waverly, Minnesota
Cool Job: Executive Director/Certified Therapeutic Riding instructor
As a teenager, Susie Bjorklund was motivated to transform her passion for horses into a project that would help others. As a young equestrian, she had grown up showing horses, but soon found herself assisting a small program that taught children with disabilities how to ride.
“After the very first ride, from what I saw in the children and then what the parents reported each week, I knew that at some point this is what I wanted to do,” she remembers.
This sort of stirring might be enough for some young women, but not Susie. Before starting Freedom Farm she taught dressage to cowboys, joined a circus, was a bareback rider, and taught riding lessons. But she wasn’t content simply with adventuring, in a short amount of time she took her experiences and put them to good use.
We help ourselves through helping others, and we help each other through sharing our gifts.
“I became a nurse, and working with medically fragile children gave me the experience in communicating with those that communicate non-verbally. All this experience has helped me to help riders of all abilities,” she explains.
With her ardor firmly aflame, Susie set out to start a therapeutic riding center after she and her husband settled in Waverly, Minnesota, and in 2000, Freedom Farm was born. They now feature three programs: a therapeutic riding program for riders with various disabilities, the Hope With Horses program for at risk teens, and the Healing with Horses program for women veterans.
“Therapeutic riding is like adaptive riding,” Susie explains. “Some riders require special saddles and reins. Some riders don’t use saddles and sit with the support of a team of remarkable, trained volunteers supporting them on the back of the horse. Some riders mount the horse from a mounting block on the ground, and some riders need more support in mounting and utilize a lift.”
All of this malleability allows for the rider to trust and bond with the horse. The fledgling equestrians soon discover their own strength and comfort within the process of riding.
Susie puts a lot of work into Freedom Farm, starting with chores at daybreak, followed by volunteer coordination, event planning, and, of course, riding! “Therapeutic horses need to stay in shape which requires me to ride them,” Susie says. A large part of her day also includes brainstorming. “Developing engaging lesson plans and instructing to meet the needs of each of our riders: physically, emotionally and cognitively is all I do,” she says. “None of the incredible strides made and blessings received could be accomplished without the gifts from each heartbeat and hoof beat that wanders through Freedom Farm.”
While her daily activities at the Farm would seem exhausting to someone untouched by her fervor and energy, Susie draws her pep from the rewards she reaps witnessing the emotional transformations that everyone at Freedom Farm undergoes.
“The true healing, personal growth, and freedom for each individual who participates in one of our programs offered at Freedom Farm – each individual that serves as a volunteer and each employee that works here – comes when we are able to step outside of our own situations and offer help to others. We help ourselves through helping others, and we help each other through sharing our gifts. It is a full circle of service, of heart and soul,” Susie says.
And her future goal is clear: she wants to renovate the one-room schoolhouse that’s located at the edge of the Freedom Farm property in order to better house their programs. “There are so many who can benefit from the gifts our horses can give. I dream of having a space where the number of people Freedom Farm can serve is not limited by square footage!” she says.
For her work helping heal and elevate the lives of so many women through the power of riding, we think Susie Bjorklund of Freedom Farm is one Cool Girl!
To see some of the incredible work Freedom Farm does, you can check out their website at http://freedomfarmmn.org. Every year they host a Polo Event that provides much of the funding for their programming and horses, for more information on the event you can click here and get involved.