This article appears in the August issue of 400 Life.
Hannah Campbell Zapletal was born in Haiti where she grew up on her family’s horse farm training equine to pull buggies that would revive the local commerce.
She comes from a long line of horse people before her, but what makes her a horse lover by nature is actually what nurtured her into an expert — one with a reputation for turning problem horses into (what Zapletal calls) the upstanding citizens they have the potential to be.
She’s always had a gift for working with horses, and spent many years doing just that once she graduated from college here in the U.S. and started her own farm in 1996; but these days, her passion extends to the other side of the saddle — helping people through the power of her favorite animal.
“Problem horses were my specialty for many years,” said Zapletal. “But one day I was given a mare that nothing I knew how to do could fix her. But I read this book by Monty Roberts — one of the premier horse trainers of this generation — took notes, went out to the mare and decided to see if it worked. Within four days she was a completely different horse. In fact she was so different, the girls at the farm for lessons accidentally caught her and brought her to the barn. They were brushing and grooming her when I got there.”
Convinced, she pursued and completed the Monty Roberts Certified instructor course in 2000 and hasn’t looked back … especially since she’s had three small children since then, and it’s a lot safer to teach people than it is to train horses. Also since then, she’s incorporated her farm, and WildeWood Farm Inc., is what life for her little family looks like today.
With 24 horses of their own (16 of which they use to teach), Zapletal calls herself a one-woman-and-three-kid show, loving a job where she can bring her kids to work (3-year-old Isabelle even rides her own pony to help out) as well as empower other children, adults and entire families at the hands — sometimes 18 of them, if you’re on Titan — of horses. They offer riding lessons, summer camps, birthday parties and equine assisted-learning programs. And despite Zapletal’s absence from horse training, she still gets “plenty of horse time” working with a local breeding facility, teaching trailer loading and running the farm.
“We start at the beginning,” Zapletal said of WildeWood. “Your horse is not prepped and ready for you when you arrive. You have to learn how to catch the horse, lead properly, groom and tack up and go down to the arena and ride, then come back up and untack, regroup, wash and maybe put the horse up.”
In short, riding lessons at WildeWood translate into genuine horsemanship.
“I don’t want to teach riders, I want to get to the horsemanship level, where you really know what you’re doing,” she added. “The more you’re around horses and exposed to different kinds of horses and different styles of horses, the better horseman you become.”
Zapletal’s Empowering Struggling People program teaches girls and boys to identify and recover from many of the issues they face today. Whether it’s school stress, trouble with friends, suicidal thoughts or anger management problems, among others, Zapletal believes that getting in front of a horse to start pinpointing the root of those issues is key to empowering teens to heal.
“I have a real affinity for kids that are shy and withdrawn. I like to facilitate drawing them out,” Zapletal said. “Horses do the work, and it’s fun to get to see them five years down the road and hear them say, ‘I can’t believe how much horses changed my life.’”
As a certified equine facilitator trained by the E3A in equine assisted learning, her sessions can certainly change lives. Each session builds off its former, addressing not only parental concerns, but teaching teens to identify the root of their issues and equipping them to envision a plan to feel better.
“Unlike other forms of therapy, horses give instant feedback,” said Zapletal. “It’s not about whether they like you or not, so if you’re doing something incorrectly, they are quick to correct it. They’ve got a way of bringing stuff to the surface right away, things that if we’re just talking, you wouldn’t pick up on, so [with their help] I can pinpoint things to bring to a therapist’s attention.”
Zapletal’s heart doesn’t stop with teens. In fact, her end goal is to create a place where anyone can come to feel safe and included.
“It’s equally rewarding to work with people now, moreso than just horses,” she said. “My heart is to pour into people, into families and help them be a part of something bigger than themselves. Something real, and practical. I want the farm to be a place where people can plug in, and where families are not only welcome, but maybe even created.”
WildeWood Farm Inc., is at 5150 Oak Grove Circle in Cumming. Visit www.wildewoodfarminc.com for more information.
Story by Jennifer Colosimo for 400 Life.