DUO — Christina Chumbley has had Goose and Trixie for about two years now, and wants to share them with others.

Most animal lovers know that spending time with animals, large or small, can have significant therapeutic benefits.

“Horses are one of the most empathetic creatures. They have an incredible ability to feel our emotions,” said Christina Chumbley, co-owner of Wonderland Farm in Fines Creek.

Chumbley offers special equine connection sessions to help people young and old gain confidence and soothe their spirits.

Although Chumbley is clear she’s not a licensed equine therapist, she knows firsthand the benefits of working with horses — she’s been riding since she was 4. What she offers on her Fines Creek farm is space for people to visit and spend time with her two horses.

They can ride, lead, groom or spend time with them in ways that are meaningful. It all depends on the needs of the client

One unique service she offers is going on forest walks while the client is on horseback.

Chumbley has a background in sustainable agriculture and an extensive knowledge of plant life in Western North Carolina, so this will help clients learn more about their environment.

“I want to use horses and people’s experience with them to more deeply connect with nature,” Chumbley said.

Chumbley has two horses on her farm, Goose and Trixie. The pair are opposites. Trixie is only 2 and can’t be ridden until she turns 4. Chumbley said that Trixie is curious, sweet and fun to work with.

Other other hand Goose is “like a giant teddy bear” at the age of 22, so he’s suitable for all ages and all skill levels.

Though the horses are, of course, the focus of equine therapy sessions, Chumbley sees her farm as a refuge for all ages and all bodies to connect with other animals. Also on the farm are four goats, a retired petting zoo cow named Bruce Springsteen and some turkeys.

Mental benefits

Chumbley is also clear the equine connection sessions are not necessarily lessons, though people can hop on Goose for a ride. Instead, the sessions are intended to help people cultivate a deeper connection with themselves.

“I want to keep people really aware of their breath and body,” Chumbley said.

With her experience as a dancer and yoga instructor, Chumbley is keenly aware of her own breath and body, and can help clients achieve that, too. She is also an intimacy and empowerment coach, and wants to help people feel more open and more confident in their boundaries and strength.

“I’m a big advocate for mental health,” Chumbley said. “I encourage people to work on their mental health in therapy.”

Chumbley also hopes to partner with local therapists and behavioral health centers to connect and refer clients to each other.

Chumbley isn’t focused on a particular horseback riding discipline. Instead, she offers a choice between English and Western styles or even bareback. It’s all about the experience, not training for a show.

The main prerequisite is an interested client, no matter who they are — though Chumbley said she does have a soft spot for teens.

“They’re just going through adjustments in that in-between stage,” Chumbley said. “I love working with them.”

A life’s calling

Chumbley discovered her love own of horses early in life. When she was only 4, her family had visited a farm because the owners had a litter of puppies. Chumbley said when she saw the horses, she “became obsessed.”

“I started saving when I was 8 for my own horse, and I was 12 when I bought my own horse,” Chumbley said.

Chumbley said her first horse was a high spirited Arabian that came from an abusive situation.

“She was called ‘unrideable,’ but I was bound and determined for long enough and she got to a point where she was used as an equine therapy horse,” Chumbley said.

That dedication has followed Chumbley ever since and has laid the foundation for the work she does now.

“Horses were where I felt the biggest sense of belonging,” Chumbley said. “I want to be with them and share them.”