Horses, donkeys and goats hit the trail as Barnyard Team supports Hospice hike

April 29, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Rob Paul

As the virtual Hike for Bethell Hospice approaches, some folks in Caledon may have spotted a handful of animals from Riverdale Farm strolling around the community.

That’s the Barnyard Team—made up of Heidi the Miniature Donkey, Thomas the Nubian Goat, two Haflinger Horses named Emma and Krissy, a Plymouth Rock Hen named Muppet, and a handful of volunteers— and they’ve been training for the hike around Inglewood.

The team is led by Caledon’s Susan Graham — a former volunteer at Bethell Hospice — who decided to set up a donation page for the hike this year after all the attention her team was receiving.

On Heidi’s suggestion, the fundraising goal has consistently risen as the team continues to blow by previous targets—it’s currently set at $5,000, but they’re already over $4,800.

The virtual hike’s official start is May 2, to coincide with the beginning of National Hospice and Palliative Care Week and participants are able to complete their hikes anytime and anywhere until May 31.

The Barnyard Team is planning to walk around the Village of Inglewood 12 times from May 2 to 7, every morning and afternoon that of that week.

Graham and Heidi have a long history at Bethell Hospice, with Heidi and Raven—another Miniature Donkey who has since passed away—taking on ambassador titles as Graham’s partners when she would go to volunteer. The donkeys loved to visit, and the nurses would assist residents in interacting with the pair whether it be for a pet or a carrot.

“When Bethell House first started, my family was quite involved with volunteering and the donkeys became ambassadors because we’d walk them up to visit the residents,” Graham said. “It was always quite a thrill, and I was volunteering at the time, so I’d always hear people talking about how they’d never seen a donkey and they loved seeing the animals. Then, in the wintertime, while my husband was logging with one of the horses, I would take the other walking through the village to train it to be away from its buddy and people started saying how much they enjoyed seeing me walk the horses. Then a couple people in the village asked if they could help walk the horse and thought it was a cool way to get outside.

“That became a routine with about three ladies in town who would come on the walk with me. Then the hike was announced, and I thought to put in the animals as a team.”

Knowing that Bethell Hospice must raise $1 million every year to offer their services for the Caledon community and beyond at no cost to residents, Graham saw an opportunity to lend a helping hand while also being able to add some joy to people’s lives in these trying times.

“We’ve been making quite the splash as we’ve been ‘training,’ she said. “The village is definitely enjoying seeing us and it’s putting needed smiles on faces. Cars stop and if I could ask for a dollar every time somebody takes a picture, we’d already be at our goal. We’ve raised our goal a number of times—we started out at $1,000 thinking that’s a high bar, but we’re close to $5,000 now.

“I’ve walked the donkey in previous walks, but never tried to get pledges for it. This year with the response from the villagers seeing the animals walk around and having one of my volunteer handlers joke that I should charge money for pictures, that was how the idea came together. We don’t get very far without people taking pictures and wanting to talk and we thought why don’t we do this for the fundraiser?”

It’s a unique way to get involved for a good cause in the community and an unexpected positive that Graham has noticed is the animals attracting more interest from people who wouldn’t necessarily know about the importance of Bethell Hospice in Caledon.

“What’s been an added bonus with it is that different people in the village can participate,” she said. “There are kids who have come for one or two of the training walks already and they’re about Bethell Hospice and why we’re doing it. Usually, it’s people who have had a family member use the facilities at Bethell, but this way I’m finding it’s reaching more people in the community that haven’t had a direct interaction with Bethell House.

“It’s getting more families aware of it being in the community and the kids are so excited that they want to ride the horse or walk the donkey and then I can enroll them to get their grandparents pledging to a good cause. The families who are participating [in the virtual hike] are having fun and it’s become a bit of a competition with the fundraising teams while taking the morbid sense of it away and putting the focus on the team aspect. It’s a healthy and fun thing for a great cause.”

Spreading awareness about Bethell Hospice while providing children in the community a new experience during a time when there’s not much for them to do has been just as rewarding as seeing the fundraising number increase daily.

“With all the kids being away from school, it kind of gives them something,” Graham said. “Some of them have even taken it up as a classroom exercise to learn about what a hospice is and about the animal.

“It’s been a good way to reach more people rather than just having myself as a walker.

“I’ve personally committed to walking 12 times in that first week and right now, people want to be here as much as possible and we plan to be walking at 10:30 a.m. and again at 4 p.m. and we’re quite a sight! Once we all have our t-shirts on for the walk it’ll be a real rainbow-coloured sight and if I have a full team (of volunteers/handlers) with me, we can have up to eight people with the five animals.”

After her heavy involvement when the Bethell Hospice first opened up in Caledon, Graham draws motivation from knowing the importance for no cost facilities that families can rely on.

“This is a big part of my community here and I’m very proud of it,” she said.

For those interested in donating to the Barnyard Team, they can do so through their team page on the Bethel Hospice website (

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