Spending time with animals fills oneself with positive energy, cures disease, and saves lives. Therapy methods involving horses, dogs, and cats have been long known all over the world. Since recently, the Countryside ranch in Rankovce Municipality, in the northeast of North Macedonia is the place where any animal lover can come and spend a day in their love, in nature, as well as experience the hospitality of the owner Maria Duda Dibiajio.
All the animals in “The Countryside” are rescued animals, they have their own life stories, which have happy endings in the ranch. They, when in need of help, got the help needed, and now they are helping people in need of treatment. The ranch has six horses, two of which are foals, then there is the donkey Matilda, two pygmy goats, eight dogs and 12 cats. They all roam free around the ranch and enjoy hanging out with visitors.
“The animals that have been rejected are the best therapists. They provide the greatest love and attention,“ Maria Dibiajio says, adding that Countryside retreat has been operating since August last year as a social enterprise that aims to educate young people about the importance of nature and animals in our lives.
“The time of the pandemic has caused alienation, anxiety, and other conditions that we had not been of in the past, and the effect of socializing with animals and the fact that Countryside was opened during the COVID-19 pandemic has made people accept it even more as a place to relax and socialize,” Maria says.
She emphasizes that at the ranch all who love animals and nature, who want to relax, but also those who need some help, are welcome. The ranch works with a hippotherapy program for people with disabilities, especially physical disabilities, and in the coming months, they will also start workshops on mental health and mental hygiene, which will include animal activities.
The story of The Countryside started by accident when Maria broke her leg last year and couldn’t go to physical therapy due to the pandemic restriction, so she decided to build a pool and to work on her rehabilitation together with her animals.
The ranch also has accommodation facilities, and Maria built two wooden huts overlooking the mountains, which can also be used as an office in nature.
“All of our guests have something in common, they are great lovers of nature and animals. We have many activities aimed at socializing guests and animals, children adore the goats and dogs, we let them comb them hair, teach them how to feed and ride the horses. We also have a dozen bicycles, so anyone who wants to, can go and enjoy a tour around the area,“ Maria says.
Returning from the U.S., she says the experiences learned at the hippotherapy ranches there, she will replicate in The Countryside. The program for hippotherapy has already been developed with the support of the Fund for Innovations and Technology Development, within which different exercises are established for people with different needs. The team is composed of psychologist, defectologist, speech therapist and physiotherapist, and soon a pilot project for families will be implemented who would participate in the program for three months free of charge. This experience should form the basis for the final therapy program that will start next year.
“Mental health is very important to us. There is evidence that women suffered much more from panic attacks and anxiety than men, as well as domestic violence, during the pandemic. We want to create programs that will offer support to them to help overcome this challenge easier,“ Maria says.