Home Loudoun County student working on plan for equine center that caters to the deaf community
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Loudoun County student working on plan for equine center that caters to the deaf community

Seneca Johnston
Photo by Max Esterhuizen for Virginia Tech

A Loudoun County student at Virginia Tech is hoping to one day combine her love of horses and her ability to communicate in American Sign Language to operate a deaf-friendly equine center.

Seneca Johnston is a senior in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. Since she was a little girl, horses calmed her.

“I was always afraid and sought comfort from horses,” Johnston said. “I quickly learned that when I was next to a horse, I was more relaxed, and it was easier for me to talk to people. I slowly opened up, and horses are why I became social. I knew I was safe.”

Even at a young age, Johnston dreamed of operating her own equestrian center.

In her ASL courses, one of her teachers opened her eyes to the challenges deaf people face when wanting to ride horseback.

“There are few places that cater specifically to their needs without labeling them as disabled,” Johnston said. “So many people see deafness as a disability. But it isn’t. They function just like everyone else but can’t hear. It’s incredibly hard to find a barn that has these accommodations.

“I want to open an equine center that is fully accessible and truly feels like a space that can be a second home for this community.”

Johnston also wants to include youth activities that extend beyond horses. She’s hoping to add beekeeping, chickens and goats to provide more opportunities for deaf children to interact with animals.

“Looking back, I’m fortunate to have such a clear idea of what I want to do in my life,” Johnston said. “This came from the experiences I had as a child. I want to provide the same opportunities for children who otherwise may not be able to have them just because they are deaf. I’m excited to work collaboratively with the deaf community to make this a reality.”

Johnston plans to use the knowledge she’s gained in agricultural and applied economics to help her dream become a reality.

“All of my courses have prepared me to go into business,” she said. “Agriculture law is something that has been particularly helpful as I begin the search for properties, through zoning, ordinance, and any limitations that deed may have attached to it, such as animal limitations. I know that I wouldn’t be as prepared without having taken these courses.”

She has a growing list of items to accomplish to start her equine center.

“I’m adding things way faster than I can complete them,” she said.


Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.