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Local Nonprofit Offers Therapeutic Horseback Riding

Randi Walle Randi Walle Local Nonprofit Offers Therapeutic Horseback RidingAll photos by Randi Walle
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In 2002, local law student Jennifer Hanson had a desire to reach inner city youth in a unique way. That same year, she fulfilled her dream when she bought a horse and began taking her into the inner city to visit with youth. The duo received a warm welcome and soon her horse became so sought after that people started to come visit the horse at the stables. Noticing the calming presence of the horse and how much people benefited from their time around the animal, Hanson began researching therapeutic horseback riding and the nonprofit Dreams on Horseback was born.

Hanson spent the next decade learning the ins and outs of therapeutic horseback riding while growing the nonprofit. In 2015, Dreams on Horseback became certified with the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH).

With a mission to “help people with challenges improve their lives through horse-assisted learning experiences and education,” Dreams on Horseback has grown to over 200 trained volunteers, nine therapeutic horses, and over 15,000 participant hours. The bulk of their work is providing services to riders with special needs and military members and families, and offering vocational training for high school students.

The nonprofit operates on 50% scholarship for their lessons. A typical lesson lasts one hour and has four participating riders. With the help of volunteers, each rider grooms and saddles their horse before and after the lesson. A team comprised of a leader and two side-walkers assists at the start of each lesson. The leader holds the reigns and leads the horse through the arena, while the side-walkers walk next to the rider and help them with stabilization, following directions, and socialization. As a rider progresses, one side-walker is eliminated, and then the other, and eventually a participant is able to hold the reigns and ride on their own.

Each lesson is led by a trained and certified instructor. The instructor talks the group through various exercises and games that help the riders work on their listening, leadership, coordination and core strength. The instructors and parents work together to create goals for the students, with supporting activities incorporated into each lesson. Horseback riding engages 43 different muscle groups, so it is a great exercise for riders who need to work on muscle control and balance. Because horses are so sensitive to the emotions around them, horseback riding also helps riders work on controlling their emotions. Each ride is also a lesson in listening to instructions, following directions, and planning their moves.

One instructor at the stables, Kelsey Walne, has been working for the organization for two years. Walne grew up around horses and began volunteering in stables while in high school. After completing her training, she started to teach therapeutic horseback riding. Walne loves seeing riders discover their self confidence, and how horses help break down walls and barriers.

“Horses have the power to help people in ways they’ve never experienced before,” Walne says. “Miracles happen every week.”

Kindergartener Austyn Talbot has been taking weekly lessons for a year and a half. Talbot, who is six years old, has a condition known as Apraxia which affects her motor skills. Throughout her lessons, her mom, Erika, has seen improvements in Talbot’s core strength, sequencing abilities, motor planning, and reciprocal brain movement. Erika loves that the program is adaptable to meet each rider’s needs and that it instills confidence in the riders from day one. Talbot’s favorite part is trotting. She has learned to steer around barrels and is working on backing up.

For military members—past and present—and their families, Dreams on Horseback offers several services. While they are not a counseling facility, they have seen riders make great strides through their time spent at the barn. Riders have the opportunity to groom horses and often relax during this methodic interaction with the animals. During the military family lessons, riders work on building trust and opening communication within their family. Dreams on Horseback also offers a summer kids camp specific to children of military members.

Dreams on Horseback also works with local school districts to help kids who struggle in school due to behavioral, physical, and mental challenges. A typical student enrolled in this program will attend a partial day at their regular school and spend the rest of the day at the barn. Students are assigned to a specific stall, taking responsibility for turning the horse in and out and ensuring the stall is properly cleaned. Through this program, students learn the benefit of taking instruction from a superior and working alongside peers, both necessary skills to have when entering the workforce. Additionally, students benefit from the calming presence of the horses and the relationships they build with them.

Dreams on Horseback is located at 1416 Reynoldsburg-New Albany Rd. in Blacklick. To stay up to date, follow them on Instagram and Facebook, or visit their website DreamsOnHorseback.org for more information or to schedule a visit.

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