Riding as therapy at Heritage Christian Stables

23 Jul

A few weeks ago, I attended a check-presentation event at Heritage Christian Stables on Salt Rd. It was the first time I’d visited the facility in more than 10 years, since I wrote a piece about them when I was still blogging for the Democrat and Chronicle.

I was pleased for the chance to get reacquainted with the stables, and to be reminded of the great service they provide for our community.

Heritage Christian Stables, a community impact program of Heritage Christian Services, is an inclusive, therapeutic riding facility for children and adults with physical, social or developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, spina bifida and many more.

“We serve a little bit of everything,” said Heritage Christian Stables director Tara Kuba. “From individuals with emotional and mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, self-harm, (to) participants on the autism spectrum.” Some of their students are in wheelchairs, and others are nonverbal, so staff members teach them some signs to communicate what they’d like a horse to do.

“We never have two lessons that look the same,” she added.

It turns out that horseback riding is great therapy for all of these conditions, as explained on the Heritage Christian Stables website:

Therapeutic horsemanship impacts a person’s physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and spiritual well being. The horse’s walk mimics the three dimensional movement of the human walk, offering riders the rhythmic movement and opportunities for improvement in balance, symmetry, and muscle strengthening. Participants are provided with cognitive tasks to improve following directions, sequencing, and meeting educational goals. Psychologically, it’s empowering for the rider to be able to control a 1,000-pound animal and develop a bond with a horse that positively affects the participant’s self-esteem and confidence. Therapeutic horsemanship allows people to strengthen their bodies and minds, freeing their spirit to do the things they never thought possible. 

Of course, it’s also just plain FUN.

Heritage Christian Stables operates on 13 beautiful acres at 1103 Salt Rd., just south of State. They currently have 12 full-size horses and two miniature horses. The smaller ones are used for students who might be intimidated by the larger horses; they can sit in a small cart pulled by a mini and drive it around the ring.

As with most businesses, the pandemic presented some real challenges for the stables; they’re only just now getting back to being fully staffed, for example. But they came through stronger than ever, even recently introducing a new program for veterans in partnership with CompeerCorp.

Tara said,

We have approximately 10 veterans who come out and ride or groom and care for the horses on a weekly basis. … They thoroughly enjoy the horses and interacting with them. They are becoming more engaged in our activities and are building relationships here with the horses and other people.

During the pandemic, the stables also expanded their program for community riders. “People didn’t have a lot they could do,” Tara said, so we had them start riding horses.” Still, by far most of the 100 or so students who take lessons at Heritage Christian Stables do so for therapeutic reasons. The facility offers a safe, non-judgmental place to learn new skills, make new friends, and achieve to the best of their abilities. The social, emotional and physical benefits students get from the simple joy of riding a horse are changing their lives.

To do this great work, Heritage Christian Stables relies on community support. Tara explained, “We’re a little different from other commercial stables (which) also do horse boarding, horse training, maybe tack sales or some other revenue streams. Here our only revenue stream is our lessons.” They charge students less than half of the actual cost for every lesson, subsidizing the balance through donations.

The continued success of their therapeutic horsemanship program also depends on volunteers, who help coordinate special projects and run lessons. Riders may require as many as three people to assist them – one “side walker” on each side of the horse and one “horse leader” responsible for guiding the equine.

To find out more about Heritage Christian Stables, call (585) 872-2540, see their website here or check out their Facebook page. Also, click here to learn more about becoming a volunteer. Experience is not required, and all training is provided.

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(posted 7/21/2022)

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