Riding for Hope

Kentucky / April 12, 2012 / by The Team

"The Healing power of the horse is just amazing."

The Central Kentucky Riding for Hope was established 31 years ago to provide "therapeutic riding, serving individuals with special needs to help improve the quality of life through horsemanship and mounted activities," explains Denise Spittler, the center’s Program Director. 

They provide a great many various therapies for children and adults alike, from people who have disabilities to those who have had surgeries or are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

When the program was founded, their only facility was part of a barn in the Kentucky Horse Park, in Lexington shared with the mounted police. The program started growing thanks to “a couple of very dedicated individuals and some borrowed horses,” says Pat Kline, Executive Director.

Today, Riding for Hope has moved into a new, purpose-built facility, just up the road from their original barn. Everything about the complex was thoughtfully designed. The needs of students, volunteers and teachers alike were carefully considered and planned for.

The benefits that come from using horses in therapy are many. First, there are the physiological traits of the horse. Equine movement is one “that most closely resembles the human walking gait. It fires all those neurons in your muscles and it wakes up those muscles and gives you that muscles memory,” explains Jenny Jackson, Lead Instructor. 

In terms of the therapy, it means that a student is activating all the muscles in their own body that are used in walking, simply by sitting on the horse. This can have great benefits for those whose fitness is affected by a disability or for those who need to rebuild strength in their muscles after surgery.

In fact, simply having to sit up straight in the saddle, engaging the core muscles in the abdomen can have a great impact on the building of strength. 

It is not only the physical effect of the horse, however. The connection that grows between the student and the horse is one that can be greatly beneficial to those in need of therapy. “They read our body language, they pick up on our energy,” says Spittler.

In some cases, the horse acts simply as an intermediary between a patient and a therapist: another presence in the room means that the clinical aspects of the therapy are removed and the patient is able feel more relaxed. 

The horses allow for an emotional connection to develop without any judgement towards the participant. Like any household pet, they can provide the company essential to recovery. 

For adults and children alike, there is also the appealing and liberating idea of being in control. The participants who ride with the help of side-walkers and leaders are told that they are the ones in control, able to go and stop whenever they please. As Jackson says, “it’s very empowering to be in control of a 1000lb animal.”

The effect of the therapy is obvious: as soon as the students see the horse, the excitement is visible on their faces. Riding for Hope provides an environment that fosters healing for its participants so that “when they come here and they’re riding, they don’t know it’s therapy, it’s just fun.” 

The program is run by a small staff of full-time employees and a very large contingent of around 400 volunteers. To find out more about the programs or to learn how to volunteer, visit their website or Facebook Page.