Horses help us understand our struggles and give us the emotional and physical support we need to overcome challenges. They also have a way of bringing people together. Courageous Hearts Horsemanship (CHH) is a non-profit therapeutic riding and horsemanship program that operates at Windy Way Horses in Hurlock. The organization serves local children and adults with special abilities, needs, and gifts, as well as individuals and families who are battling or have survived cancer.
According to owner Annie Trice, two years ago, two women brought their six-year old daughters to ride at Windy Way Horses. One of the mothers had been diagnosed with breast cancer and the other mother was in remission from cancer. Both women were drawn to the horses and were helped by being around them.
Annie comments, “After both women passed away in their 40s, I wanted to look at what I could do for people like them through therapeutic riding and offer it to more people in need. My friend, a cancer survivor, whose son was riding in the program, helped me come up with the name Courageous Hearts Horsemanship.”
The mission of CHH is making a difference for everyone in need – for body, mind, and spirit through God and horses. The organization offers therapeutic riding and horsemanship where participants interact with horses, a mini donkey, a mini pony, and even a Clydesdale horse. In the last year, CHH has doubled the number of participants in its therapeutic programs.
Annie, who is a certified therapeutic riding instructor through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH), adds, “We strive to make a difference in every interaction and every activity that our horses can provide. We have great testimonials on their effects on social anxieties, complex anxieties, disabilities, and overall quality of life. Our horses help people with their kindness, persistence, and love.”
Equine assisted activities can help improve motor coordination, posture, balance, muscle tone, concentration, self-esteem and self-confidence in riders with special needs. Equine therapy for special needs usually makes use of the rocking motion and gait of the horse to simulate the natural sway of the pelvis during walking. Horse riding serves as a training activity for the body of the individual to move in the right way. The horse gait and rocking motion also helps in developing muscle tone and coordination to effectively help the patient in standing and walking.
According to Kristi Krewson, of Cambridge, whose nine-year old son Caleb takes independent private lessons with Annie, “Caleb has cerebral palsy and the riding has really strengthened his core. His favorite horse is Winston and the horse can tell when Caleb is off balance and will stop and wait until Caleb’s balance is restored and Annie tells him to go.” She adds, “Our goal is to have Caleb walk without assistance one day.”
Equine assisted activities can improve cognitive ability, body strength, and endurance. They may also increase broader abilities such as an adult or child’s social skills, confidence, and overall sense of wellbeing. Equine therapy for special needs can help children and adults with a wide variety of disabilities. In particular, the therapy is effective in helping children and adolescents suffering from autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, seizure disorder, visual and hearing impairment, anxiety disorder, learning disorder, substance abuse, multiple sclerosis, development disorder, muscular dystrophy, amputation, brain injury, as well as behavioral problems. Therapists and social workers often refer patients to CCH because of the benefits it offers.
Angela Thomas of East New Market, whose 22-year-old son Logan has been competing in Western Dressage through CHH’s therapeutic riding program, comments, “Logan has Fragile X syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum, and horseback riding has been helpful to him, especially in improving his motor skills. The social aspects of the program have also encouraged Logan to make friends, which is very important to people with special needs who often don’t make friends easily. Logan even got a ribbon this year for competing through Western Dressage.”
Annie discovered that there were not many opportunities for riders with disabilities to show horses locally. To address this, she developed a Western Dressage Therapeutic Riding Test and got it added to local horse shows so that people with disabilities could compete locally. The Western Dressage Association of America is going to adopt the test for it to be used across the nation.
Annie adds, “Our programs help people get through life’s unfair moments. The use of horses is considered non-judgmental, as it provides no prejudices to the healing process.”
Because of this, CHH offers programs free of charge for both veterans and cancer patients, cancer survivors, and their families. Horses can have a significant benefit for veterans, who may be struggling with PTSD experience, including anxiety from loud, sudden noises or for veterans who simply need an escape from daily living in the city, or the hustle and bustle of military base. CHH is looking for sponsors to help fund these programs.
Courageous Hearts Horsemanship operates from the funds generated from its program fees, but also from the kindness of others in their donations. Sometimes families come who cannot afford the cost of the services, and CHH will not turn away anyone in need. CHH also seeks funds to help with the costs associated with the taking care of its 12 therapeutic horses and equipment. Individuals can volunteer their special talents at CHH, donate items, or sponsor a therapy horse for a participant.
Windy Way Horses has been a big part of the surrounding community for over 10 years, offering basic riding lessons, therapeutic riding lessons, exercise class on horseback, trail riding, and even Painting Ponies Paint Nights, where participants paint horses with washable paints.
Courageous Hearts Horsemanship and Windy Way Horses are located at 6836 East New Market-Ellwood Road in Hurlock. For further information, visit courageousheartshorsemanship.com or call Annie Trice at 443-205-3429.