For the past seven years, Transylvania Vocational Services (TVS) and the Free Rein Center for Therapeutic Riding and Education have been working together to help reach the individual goals of participants and offering volunteer hours since 2014.
After several years of a successful partnership, both entities determined that sharing individual goals would allow each individual participant to see a greater gain. With the focus on shared goals, individuals have improved communications skills and their ability to advocate for themselves.
“This past year, we sat down and discussed what each side was attempting to accomplish,” said Free Rein Program Chair, Brittany McCathern. “Now we are working together to accomplish the same goals for the individuals.”
At Free Rein, TVS individuals are taught how to groom the horses prior to riding. They learn the order of the brushes and their individual purpose, along with the different parts to the saddle and in what order they are placed on the horse.
Individuals interested in riding horses are instructed by trained volunteers who walk beside the horses and assist in direction steering as needed.
Riders are prompted to communicate with their horses by giving them directions and commands. They are also asked to make different stretches while riding such as twisting to the left or right, and lifting their hands into the air.
“The exercises help with different physical components such as posture, balance, and as a way of improving environmental proprioception and feeling grounded,” said TVS Life Skills Supervisor Suzanne Byers.
There are many benefits from participating including; communication, building core strength and balance, learning to follow directions, sequencing, and listening. There is also the benefit of interacting with the horses.
“The best part is watching the progress of each individual,” said McCathern. “We have seen a couple people that only used to groom the horses, grow to where they are now riding a horse with limited to no assistance.”
After stretches and directional practices, participants ride from the barn to a special tactile obstacle course in a lower field. Riders are able to lead their horses to large games, up on wooden platforms, and through hanging pool noodles. The course offers an unique experience in a fun environment.
“I love watching individuals grow and gain skills and seeing them so happy up there on a horse,” said Free Rein Program Chair Porsha Smith. “When they look down at you and smile, that is what it’s all about.”
Please visit https://freereincenter.org/ to learn more information about Free Rein.
Written by Jenifer Welch