Horses & Horizons Therapeutic Learning Center, Inc. is looking for volunteers to help with its program of therapeutic horseback riding for children and adults with special needs. The center is located 10 miles south of Tamaqua, near Route 309 and offers special riding lessons on Monday and Wednesday evenings from May through October.

H.H.T.L.C. is a registered nonprofit organization staffed entirely by volunteers. Often, three volunteers are needed so that a single student can ride. One person leads the horse while the other two walk alongside to help balance the rider. Lesson volunteers must be at least 14 years old, in good health, and able to walk for an hour at a time. They must successfully complete a volunteer training session, provided by H.H.T.L.C. While experience with horses and/or people with disabilities is helpful, it is not necessary in order to assist with lessons.

H.H.T.L.C. welcomes the volunteer assistance of professionals in the allied health fields of physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Because safety for riders is a primary concern, H.H.T.L.C. also needs people with horse experience to lead horses during riding lessons.

To provide continuity for riders, H.H.T.L.C. asks volunteers for a minimum commitment of eight weeks for the upcoming spring session of lessons. A volunteer may sign up for as little as two hours, one night a week, or for as many as three hours on one or both lesson nights.

According to volunteer coordinator, Miriam Winter, "Our volunteers say that they get a lot more from the program than they give. It's very rewarding to be part of the growth and accomplishments of our riders. It's the best way I know of to have fun and feel good about yourself at the same time."

Therapeutic horseback riding has been shown to improve balance, posture, strength and coordination. It also helps to increase self-awareness, self-confidence, attention span, and independence. Often, riders also gain improved social skills.

H.H.T.L.C. serves riders with a wide variety of disabilities including cerebral palsy, autism, attention deficit disorder, developmental delays, mental retardation, Down syndrome, and traumatic brain injury, among others. The lessons are designed to be both therapeutic and fun.

"Some of our riders receive many different types of therapies," says program director Elaine Smith. "Therapeutic horseback riding is by far their favorite. For many of them, riding is the highlight of their whole week. The horses make all the difference. It's as though they work magic for some of our riders."

H.H.T.L.C. will hold a required volunteer training session for lesson volunteers on Saturday, April 16, from 1-5 p.m. at the center. Anyone who wishes to volunteer with riding lessons must attend this hands-on training.

In addition to lesson volunteers, H.H.T.L.C. also needs volunteers to assist with stable and grounds maintenance, to clean saddles and bridles, and to help with fundraising. If you would like to become a volunteer, contact Miriam Winter at (570) 386-2743.

For information on enrolling a rider, or if you would like more information on H.H.T.L.C., call Harvey or Elaine Smith at (570) 386-5679 or visit www.horsesandhorizons.org.