Janie Miller, a volunteer coordinator at Horses and Horizons, New Ringgold, said Elaine and Harvey Smith celebrated the 20th anniversary of the farm on Zion's Stone Church Road on June 9. An open house was held from 5 to 6 p.m. Private riding lessons are offered and at 6 p.m. A group lesson is held. At the open house a mother said riding had helped loosen her daughter's muscles and she is better at keeping focused.
A new arena has been built so classes do not have to be cancelled if there is rain. The arena building also has a classroom.
Stephanie Karmonick is asked if she is ready to ride. Her horse is Frosty. All the horses are geldings.
"Am I ever ready. I'm always ready for this," Stephanie said. She is in her third year of therapeutic lessons at Horses and Horizons.
Alice Weaver, the board president, said Stephanie takes private lessons. The private lessons are for those people who still need two sidewalkers in addition to a leader to be able to ride and do the required exercises.
She takes a ring and drops it over a pole. It requires leaning to the side to reach the pole, but she is successful each time. High-fives are exchanged.
Weaver said parents find the farm with little need to advertise, but there must be a doctor's prescription because it is therapeutic. It is on Facebook and there is a web page, www.horsesandhorizons.org .
Elaine Smith is a certified Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship member. It is an international association of therapeutic riding instructors.
Amanda Carnes is the horse leader for Stephanie. To volunteer for that position, a person must have prior horse experience. The side walkers, who are in a position on either side to help the rider if needed, are Greg Stewart and Samantha Dale.
Tack wagons, glorified garden carts, are used to bring the tack to the outdoor arena. They contain saddles, helmets and bridles for each horse and rider, plus cleaning equipment for the horses. The volunteers can look at the pile and choose the right equipment for the horse and rider. It has to fit both.
New volunteers are trained between each eight-lesson session. Experienced volunteers are made aware of any changes.
"There is a lot of turnover," says Miller. For every 50 people who come for training, 20 stay. They tend to find out it is more involved than expected. Some of those who stay have been there many years.
How about this?
A six-year-old boy never spoke. The riders are expected to say "Thank you" after a class and one day the boy said, "Thank you, Elaine," perfectly clearly. His mother cried.
"He had the words in him but could not bring them out," said Miller.
A video is shown that lines up the rider's spine with the horse's spine to help riders learn what is meant by sitting straight and balanced. Lack of balance can be hard on the horse.
Miller said sometimes the young are afraid but they get over it and form a bond with the horses. No one under four years of age can come because of insurance requirements.
From a wheelchair people have to look up to talk to other people. From a horse they are able to look down. It is a morale booster.
Yadirha Sanchez also has a private lesson on Frosty and then the group riders come. Each one grooms, saddles, wears a helmet and then rides. After the ride the steps are done backward
"They have to learn to be gentle, to control their emotions," said Miller. Trumbauer said that just the motion of the horse does a lot for the physical aspect. Even the warmth of a horse's body helps.
Elaine is working with one small child as the group gets ready. She is taken outside for what they call a trail ride - across a wooden bridge or around a pond. It is a break from the arena.
It is Elaine who matches the riders with the horses when they first come to the farm.
Sarah Trumbauer is treasurer. She said many of the riders get half scholarships. Money is raised through fundraisers. The Ronald McDonald House Charity recently gave Horses and Horizons a $10,000 grant to put lights at the arena for early and late in the season when it gets dark early.
Sarah lists the benefits as physical, emotional and the ability to accept delayed gratification.
Harvey Smith is an occupational therapist. He urges socialization between the riders. "The program is very structured," he said, as he watches the riders prepare their horses. They will go to the number or letter on the side of the arena, or go to the blue pole and get a blue ring.
Red Light, Green Light is played with paddles with one side red for stop and the other side green for go. Another game is Simon Says which requires attention or the other rider will win.
"So much depends on the ability of the rider," said Harvey.
Some riders will sit backward or sideways because it uses a different set of muscles.
Weaver talks about a rider, Emma, who was floppy in the saddle but now sits straight as an arrow. It strengthens her muscles.
The success of Horses and Horizons proves that sometimes the best helping hand is actually a horse.