DACUSVILLE — “’I want to help others and make a difference in my community.’ I cannot tell you how many times I have heard these sentiments from our volunteers when they are asked why they are helping our therapeutic riding program,” said Becky Sweeny, of Eden Farms, home to the therapeutic riding program, Happy Hooves. “National Volunteer month is coming up in April and Happy Hooves is always looking for volunteers to donate their time and talents.”
Happy Hooves has been a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International Premier Accredited Center since 2005.
In fact, they are one of only six Premier Accredited Centers in S.C. — and the only one in the Upstate. This accreditation is a rigorous process requiring centers to meet stringent requirements for staff, facilities and programs, they said.
A program must be re-accredited every five years.
According to a spokesperson for the organization, PATH Intl. was founded in 1969 as the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) to promote safe and effective therapeutic horseback riding throughout the United States and Canada.
Today, PATH Intl. has more than 880 member centers and more than 8,000 individual members in countries all over the world, who help and support more than 66,000 men, women and children — including more than 6,200 veterans — with special needs each year through a variety of equine-assisted activities and therapies programs.
Though PATH Intl. began with a focus on horseback riding as a form of physical and mental therapy, the organization and its dedicated members have since developed a multitude of different equine-related activities for therapeutic purposes, collectively known as equine-assisted activities and therapies (or EAAT).
Besides horseback riding, EAAT also includes therapeutic carriage driving; interactive vaulting, which is similar to gymnastics on horseback; equine-facilitated learning and mental health, which partner with the horse in cognitive and behavioral therapy, usually with the participation of a licensed therapist; ground work and stable management; and PATH Intl. Equine Services for Heroes, which uses a variety of EAAT disciplines specifically to help war veterans and military personnel.
In addition, many PATH Intl. volunteer-driven committees are working on identifying and refining even more disciplines and activities that might be put to use in the world of EAAT.
“PATH Intl. Certified Instructors use these equine-assisted activities and therapies to help tens of thousands of individuals each year with physical, mental and behavioral challenges gain strength and independence through the power of the horse,” the spokesperson said. “EAAT helps people from all backgrounds and all walks of life in a variety of ways, including increasing strength and flexibility, improving motor skills, promoting speech and cognitive reasoning and building relationships and social skills.”
The individuals served by PATH Intl. members may face any number of challenges, including paralysis, multiple sclerosis, autism, Down syndrome, substance abuse, traumatic brain injury or amputation — but all benefit from the power of the horse, they said.
“One of our most recent volunteers told us of an experience he had while volunteering with special needs students in our School at the Barn program,” said Sweeny. “He had side walked next to a young man and engaged him in conversation. Afterwards, the special needs teacher asked him how he knew her student. He said this was the first time they had met. The teacher was blown away at how much her normally quiet student was so comfortable engaging in conversation while on horseback. She said her student was normally not so verbal, but therapeutic riding changed that!”
Happy Hooves is currently looking to add to their team of volunteers, an opportunity Jane Wyche jumped at over a decade ago.
“There was an article in the newspaper with photos about Eden Farms and all it offers children and adults. I quickly called, got the information and went for my orientation,” said Wyche. “Since then, I’ve volunteered with School at the Barn , individual therapy lessons and educational field trips.”
Wyche said she found it especially rewarding to help with the therapeutic riding lessons.
“A disability doesn’t have to limit a person from riding horses,” she said. “Experiencing the movement of a horse can be very therapeutic to a rider. I have seen children completely transformed when sitting in the saddle. One sweet little boy was able to walk a few steps after several lessons. Another child began to speak a few words. All riders love the horses, the games played while riding and their instructor.”
When Wyche is not at Eden Farms, she’s at her home caring for her three horses, four rescued dogs and three rescued cats.
“I have made wonderful friends here — Amy and her family, Becky and Avril — and all the other volunteers,” she said. “We are like one big happy family!”
Happy Hooves currently needs help Mondays through Fridays and horse experience is not necessary.
“You may get a bit of horsehair on your clothes,” said Sweeny. “But you will also get plenty of hands on horse time, hugs and the satisfaction of knowing you are making a difference in the lives of special needs children and at risk youth — one stride at a time.”
To volunteer, call 864-898-0043 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.