GALLIPOLIS FERRY, W.Va. — Certain animals possess innate abilities which aid in healing humans on multiple levels.
Safe Harbor Therapeutic Riding Facility in Gallipolis Ferry, W.Va., is a 501C3 non-profit organization with a mission to use riding horses and miniature horses in assisted activities that help enhance physical, emotional, social, cognitive, and educational skills for individuals with disabilities, special needs, troubled teens, and youth who have endured trauma due to illness or death, explained Amey Carr, president and founder of the facility.
Safe Harbor is open to the public.
Carr said she received her certification for therapeutic riding through Ohio University in December of 2012 in order to open Safe Harbor. The riding horses and minis chosen to be used for therapy must have a certain set of qualities. Once the riding horses and minis are chosen based on their character, they must complete a training program.
Safe Harbor volunteers explained horses have a special sense which aids them in detecting what type of individual with whom they are interacting. They mimic the attitudes of the individuals interacting with them explained Carr.
Those who participate in either sort of therapy learn about their horses as well as how to care for them and practice safety. When individuals interact with the horses, they must use communication because the horses follow voice commands, thus improving the individuals’ speech. Carr commented when riding a horse, a part of the brain is stimulated that is connected to speaking which also improve individuals’ speech.
The minis are utilized for equine therapy said Carr. When the minis visit the local nursing home, they will reach their heads over to the residents, so they can be easily pet.
“When they go to the nursing home or when they work with a special needs (person), they know to stand there and that they have a job to do,” said Carr.
Individuals who participate in equine therapy will be assigned their own mini who they must achieve a set of goals with all the while developing a bond with one another. The individuals, said Carr, will feed their mini, groom their mini, and then participate in a lesson with their mini.
Individuals who participate in riding therapy enhance their physical abilities. Carr uses riding therapy.
She stated, “The benefits for riders, just like me, I have a lot of metal in me and I don’t walk that great, most of the time I use a cane, but when I’m riding, when you’re riding a horse, its gait is moving your body as if you’re walking, so it helps me, I walk better. Then, it helps build your core muscles, it helps builds your balance.”
Curtis Atkinson and Kelly Mccallister both participate in equine and riding therapy. Atkinson and Mccallister shared they both enjoy riding the horses. Atkinson said his favorite mini is Pistol and he enjoys brushing, feeding, and walking him. Mccallister’s said her favorite mini is Flicka.
Safe Harbor is open from May 1- Oct. 31 for riding and equine therapy sessions. At the end of the year, a party is held so participants involved in the program can show what they learned during the season.
Safe Harbor supports the West Virginia Youth Expo held yearly and Carr explained several activities can take place at Safe Harbor such as My Little Pony themed birthday parties, school field trips, weddings, riding lessons, educational clinics, horse shows, and vacation bible schools. Also, members of the 4-H Club Cowboys and Angels hold their meetings and practice riding there.
On Saturday, May 19 at 10:30 a.m. the West Virginia Miniature Horse Club Association will be having a show at Safe Harbor.
Carr said in July the process of putting in a greenhouse will begin. She commented once the greenhouse is complete it will be an all year round program open to individuals.
New volunteers at Safe Harbor are welcomed said Carr. She explained without help from the facility’s volunteers, the organization could not prosper. Volunteers must go through a training program.
Donations and sponsorship to help support the clients, horses, and program’s needs are also appreciated.
For anyone interested in volunteering, donating, or sponsoring can contact Carr at (304) 593-3499. Also, board members meet on the third Thursday every month, 6:30 p.m. at Safe Harbor and anyone is welcome to attend.
Erin Perkins is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, extension 1992.