Therapeion Therapeutic Riding Center

Therapeion Therapeutic Riding Center is a therapeutic riding center that facilitates the healing of body and spirit through the interaction between humans and horses. They serve individuals with developmental, physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges. They are located in Brookston, Indiana. Enjoy the interview with Pattie Spafford, the volunteer coordinator.

Tell me about Therapeion Therapeutic Riding Center.

“The mission of Therapeion Therapeutic Riding Center (TTRC) is to facilitate the healing of body and spirit through the interaction between humans and horses. Our pilot program was held in the summer of 2007. Since then, we have grown to offer services March through October to over 100 individuals in the greater Lafayette/Brookston/Delphi area in north-central Indiana. We serve individuals facing developmental, physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges.

Our sessions run from 6-8 weeks, and riders attend once a week. Class sizes are limited to four so that each rider can be given time and attention. Our clients ride every class. Each class has a lesson plan that is individually modified to the rider’s needs and abilities. We focus on basic horsemanship but with a lot of exercises to stimulate a sense of accomplishment and fun. Each rider is assigned a ‘team’ that we try to keep consistent throughout the session. The team consists of up to three people. One is a horse handler (the person that holds the horse on a lead rope and monitors the horse’s behavior). There are also one or two side-walkers who focus on the riders and help them with achieving their individual goals for the class.

Our instructors are certified through PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) and regularly attend workshops and professional development sessions. Our volunteers all go through at least 4 hours of training before stepping into a class session. And we have a mentor volunteers who have 3+ years experience that help our new folks.

The horses are chosen for the program based on temperament, size, and shape. We also try to match up client/horse personalities as best as possible.

We can accommodate most physical challenges. We have specific therapeutic riding tack (gait belts, treeless saddles, etc.) We use mounting blocks, and we have a wheelchair ramp to help riders with more severe physical impairments mount the horse.

I am biased, but I think nearly everyone would benefit from spending time with a horse!  But seriously, riding is an emotional experience as well as a physical experience. Riding can help a person work on balance, stretching muscles, mobility, and being out in fresh air. We also see our riders develop emotional connections to the horses because there is no judgment. A horse doesn’t care what you look like or how you talk, they respond to our riders as individuals.”

How have you seen people’s lives transformed from therapeutic riding?

 “I have seen clients transform over several years from timid and needing two side-walkers, to having the physical and mental strength to ride independently. I’ve seen personalities blossom, confidence bloom, empathy flourish. One young client that was non-verbal would speak to the horse. These may seem like small things to many of us, but in the context of equine-assisted therapy, these are huge leaps!”

Run me through a therapeutic riding session.

“Classes run at the top of the hour (4pm, 5pm, 6pm,) three days a week. At the top of the hour, the side-walkers will meet the clients in the classroom area and take them to get their helmets on. (All clients must wear helmets when they are around the horses). Each client, if they are mobile, will meet the horse and walk it (with the assistance of the horse handler) to the lesson arena. Once there, the client will get ready for class – pulling down stirrups and attaching reins. When ready, the client mounts the horse and the PATH instructor will do a final tack check.

The lessons change a bit each week with different games and activities designed to increase basic riding skills, as well as help develop balance, muscle strength and flexibility, and motor skill development. Riding sessions typically last 30 minutes.

We usually end each class with the opportunity to experience a controlled trot — which always brings a smile to the face of our clients! The rider dismounts, fixes the stirrups, removes the reins, and then we walk back to the barn. The client then helps with removing tack, hanging items up, and grooming the horse. This is, of course, modified to accommodate the physical needs and abilities of the clients. For instance, we have areas near the front of the barn where individuals can move a wheelchair up to the horse to groom, etc. Once grooming is complete, the client is then taken to the classroom area where they meet their parents or care-giver. We always speak with the families and let them know how the client did.”

 Is there a limit on how many people can sign up? Can people join anytime?

“At the current time, the available resources only allow about 36 riders per session. This is based on how many horses are available and how many instructors can supervise. This may change in the future.”

Are you looking for new/more volunteers?

“As the Volunteer Coordinator, I’m always happy to have more volunteers! Volunteers don’t necessarily need to have extensive horse experience, just a willingness to learn. We do work outside in most kinds of weather, so if being outside and around kids and animals is your thing, this is the volunteer opportunity for you!”

How do you raise funds to put on the programs?

“A small amount of money comes from tuition. But we are funded primarily through donations and special projects. Currently, we are running our “Pony Up for Therapeion” fundraising campaign. Our goal is to reach at least $10,000. Everything raised during this campaign will go to horse care and to the scholarship fund for our clients. Most folks who don’t own horses don’t realize how expensive it can be to provide care and feeding. It costs Therapeion about $350 per month to care for one horse. We have ten equines. Expenses include hay, grain, joint supplements, semi-annual vet checks, vaccinations, chiropractic care, emergency vet care, and hoof care.”

How much does it cost for someone to participate?

“It costs between $240-$320, depending on the length of the session. As noted in my response above, we are working to raise money for our scholarship fund so that we can provide financial assistance to clients who may need it.”

What is the best lesson that you have learned from working with people with disabilities?

“To take people exactly where they are and allow yourself to experience the world as they see it. There are clients that, through merely being themselves, have given me tremendous insight into how to be resilient. How to be happy and find joy in little things. And how, in the end, it is our connection to each other that makes a difference.”

What is a fun/heartwarming story of working with someone through therapeutic riding?

 “Oh my, almost too many to share! I have to give big props to the PATH instructors. On day one of a class session, a client was crying and afraid. I really didn’t think it was going to happen. This child was upset to the point I thought they would hyperventilate. The instructor slowed the pace way down; took things one small movement at a time. (Stand on the mounting block. OK, breathe. Touch the horse’s neck. OK, breathe. Put a foot in the stirrup. OK, breathe.) Eventually, that child was up on the horse. Still nervous, but the crying had stopped. The instructor worked on breathing and stretching while the horse stood still. We eventually managed to walk around the arena just fine. That client is now more than happy to trot and is willing to groom the horse after class.”

On a sillier note, one client decided she was going to make hair bows for the horse she was riding. That was super sweet – and more than a little funny. She made these GIANT pink bows for the horse’s mane and tail — it made quite a sight in the arena. We encourage a sense of connection and community in our classes.”

Anything coming up that you would like to share with our community?

“Right now, we are in the midst of our “Pony Up for Therapeion” fundraising campaign to raise money for horse care and scholarships. So if anyone is interested in contributing to that, we’d appreciate it. Also, share information about Therapeion widely in your network. You can find the Pony Up for Thereapeion campaign here.

 Anything else that you would like to share?

The Therapeion Therapeutic Riding Center website is: https://www.therapeiontrc.com/

If you are interested in volunteering, please contact me, Pattie Spafford: ttrcvolunteer@yahoo.com

If you are interested in enrolling for classes, please contact Libby Marks-Shepard: therapeion@yahoo.com

For information about our board of directors, please contact Gene Spafford: therapeiontrc@gmail.com

Emma Benner

Emma Benner

Social Media Intern

Emma is a student-athlete at Purdue University majoring in Kinesiology and on the cross country and track and field teams. She has been involved in the special needs community for many years as a coach with Special Olympics Minnesota, and  as a personal care assistant/respite sitter. She has worked in media, marketing, and journalism with various organizations. When Emma has some free time, she enjoys riding horses (she grew up doing barrel racing), baking doughnuts and cake pops (yum!), pursuing her new art interest (wood burning, painting, or drawing), or going for a long fun in sunny weather (her favorite!).