The benefits of Therapeutic Riding according to liscensing group NAHRA are two-fold. Children with various disabilities can achieve both physical and cognitive improvements. On the physical side, Horseback activities stretch and strengthen little-used or underdeveloped muscles, help to improve posture and coordination, aid in the development of gross and fine motor skills, improve a range of motion, and increase the riders awareness of their body in space. Making progress in these areas while being with the horses they love is a big improvement for children or young people who have often spent much time in hospital environments.
Carefully planned exercises also help cognitive and social function because the participant to address issues such as communication, trust, honesty, accountability, responsibility, patience, relationships, self respect, respect for others, self confidence, anger, and social skills.
Kenna Moody is in charge of training and caring for the horses involved in the program. Because the horse is the key to all the activities, her work is vital to the success of the program. Kenna has been riding since she was three and began Gymkhana events at five. “I remember asking for a horse over and over” she recalls, “My mom’s brother got tired of me asking, and told my mom ‘I will pay for half if we get her a horse to shut her up!’ They each paid $25.00 to buy me my first pony named Peanuts. Two years later I got a POA pony named Misty who became my all time gaming pony. She went on to be my best friend and won in most gaming events all over Oregon.”
Kenna’s first experience of training for a difficult task happened with Misty, “In a run-off for a year end award, I remember my mom telling me if I could turn the barrel faster than this race horse I was competing against, then I had a chance. Well in the end we did do exactly that! We beat a high-bred race horse the get the high-point award.”
Like the other staff members and volunteers at “Riding for Joy,” fate seemed to take a hand in getting Kenna involved. When her son was playing high school sports, she decided to give up showing horses to devote more time to watching him play. “When he headed off to college, I was feeling this deep ache to be around horses again. One night while watching TV, there was a news special on RFJ and I thought this was a way I could get back to being with horses. Little did I know the horses were not the only reason I would get involved.”
Kenna tells this story, explaining everything. “A little boy had come to ride in the program. It was his first day as well as mine. I was leading a horse for him and he got to the ramp and was really scared to ride, he said the horse was too big. The instructor talked him into getting on the horse and within 5 steps he was waiving at his mom and having a good time. The very next week he showed up in jeans, boots, a vest, scarf around his neck, hat and sheriffs badge and was ready to ride. I knew right then I was hooked!”
Not every horse is right for the work, and Kenna believes that the animals know what they are doing. In a new animal she looks for “horses that are calm and trusting. They do not have to be trained; I can do that. But they do need to be willing to learn and have patience. It is a pretty long process because you have to go slow to keep their trust. It just takes a certain type of horse.” Kenna works hard to keep each animal in shape and makes sure they get a chance to do the work they were used to doing before. “I find it very important to take them back from time to time and give them that opportunity to do what they were born to do and love to do.”
One of the goals at “Ride for Joy” is to provide top flight instruction, facilities, and animals. Someday they hope to have their own land and stock, and enough capital to ensure that the horse faculty can retire in peace and safety at the end of a career of service. That day is a long way off as the day-to-day fundraising that ensures ongoing lessons, food, and veterinary care remains stable. Riding for Joy wish list has a fun wish list and it is easy to make Contributions.
What are the best and most difficult parts about working with the program? “The best thing is seeing the horses doing their job with the kids and enjoying it. You can just tell they really do like what they are doing and know how important they are to the kids and program. It sounds silly, but you can just tell. The hardest part is the responsibility you feel in making sure the horses do their job. But you have to remember that at any given day something could happen and that it is a team effort and that you cannot control everything. But
you still feel responsible.”
The joy on the children’s faces tell the tale: they love their horses and the feeling is mutual.