Reinbow Riders: Therapeutic training on horseback
May 23, 2012 | 1865 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BROCK OSBORNE (left) and Addie Johnson (right) smile for the camera during their Reinbow Riders lesson. While Reinbow Riders is not the only program available at the Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center, it is a popular choice. “The students use ‘Reinbow Reins,’” Sara Munday, an instructor, explained. “The reins attach to the harness, so there is still a leader that has control of the horse, while allowing students to learn how to turn the horse.” Banner Photos by DELANEY WALKER
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Atop the almost 1,000 pound horse sits Addie Johnson, a rider with multiple disabilities. She rides with confidence and ease under the watchful eyes of her Reinbow Riders instructors at the Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center.

Addie’s parents, Dan and Angie Johnson, watch their daughter’s lesson from the sideline.

According to Angie, she enjoys seeing her daughter ride because there is not a lot Addie is able to do.

“It took a little while for her to get back on the horse, but she is fine with it now,” Angie said. “She loves to trot, so we tell her that she gets to trot in the end if she completes her lesson.”

Since 2004, the Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center has provided therapeutic horseback riding, interactive vaulting, Special Olympics participation, ground lessons, and competition opportunities for physically and emotionally challenged individuals.

“Its great to see how much the children and adults get out of the program,” shared Sara Munday, an instructor at Reinbow Riders. “My son has a hard time focusing, but when he is on that horse he is focused.”

According to Denise Wright, the program coordinator of TSTRC, horses help because they are not judgmental.

“You have a clean slate with horses,” Wright explained. “When at-risk youth come in with a good, solid attitude then the horses are right there with them. If they come in with negative emotions, then it is like the horses are having a bad day. Horses very much mirror everything their rider is feeling.”

The instructors and volunteers hold classes five days a week for 50 students. According to Wright, the program is always looking for new riders.

Two young volunteers, Miranda Jones and Caroline Goins, help out with the lessons.

“It’s fun because it looks scary, but it’s not,” Goins explained.

Jones added, “You get an experience with horses and how they act, as well as with people.”

Both people and horses are dedicated to providing the best lessons for the riders.

“One of our riders, Brock, took a couple of months to get on a horse. We would stand here at the ramp and literally two hours would go by and he would not get on,” Wright recalled. “Now he loves to ride. We learned to back off a little bit and to let it be his idea.”

The TSTRC is full to the brim with stories of riders working through their disabilities.

Wright recalls another rider’s story with a smile. “David was in a wheelchair when he first arrived. He could walk, but he needed so much assistance. Now he comes up in here walking with his cane and offering instructions.”

A typical lesson lasts an hour and follows a regular routine. Riders are expected to groom their mounts followed by a warm-up for the horses. After the warm-up, the riders review previous lessons and work on new skills.

“There has been a lot of improved coordination,” Munday shared. “Also, through forming a relationship with the horses, the riders can form relationships with the volunteers.”

These relationships are no accident. The lessons are designed to be a social learning experience.

“During the practices students are encouraged to communicate through eye contact and their horses will not move unless they are given a command. After the lessons, the students are always reminded to show love to their horses,” explained Wright.

Wright revealed that some of the Reinbow Riders will be performing in the halftime show for the Chattanooga Cleveland Charity Horse Show.

“The horse show is our huge, yearly charity,” Wright explained. “From June 13-16 the top saddlebreds in the country will be camped out here and competing in the show.”

Wright says the Tri-State Exhibition Center will be decorated for the largest equine event in the Chattanooga area. Tickets are $5 at the gate and everyone is encouraged to join in the fun.

Those interested in volunteering or donating money can find contact information at

“Volunteer training is every Tuesday night at 4:30. Volunteers are asked to be committed for a session,” Wright said. “This is a great way to network. This barn is a great place to meet other people.”

As Addie guides her horse around the arena, her parents praise the program and all who are involved.

“Deep thanks to people that have time and money to have something like this,” Dan said. “The cost of the barns, the cost of the horse, the cost of the upkeep — someone is paying for that.”

“And you depend on that. The people volunteering and their time,” Angie added.

“It is just a tremendous opportunity. We owe a great thanks to the people that do this. That are willing to do the work. A deep gratitude,” Dan concluded.

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