A large horse loomed ever closer. It did nothing to help her frayed nerves.
Thoughts of what could happen raced through her brain.
Center Director Denise Wright informed the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland at a recent luncheon the horse knew the girl was terrified.
“He went up to her and played with her hair,” Wright said with a smile. “He just grabbed some of her hair and played with some of her hair.”
She said the horse continues to seek out the girl whenever her group comes to the center.
Wright added, “That was something she needed for that confidence building and to feel safe in the environment.”
Taking the Lead is one of several programs offered through the center. It is a six-week equine-assisted learning service. Counseling students from Lee University and Southern Adventist volunteer to work with the horses and at-risk youth.
Center VISTA Brittany Stoess said youth from Goal Academy and Park Ridge Valley often join as participants. These students interact with the horses and complete low-rope courses to build character and learn life lessons. Roughly 200 students have filed through the program since 2010.
A group of participants meets the horses at the same time. The horses are in the corral, and the students join them before the lesson is over. It involves much trust in both the instructors and the horses.
“[Trust] is something these kids have such a hard time with. There are so many teenagers whose trust is just gone,” Wright said. “The horses show them some attention they didn’t ask for and they didn’t bring on themselves. That is something so many youth are doing now. They are seeking that attention by doing the negative things in life.
“It required nothing. It required standing there doing as they were told, introducing themselves and horses are just coming up to them. Coming up to them. Nudging them. Wanting that attention. Starving for that attention, and that is what those teens are doing. They are starving for that attention.”
The success of Taking the Lead encouraged the center to begin a disabled veterans program. It has been labeled Horses for Heroes. The service is free of charge and provides veterans with equestrian skills over a six-week period.
“Later on, we incorporate them into the program, giving them a volunteer opportunity and kind of giving them a social outlet,” Wright said. “We have a group of four veterans riding with us now. They are amazing individuals. I look forward to this class every week.”
Stoess and Wright assured the Kiwanians the Reinbow Riders program is still firmly in place and currently has 60 special needs participants.
Wright boasted the program has 20 individuals who are able to compete in the equestrian games of the Special Olympics at the state level. She announced Tri-State was nominated to be the state site for the Special Olympics state level equestrian games for 2014.
“Something that I found in the horse show in the horse industry is they try to simplify our special needs events,” Wright said. “In my opinion, our special needs riders need to have that exact same horse riding experience that everyone else gets ... We are going to be out in that big show arena, and we are going to make it a full-out horse show.”
According to Wright, the community can help by providing volunteers for the event, getting the word out and donating for the ribbons.
More information can be found by calling 476-9310 or by visiting www.tsec.org.