It was a weekend of working, and a little bit of horsing around, all for a worthy cause.
“I enjoyed the opportunity to work with my family and help an organization that strives to improve the quality of life for children with disabilities,” said Erick Dieperink, Martin Lake plant superintendent.
The farm, located just outside of Henderson at 5669 County Road 401, was founded in August 2006 and serves upwards of 20 children on a given week.
Heather Harrison, who owns and operates Fire Horse Farm Equestrian Therapeutic Center with her husband Benjamin, said the center was founded to change lives through programs involving horsemanship and agricultural education, with a specific emphasis on therapeutic riding.
“At the farm, the children are not limited by a disability,” Harrison said. “When they get on that horse they are as able-bodied as someone else.”
Sitting on a walking-horse exercises muscles and joints while challenging balance and coordination, she said. Lives are improved with equine-facilitated therapy for those with such disabilities as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, attention deficit disorder and amputations.
Therapeutic riding classes are usually 30-90 minutes, depending upon each rider’s needs. Riders start out with their horse on a lead and with side-walkers, following strict safety standards. Each horse receives specialized training and is checked by North American Riding for the Handicapped Association inspectors.
Harrison said one of the primary therapeutic missions of the facility is to help children understand what they are capable of, instead of focusing on their disability.
“Our students go from generally having someone do everything for them, to being in an environment where we let them do anything and everything they are capable of doing,” Harrison said. “If they are even barely able to carry their saddle or holding a brush, they will saddle their horse and brush their horse.”
Harrison said that all of this is done with the assistance of a well-trained staff, but the students are empowered by being able to take the lead in participating.
Across the country, there are more than 5,000 specially screened and trained horses in similar therapeutic programs. Harrison said the advantage of physical therapy on horseback is that children are drawn to it because it is fun.
“They love the horses, and psychologically they improve,” Harrison said. “They bond with the horses. Timid kids gain confidence and anxiety issues are diminished.”
Teen volunteers assigned to community service are considered vital, as they learn horsemanship and communication skills that will enrich their lives and futures in a positive way.
“This opens a world for kids that need help,” Harrison said. “Volunteering and helping is beneficial because it’s helping someone besides themselves. They become more comfortable interacting with seniors and handicapped people.”
Fire Horse Farm is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and donations are tax-deductible. The fee for a six-week course is $150, but scholarships are available and no one is turned away for inability to pay.
“Our biggest expense, because we don’t have any paid employees, is for the care of our horses,” Harrison said. “But our goal is to be totally self-sufficient.”
For more information about Fire Horse Farm contact Benjamin and Heather Harrison at (903) 854-2584.