Abby will spend most of her life in a wheelchair living with spinal muscular atrophy, but for an hour every weekend she rides. She needs a horse that moves in a rhythmic motion, front to back, which forces her to use her muscles and conditions her whole body.
Therapeutic Riding, Inc., which is celebrating its 30-year anniversary, is a volunteer-based nonprofit organization that gives Washtenaw County area youth and adults with disabilities a chance to ride horseback. When it started, there were just a handful of riders, a borrowed facility and borrowed horses. Today there are more than 100 riders, 13 horses and more than 150 dedicated volunteers.
TRI Executive Director Jan Vescelius is in awe of the steadfast support TRI and its riders have received in the past 30 years. She knows this organization helps kids in more ways than one, and although having fun may be most important for the kids, she says these classes do so much more.
"The social benefits, they can't be discounted," Vescelius said. "Most of us talk first about the therapeutic benefits that the horses provide, the movement, the tone regulation, the strengthening or the assist in other therapeutic programs of helping children to walk or talk."
Each horse is carefully chosen; some riders need active horses to keep stimulated while others need to challenge their intellectual abilities. Rider Annie Roby, 27, can't get enough of Therapeutic Riding.
"We would come every day if we could," Annie's mother, P.V. Roby said. "She just loves it and I think it's really good for her physically; socially she adores the people here, so it's just a wonderful experience all around."
The Therapeutic Riding Center runs completely on donations, and it wouldn't be possible to help the children without the help of so many volunteers. In the end, it's the kids that benefit.
"It allows you to do things that other people do," Vescelius said. "That you can do them, that you can be the best you can be. You can build and strengthen and do everything that everybody else does."
Vescelius says that horses are perfect for their program because they are kind animals as long as they are treated kindly. The horses owned by Therapeutic Riding are chosen for what they can do, and trained for the important and specific task of handling people. The training is an ongoing process for the horses, which carry disabled individuals year after year.
One thing is clear at the Therapeutic Riding Center; whether it's the horses, the volunteers, or just the atmosphere, many riders have enjoyed this opportunity over past 30 years.