OWENSBORO, Ky. (8/19/13) – Do dreams really come true?
That’s the question Dream Riders of Kentucky likes to answer ‘yes’ to every day. The program is in its eleventh year providing therapeutic horse-back riding services to disabled children and adults in the Daviess County area.
Mike Clark and Suzy Higdon both have disabled kids of their own, so they knew what dreams of ability were made of. It was a “humble” beginning for Clark and Higdon when they started Dream Riders with just one borrowed horse, eight special-needs kids, and eight volunteers.
“We started very simply, we had no money…we’ve worked hard to expand the program to what it is today,” Clark said.
Now, the program serves over 300 individuals and has 75 individuals volunteering over 3,500 hours each year. The program has a pretty extensive waiting list that shows the progress the therapy is making for children and adults.
“We’ve learned along the way,” Higdon agreed.
Dream Riders, located at Bittel Equestrian Center off of Hwy. 60, helps adults and children suffering traumatic brain injury, cerebral-palsy, and intellectual disabilities. The horses are a “non-conventional tool for therapy”, said Clark. A physical therapist helps to evaluate where the children are in their disability and to determine which horses and equipment are suitable for the riders based on compatibility and skill level.
Dream Riders prides themselves with having the most adaptive technology available with ramps, lifts, and saddles to accommodate each rider’s disability. Carriage rides are also available to provide the benefits of riding to individuals whose physical conditions don’t let them participate in the other programs.
“Our goal to turn a disability to an ability,” Clark said.
Riding lessons are given in 12-week sessions, Tuesday and Thursday nights, and Friday mornings during the summer months. Tuesday and Thursdays, Dream Riders hosts lessons for individuals and their families as part of their improvement program. The program includes parent input, measures of progress, and redirection for individuals, if needed. Friday morning lessons are reserved for group classes from local schools.
Volunteers of the program work whatever their schedules allow, but regardless, there are usually 25 volunteers a night; some with horse knowledge, some without. The volunteers are all ages, 14 and above, and are trained in safety procedures.
“Safety is a big issue for us,” Higdon said.
The riding helps with balance, flexibility, strength training, and social and cognitive skills, but Clark doesn’t think that’s all that Dream Riders gives individuals.
“It mostly benefits by giving them a joyful, happy spirit,” Clark said.
Dream Riders of Kentucky is a not-for-profit organization, which is funded entirely by donations. It costs $2,000 a year to feed and care for each horse. On September 21, Dream Riders will be hosting its biggest fundraiser, Jamboree, a carnival for kids. The festival will include pony rides, inflatables, clowns, and hayrides. The fundraiser is open to the public for $10 and will be held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Bitell Equestrian Center.
Taylor Riley SurfKY News Photos provided by Taylor Riley