I am so excited to be sharing this resource today, and to draw attention to an organization in Raleigh who is making a difference in the lives of those who have intellectual and developmental disabilities through horseback riding. At first, riding horses may not seem like a significant opportunity, but after hearing the difference Horses for Hope has made it will change your mind. I hope you enjoy!
Horses for Hope
Horses for Hope is a center in Raleigh that provides therapeutic horseback riding lessons to individuals who have mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. Gwen Roberts started the organization in 2003 and it has been growing ever since. Roberts had the mission “to build hope, increase self-esteem, and enhance the joy and inspiration for life in all individuals who participate in our programs.” She was inspired to start Horses for Hope by her mother, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when Roberts was just a baby. Throughout Robert’s life, she watched her mother struggle to have an outlet of something she enjoys due to her disabilities. This inspired Roberts to start Horses for Hope to provide an exciting opportunity for individuals with disabilities. Instantly, other individuals and families of the IDD community fell in love with the unique opportunity Horses for Hope gives. They structure their horseback riding lessons around the individual needs of each rider to allow both a mental and physical therapeutic experience. Roberts made sure to create an environment that welcomes anyone no matter what their abilities, experiences, age, or financial situation is.
Riding Horses is Therapeutic
Gwen Roberts grew up riding horses, but did not realize the therapeutic advantages until beginning Horses for Hope. Horseback riding proves to have both physical and mental benefits for the rider. Physically, riding a horse has the same rhythm as walking. This helps stabilize and relax the body through a familiar movement pattern. The movement of the horse is also transferred to the still body of the rider, and exercises the core and shoulders in different ways than in usual day to day life. The movement of the horse also stimulates our natural instinct to balance ourselves. During lessons a certified therapeutic horseback riding instructor leads exercises that help with strength, coordination, flexibility, and muscle control. This experience both calms your body as well as engages it to be stronger.
Riding horses is also a great tool to aid with mental health. Roberts has used horseback riding as an aid her entire life, and says “my horse always seemed to know when I was a little down and he seemed so loving”. She knew she wanted to make mental and emotional support a component of Horses for Hope. Cognitively, riding horses helps with memory, concentration, and communication skills. The consistent routine that is involved with riding horses calms the mind and helps individuals to focus. Communication is also vital when riding horses, with both the horse and other riders around you. Riders say that the biggest outcome of their experience at Horses For Hope is confidence. Riding a horse is difficult, and requires a lot of hard work in order to progress. Horses for Hope helps their riders to continuously advance their skills and boosts their confidence. This has a direct correlation to individuals lives, and gives them the confidence of knowing that they are able to accomplish and achieve.
How Horses for Hope Works
Horses for Hope is a very unique opportunity that we are lucky to have in the Raleigh area. Horses for Hope differs from other resources I have done in the past as it appeals to groups within and outside of the IDD community. There are lessons to support individuals going through mental health struggles, individuals with physical disabilities, and therapeutic sessions to strengthen families. Horses for Hope holds lessons for both kids and adults, which is exciting because a lot of opportunities of this nature usually cater towards younger audiences. Lessons take place on a single farm, and are held every day of the week pertaining to different experience levels, age groups, and abilities. Sessions are personalized so that riders’ needs are met as best as possible. Horses for Hope also partners with physical and occupational therapists for training, to help ensure they are meeting the needs of their riders. The farm has 25 different horses, and usually riders can consistently ride the same horse if they feel they have a connection to it. One of the coolest factors of Horses for Hope is its affordability. Most horseback riding opportunities are extremely unaffordable and inaccessible. At Horses for Hope you can pay a much more affordable price than other horseback riding facilities, or you can ride for free by volunteering for one hour a week. Volunteering on a farm is a fun opportunity itself in my eyes.
Testimonies and reveiws show the unique stories of the riders at Horses for Hope. I have a friend that has ridden horses there for over seven years, and loves it for its inclusive community. Many testimonies share similar experiences of feeling embraced and a part of a community at the barn. Many of the riders’ stories describe their time at Horses for Hope as “a time to take a breath, and to focus on enjoying being on a horse and all of the nature around them”. Hearing and doing research on all of the ways that Horses for Hope gives to their community was very moving. We are lucky to have people like Gwen Roberts who sees the need in the IDD community and connects her passion to make a difference.