Horses for Healing gives disabled a leg up

By: Megan Sanders Journal Correspondent
-A +A
For many people with disabilities, interacting with others and with animals gives them a sense of confidence and accomplishment. At Horses for Healing they provide the opportunity for those with disabilities to achieve just that by riding and interacting with the horses and volunteers. Lead instructor Judy Gerhard describes it as recreational therapy for people with special needs. “You get a feeling that you can accomplish something,” Gerhard said. She said it also gives them experience on a horse since they may have never ridden before. Gerhard said they include games that can have a mental benefit for the clients. The type of game depends on the client’s needs. Kelbey McIntosh, 7, is autistic and has developmental delay along with seizures. He has been coming to the program for two years. To help teach Kelbey, Horses for Healing has numbers on the cones around the arena, which they use as a memorization tool. Gerhard said they encourage the children to talk to the volunteers as well as to the horse while they are riding. “We encourage them to do as much as they possibly can,” she said. They have a wide range of clients in age, experience and in disabilities. Gerhard said they have clients with autism, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Down syndrome, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and developmental delay. They also have had some clients who are stroke victims. Their age range is anywhere from 2 years old to in their 60’s. She said it takes a lot of nerve and courage to go up to a horse. “You don’t force the issue, but you give lots and lots of praise,” Gerhard said. Gerhard said they had one client who was autistic and did not speak. She said he had speech capability, but never used it. They got him up on the horses and over time he started trotting and riding around the arena. “When he got off the horse he went up to his mom and said, ‘I trotted!’ Everyone was shocked,” Gerhard said. She added that it was a rewarding experience for them all. “It is beneficial for the clients and also the volunteers,” Gerhard said. Diane Kemmerle, the president of Horses for Healing, said at times they have up to 20 volunteers. “We have a core group of five or six volunteers,” she said. When it’s summer we have more volunteers, but as school starts back up again the volunteers start to go down, she said. Kemmerle said if they have more volunteers, they could have all three horses out in the arena at once as opposed to just doing two at a time. “It could take about a dozen or so volunteers to do that,’ she said. All three of the horses, Dusty, Secret, and Lily, live at the Auburn Equestrian Center. The clients generally ride the same horse every time that they go to the arena. “They get pretty confident about the critter that they’re riding,” she said. The volunteers said they generally see progress in the clients in small increments. Gerhard has many stories of people who have benefited from the program including a woman who had been an avid horse rider but was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident. The horse had fallen over backward while she was riding. She came to the program wanting to ride again. They helped her up onto the horse and she rode perfectly. She eventually brought down her own horse and rode him in their arena. Besides the lack of volunteers, funding is a problem for Horses for Healing. With the recent budget issues it looks as though they may be losing some of their funding for their instructors. All the instructors are trained and certified by The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association. On Sept.12 they are doing a fundraiser called, Living with Disabilities: Community Awareness. At this point they are just selling raffle tickets. They are $10 each or 3 for $25. Gerhard said ideally they would like to do an art auction along with a public education section that focuses on the two prevalent disabilities, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. She said they would like to have parents, caretakers, or the clients themselves talk about the experience of living with the disabilities on a daily basis. “The public needs to know that,” Gerhard said. She said it would be a 15- to 20-minute discussion and they would have the clients go into the arena and show what they can do with the horses. They would also have a barbecue with refreshments. “I don’t know if we can pull it off,” Gerhard said. “If we can’t do that, then we have the raffle.” Megan Sanders can be reached at or comment at -------------------------------- Horses for healing Hours: 1:30 to 6 p.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m. to noon Friday To volunteer or make an appointment: Call (530) 887-9573. Riding schedule and information: Go to Fundraiser Date: Sept. 12 Raffle tickets: $10 or three for $25. Grand prize: $500 gift card to Best Buy, donated by Umpqua Bank