High Horses’ Champion
Hearing about High Horses Therapeutic Riding Program and the programs they run for people with special needs, one might think it is just about learning to ride a horse. But it is more than just a ride. You only have to see people overcome with smiles and tears to know you are seeing lives changed – everyone from the riders, to the volunteers, to the staff. What moves volunteers is what they see in the riders they help: the growth of confidence and self-worth, the moments of delight and love, the thawing of mental prisons of isolation, the reaching out of tender tendrils of trust.
Volunteer Angelica Stuart, rider Anne, and
Paula Schleicher at an annual horse show
High Horses, incorporated in 1993, offer different types of therapeutic riding programs for seniors, veterans, adults, teens, and children with physical, cognitive, or emotional issues. The close physical connection of riding, grooming, or even just patting such a large creature expands anybody’s world, and particularly that of people whose abilities or opportunities have separated them from such connections. The non-judgmental energy of the horse is in itself soothing, and participants learn to see, in the horse’s reactions, an image of the calm or tension that they themselves are emanating. The rhythmic motion of the horse helps riders engage large muscles for strength, balance, and coordination. Games such as tossing a ball while on horseback further develop unconscious muscle use and relaxation.
Many programs require a volunteer leading each rider’s horse, with two more walking on either side, in addition to the trained instructor. Such an arrangement creates the need for a large number of volunteers, but the work is compelling and people turn out for it. Paula Schleicher of Norwich has been with High Horses almost from the beginning. She began “leading a horse one day a week, then two, three...” and next thing she knew she was serving on the board, doing presentations to spread the word – and cleaning up as needed. But she doesn’t feel High Horses owes her. On the contrary, “I was lucky to find them,” she exclaims. “It’s a remarkable organization.” Paula grew up in Wisconsin with horses – and with volunteering – and has raised her children with both habits, as she was raised. Growing up, she volunteered with children with special needs.
Paula Schleicher high-fives Holden who is riding Spirit.
Volunteer Hillary Brown leads and Mary Gerakaris ‘
sidewalks’ during a lesson.
“I think everybody should volunteer,” says Paula. Even busy people like parents used to volunteer as a matter of course, perhaps in their kids’ schools, or in the local library. If they were too busy during the week, they’d find a few hours on Saturday. “I’d hate to see America lose that,” she says, pointing to the growth of solo activities like biking and running. Giving creates happiness for the giver as well as building strong communities.
High Horses has been leasing space at Brookside Farm on Route 5 for over 15 years, but their dream has always been to own their own facility. And now they’ve found it. They have purchased a former Morgan horse breeding facility in Sharon, right near the I-89 exit. Instead of one ring for a max of six hours a day, they’ll have two large outdoor rings and an indoor arena, says program director Sue Miller. There are attractive paddocks for turning out the horses. There’s even space for a multi-sensory trail, which features stations with such things as wind chimes, or a game of TicTacToe, or a wooden bridge that echoes with the horse’s footsteps. The new property has space to eventually double the number of horses they keep. They’re delighted with the attractive space and with the opportunity to grow, especially as they add and expand newer programs for older riders and veterans struggling with PTSD. The group held an open house over Labor Day Weekend and the fall session of lessons at the new site began on September 6th.
“There was no time to launch a capital campaign,” says Paula, “though we’re proud to say we have money in the bank.” But that money is operational, not the level of funds needed to commit to an $800,000 property. The capital campaign has since launched, having already raised $1.2 million of their $2 million goal, but Paula provided the guarantees necessary for the acquisition to move forward. “They needed help right now,” she explains. “Most people have a passion for something. You want to be involved, and if you’re lucky enough to be able to help...” She’s delighted to find an organization that unites her interests the way High Horses does, and being able to see progress every day both for clients and for the organization makes it that much sweeter. She loves the feeling of success from group effort that volunteering and donating give. “It’s very rewarding,” she says. “It’s such a group effort, and it’s fun to be part of it.”