It’s a belief that took Sherry Becker from volunteer five years ago to getting hired as an official instructor about a year ago at LoveWay Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides therapeutic equestrian services to people with special needs.
“I didn’t know anything about horses, didn’t know anything about children with special needs, but I had a strong desire to learn,” Becker said. “It’s amazing, it’s a great job.”
LoveWay Inc. currently has 260 riders, said Becker. The majority of students participate on full scholarships.
“We just ask that schools provide transportation,” Becker said.
On Wednesday, April 16, a group of special needs students from Prairie View Elementary waited anxiously as they were broken up into groups of three. Each group is paired with three volunteers. Their teacher, Valerie Chupp, took pictures as they found helmets and walked into the barn to meet their horses.
Since starting the weekly rides about a month ago, Chupp said she has noticed the calming effect it has on her students.
“They know Wednesday is our LoveWay day,” said Chupp. “The kids love it, they look forward to it every week.”
Buckets labeled with names like "Sam," "Flirt" and "Honey" line the wall of a small room in the barn. Each bucket is filled with brushes to groom the horses. Before the kids can ride, volunteers walk riders through the routine of finding their horse's bucket so the animals can be groomed and tacked.
Saul Mendoza, 9, rolled forward onto the tips of his toes and reached his brush toward his horse's mane. Volunteer Jane Short helped and encouraged him, stopping at one point to sign with her hands. Saul is autistic and non-verbal.
Each routine helps to teach riders sequencing -- actions arranged in a particular order -- because the repetition helps to improve memory skills. It also gives them a chance to bond with their horse, said office manager Aimee Miller.
“Sometimes our students will speak to their horses when they won’t speak to anyone else,” said Miller.
After the three horses are saddled, the riders and volunteers walk into the arena where Becker helps get them mounted.
When given the go ahead, two of the riders tell their horses to walk on. Jane Short and fellow volunteer Bonita Miller helped Saul grip his reigns. Short flicked her wrists and hands up and down to sign “walk on” and moved Saul’s horse into a walk.
Becker watched, shouting encouragement before moving to the center of the arena.
Looking around, she said, “Miracles happen here every day.”