Riding program looks to expand

Published 7:34 pm Wednesday, March 23, 2005

By By ERIN VER BERKMOES / Niles Daily Star
NILES - A new therapeutic riding program would be a dream come true.
A group of Berrien County residents is looking to start a new therapeutic riding program for disabled residents of Berrien County, as well the surrounding area.
They consist as of a core group of people who are riding instructors by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, area horse enthusiasts and parents of disabled youth.
Currently they are conducting a feasibility study to see what sort of interest there is for a new program.
On Tuesday, March 29, at 7 p.m. at the Blossomland Learning Center in Berrien Springs, the group will be having a meeting at which they will discuss the possibilities of a therapeutic horseback riding program.
They would like the public to bring their ideas, questions, as well as suggestions they may have to the meeting, so that this group of dreamers may see their dream become a reality.
Right now in Berrien County there is a wonderful riding program that is called We Can Ride 4H, but which is limited in the number of people it can assist.
The group would like all of the disabled in both Berrien and Cass counties to be able to benefit.
The concept of therapeutic horseback riding isn't new. It began in England in 1954. People with disabilities can benefit from therapeutic riding in a number of ways.
Riders with physical disabilities often show improvement in the condition, flexibility, their balance and muscle tone.
For people with emotional and cognitive disabilities the relationship formed with a horse is unique and it can lead to increased confidence, patience, as well as self-esteem.
And finally the activities assisted by equines enrich the lives of the volunteers. The friendships they form with the the disabled students really promotes an understanding between persons with and without disabilities.
O'Neil added that they are really looking for a location to have the facility that is relatively central to the two counties, so that the disabled from both counties would be able to benefit.
The hope is to have the feasibility study done by the end of spring, and then to have the program up and running by 2006, if the study shows what they are hoping it will.
For any information or questions please contact Mara O'Neil at (269) 325-2376.