en years ago, doctors told Lissa Allman that one of her twin daughters, Karsen, would never walk.

Karsen was born with Angelman syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that primarily affects the nervous system.

When Reins to Recovery Inc. Therapeutic Riding Center opened seven years ago in Hayden, Allman enrolled her daughter in therapeutic riding sessions, which are for children and adults with disabilities.

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After a few sessions with the horses, Karsen defied the odds and walked.

It started with a couple of steps very slowly and worked into walking some on her own. Allman said she remembers crying and posting the video on YouTube.

“It’s a miracle,” Allman said. “I didn’t think that she would ever walk. But I also never gave up hope.”

Karsen still goes to Reins to Recovery, which is now in Seymour, because her mother believes in the program.

“She wasn’t walking when she went out there,” Allman said. “I attribute it all to the horses, because it really does give her that trunk muscle. When she first started, they would almost have to hold her up on the horse, and she wasn’t able to sit. Now, she’ll even put her feet in the stirrups and stand up.”

During a recent session at the Seymour facility, Allman watched as Reins to Recovery staff and volunteers placed Karsen on the back of a horse named Fox; and together, Karsen and Fox participated in a variety of activities.

“It’s amazing the connection they have with these horses,” Allman said. “(Karsen) is not a big animal fan. … She doesn’t want anything to do with our animals at home. But she gets excited the whole way here; and the whole way home, I wouldn’t be able to get a word in edgewise, because she’ll just be screaming. She’s happy. She’s excited.”

Fundraiser planned

Knowing how the nonprofit organization has helped her daughter, Allman wants to see it continue. That’s why she encourages people to attend Reins to Recovery’s annual fundraiser, set for Aug. 22 at the Bartholomew County Fairgrounds in Columbus.

Calli Johnson, the center’s executive director, said the first fundraiser was conducted in 2008 to help get Reins to Recovery going. That year, it was conducted at a dance barn in Brown County with a small silent auction and meal.

It was then moved to Seymour but quickly outgrew that venue. For the past three years, it has been at the fairgrounds, which was the perfect location for the growing event, Johnson said.

Along with a dinner, live and silent auctions, music and face painting, the fundraiser will include a Riders for Riders 75-mile charity motorcycle ride for the first time and a performance by Justin the Artistic Horse.

The dinner is a freewill offering, while the motorcycle ride costs $15 for a single rider and $25 for a couple.

“We are really hoping to reach new individuals to come out and have a good time with us,” Johnson said. “We have a ton of auction items, but we need individuals to come to the event and help us make a difference.”

The fundraiser helps Reins to Recovery gain most of its operating funds to support its programs, including therapeutic riding, equine-assisted psychotherapy and equine-assisted learning.

“This is money that is not specified for a specific use, so we can give the money to support the areas that truly need the financial support that we do not receive from grants, such as horse care, feed, grain and everything else horse-related,” Johnson said. “Without the horses, we would have no programs.”

The money also could help pay for therapeutic riding adaptive equipment, arena/lesson materials and special events, such as trophies for the riders at the annual fun show in the fall.

Seeing the benefits

Kristye Lewis of Seymour has volunteered at Reins to Recovery since 2012 and has helped collect donations for the fundraiser each year since then. Last year’s fundraiser netted $8,400, and the goal this year is $12,000, she said.

She also conducts smaller fundraisers throughout the year to help replenish scholarship funds, which assist clients who aren’t able to pay for their lessons.

Reins to Recovery means a lot to Lewis because it has helped her daughter, Kirstyn.

“She is so much more talkative,” Lewis said. “There are days she hardly says anything. You put her on a horse, she talks the whole lesson. They get her to do stuff I can’t get her to do.”

Lewis said she is grateful to have a facility so close to home because she used to have to drive to Bloomington to take Kirstyn to lessons.

When Kirstyn is at Reins to Recovery, Lewis said, it’s her time to shine. She recalled the first time her daughter received a trophy at the fun show, which is for clients’ families to attend.

“She had never gotten a trophy before because there was nothing for her to participate in to get a trophy,” Lewis said. “She held that trophy the whole way home. For these kids, when we do the fun show, and they hold that trophy, this is their sport. They can’t go out and play baseball or football or soccer. This is their time, and it’s really neat.”

Lewis said it’s rewarding to see the clients progress and have a good time at the facility.

‘Smiling all the time’

At the end of a recent session, Lewis took notice of Seth Schultz, 8, of North Vernon, and his big smile.

“Just to see that smile, it’s like, ‘Wow!’ He’s just smiling all the time,” she said. “That’s typical. You don’t get many of them that come out here and aren’t smiling.”

Seth is beginning his second 10-week session. His mother, Melisa Schultz, said he had been on the waiting list awhile, and she was glad when she finally received the call from Reins to Recovery.

Seth was born with Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, an inherited condition involving the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system).

While Seth’s disease was tough to deal with at first, Schultz said, her son has benefited from Reins to Recovery. Just recently, he sat up all by himself for the first time.

“He’s always happy,” she said. “He gets excited. He knows it’s Wednesday. Even before he comes home from school, he’s all ready to go. He knows what day it is.”

Watching Seth interact with the staff and volunteers is the best part, Schultz said.

“I love it,” she said. “Just to see his face and how he reacts, and he gets to do things that other kids don’t ever get to do. I think it’s a great program, I really do.”

If you go

What: Reins to Recovery Inc. Therapeutic Riding Center’s annual fundraiser, consisting of a dinner, music, face painting, live and silent auctions and a motorcycle ride

When: Aug. 22 (Riders for Riders 75-mile charity motorcycle ride registration at 1 p.m. and kickstands up at 2 p.m.; dinner and live and silent auctions from 4 to 8 p.m.; Justin the Artistic Horse performance at 5:30 p.m.

Where: Bartholomew County Fairgrounds, 750 W. County Road 200S, Columbus

Cost: Dinner is a freewill offering; motorcycle ride costs $15 for single and $25 for a couple

Information: Calli Johnson at 812-350-4864; reinstorecovery.org; “Reins annual auction event and charity ride” Facebook event page

At a glance

What programs does Reins to Recovery offer?

Therapeutic riding originated in Europe and has been helping individuals since the 1950s. Therapeutic riding uses equine-oriented activities for the purpose of contributing positively to the cognitive, physical, emotional and social well-being of people with disabilities and emotional issues. Horseback riding encourages stretching and strengthening of underused or underdeveloped muscles, improves posture and coordination, helps develop gross and fine motor skills, increases the rider’s awareness of the body in space and improve the range of motion. In addition, riders with disabilities increase their self-esteem and self-confidence, learn problem-solving skills and increase their ability to focus and stay on task.

Equine-assisted psychotherapy incorporates horses experientially for mental and behavioral health therapy and personal development. It is a collaborative effort between a licensed therapist and a horse professional working with the clients and horses to address treatment goals. EAP addresses a variety of mental health and human development needs, including behavioral issues, attention deficit disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, physical abuse, sexual abuse, substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, relationship problems and communication needs.

Equine-assisted learning is similar to EAP but focuses on learning or educational goals. It still involves the team of professionals working with the clients and horses. The focus, however, is on education and learning specific skills as defined by the individual or group.

Why are horses used?

The benefits of work ethic, responsibility, assertiveness, communication and healthy relationships have long been recognized. Horses naturally provide these benefits. The use of horses is growing and gaining popularity with the rise of equine-assisted psychotherapy and equine-assisted learning.

Naturally intimidating to many, horses are large and powerful. This creates a natural opportunity for some to overcome fear and develop confidence. Working alongside a horse, in spite of those fears, creates confidence and provides wonderful insight when dealing with other intimidating and challenging situations in life. Like humans, horses are social animals with defined roles within their herds. They would rather be with their peers. They have distinct personalities, attitudes and moods, and an approach that works with one horse won’t necessarily work with another. At times, they seem stubborn and defiant. They like to have fun. In other words, horses provide vast opportunities for metaphorical learning, an effective technique when working with even the most challenging individuals or groups.

Horses require participants to work, whether in caring for them or working with them. In an era when immediate gratification and the “easy way” are the norm, horses require people to be engaged in physical and mental work to be successful, a valuable lesson in all aspects of life.

Most importantly, horses mirror human body language. Many complain, “This horse is stubborn,” “That horse doesn’t like me,” etc. The lesson is that if they change themselves, the horses respond differently. Horses are honest, which makes them especially powerful messengers.

What else does Reins to Recovery offer?

Recreational lessons are offered but in limited space, and a horse camp, open to anyone, is conducted in the summer.

Can I sign up now for any of the programs?

There is a waiting list for programs that is nine to 12 months out. If this is something you are interested in, call Calli Johnson at 812-350-4864 and get enrolled on our waiting list.

How can I volunteer at Reins to Recovery?

The center always is in need of volunteers. Daytime help is needed, too. For information, call 812-350-4864.

Pull Quote

“She is so much more talkative. There are days she hardly says anything. You put her on a horse, she talks the whole lesson. They get her to do stuff I can’t get her to do.”

Kristye Lewis of Seymour, on her daugher, Kirstyn, a participant in a Reins to Recovery program

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.