Any time Tommy Tharp III hops up on a horse at Reins to Recovery Inc. Therapeutic Riding Center, rides around the arena and participates in activities, his whole demeanor changes.

His grandmother, Teresa Coomer, said he’s more talkative afterward and sleeps better that night than any other day of the week.

“The thing that we notice so much about it is when he gets on the horse, it’s like somebody flips a switch in him, and he becomes a completely different child,” Coomer said.

The 16-year-old from Austin has autism. Since beginning equine therapy two years ago at the Seymour facility, Coomer has seen a lot of positive changes in her grandson.

Story continues below gallery

“Trying to talk to him is really difficult, and for him to express himself is hard because autism is a communicative disorder,” she said.

“But to watch him on the horse, he takes command,” she said. “Because he has been here long enough, he can command the horse, he can do right turns, left turns, he can pull her into a square, pull her back out, he can make her trot. For him to have command of anything in his life, it’s worth every dime we’ve spent.”

At Reins to Recovery, children and adults with social, emotional, psychological or physical disabilities, along with at-risk youth and victims of violence or abuse, ride horses as part of their therapy. There are 10-week sessions in each of the four seasons, and riders take lessons once a week.

During those sessions, parents often sit and watch their child interact with the horses and staff.

Since Reins to Recovery started in 2008, the staff has conducted a fun show each fall, giving clients’ family members and friends a chance to sit in the arena and see a session up close. This year’s show was Saturday with a World of Disney theme. Clients and staff members had an opportunity to dress up as their favorite Disney character, and music from Disney movies played while they rode around the arena.

Throughout the day, 20 clients participated in eight stations, including bowling, ring toss and beanbag toss. At the end, each received a trophy and could have pictures taken with their family.

Calli Johnson, executive director of Reins to Recovery, said only a handful of clients participated in the first fun show seven years ago, so it made her proud to see 20.

“We get to see our riders work so hard all year long; and a lot of times, not all of the family gets to come and see them in the barn on the horse,” Johnson said.

“This is an opportunity for them to be able to invite friends and family, and we just try to make it extra special for them,” she said. “To get that trophy, that’s the big deal for them. They finally are a part of something where they get to take home the trophy and have something to cherish that they worked so hard for.”

Johnson said she likes seeing the clients’ family members attend the event.

“For the families, especially the ones that can’t make it out here (during a regular session), to be able to at least know that they have a date to look forward to to come and see their rider, I think it’s special for them,” she said. “Just to get to see their rider get the trophy, I think, is a really neat opportunity.”

The staff members and volunteers also look forward to the fun show.

“This is about the only day of the year I can ask for volunteers at 7:30 in the morning, and they are signing up because they know they get to decorate the horses and make them pretty,” Johnson said.

“A lot of us are on different shifts, but we’re all kind of this barn family. So to be able to come together in one whole day and work together as a unit is fun,” she said. “Some of the volunteers don’t get to see the other riders from the other nights. Just to be able to have a day of it all is really cool.”

The clients’ parents said they are grateful to have a facility such as Reins to Recovery.

Mickey King of Columbus said her son, Dylan King, 8, has made a lot of progress in two years. Dylan has cerebral palsy.

“The very beginning, he was really nervous. He was scared. We were scared with him being on a big horse,” she said. “But now, he asks to come every week, and he looks forward to it throughout the whole week. He walks a little better, he’s getting a lot better balance. So we think it’s helping a lot from what we’ve been able to see him doing.”

King said she liked watching her son participate in the show.

“It’s a great feeling to see him smiling and enjoying himself and really having fun,” she said. “It’s really good for him to be able to show everybody what he has learned and how good he’s doing on the horse.”

Coomer said the benefit her grandson has received from Reins to Recovery is immeasurable.

“If we could afford it, he would ride every day,” she said, smiling.

“The horses that they have are phenomenal because they are tolerant. They allow the kids with disabilities to take command of them,” she said. “He has been on four different horses, and Tommy has had four different trainers since we’ve been here, and every one of them have been different but phenomenal. They are talking about possibly that he’ll advance to be able to be an actual rider. That’s something that you can’t put a price tag on.”

If you go

What: Comedy show charity event for Reins to Recovery Inc. Therapeutic Riding Center, featuring headliner Jeff Bodart and openers Jeff Oskay and Robert Hay-Smith

When: 7:30 to 9 p.m. Nov. 13; doors open at 7 p.m.

Where: Celebrations, 357 Tanger Blvd., Suite 101, Seymour

Who: Must be 21 to enter

Tickets: $15 for single and $25 for couple; tickets will be sold at the door; beer and wine will be available for purchase; light snacks will be provided

At a glance

Reins to Recovery Inc. Therapeutic Riding Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that offers therapeutic riding, equine-facilitated psychotherapy, equine-facilitated learning and recreational lessons to children and adults with disabilities, victims of violence and abuse and at-risk youth.

The facility is at 1660 N. County Road 1000W, Seymour.

For information about the center or to volunteer, call 812-350-4864, visit reinstorecovery.org or find the organization on Facebook.

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