Participating in therapeutic horseback riding sessions at Reins to Recovery Inc. since 2008, Billy Coulter has made a couple of major strides.
He used to be a severe toe walker and always bounced on his toes, his mother, Janette Coulter said.
“Within three months of horse riding, he was walking more regularly,” she said.
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Billy also had issues with balance. Every time he tried to go up and down steps, it looked like he was going to fall down.
“Six months of horse riding, he could run up and down the steps with no problem,” Janette said.
Inspired by the difference she saw in her autistic nonverbal son, Janette served as a volunteer at the facility before becoming a certified therapeutic riding instructor.
Since then, she has been able to see progress in other riders, too.
“I am addicted to the miracles I see out here,” Janette said of Reins to Recovery, which has been at its new facility north of Reddington since July 1.
For example, this past Thursday, riding sessions were rained out, so staff and volunteers had to work with clients indoors. One rider had been having vertigo and wasn’t able to stand up, but she wound up staying on exercise equipment for 30 minutes. Another rider has behavior problems and can be aggressive if she doesn’t get to be on a horse, but she did well on the exercise equipment for 25 minutes.
“Sometimes, they are willing to go the extra mile just to be here and just to be with us, regardless of whether the horses are involved or not,” Janette said. “It’s just a really nice environment for all. It’s nice to see the volunteers grow as well with the riders. Our riders get addicted to everybody else, and we get addicted to them.”
Reins to Recovery gives children and adults with social, emotional, psychological or physical disabilities, along with at-risk youth and victims of violence or abuse, a chance to 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 can watch their child interact with the horses and staff.
To give other family members and friends an opportunity to see the riders in action, the nonprofit organization has conducted a fun show each year in the fall.
This year’s show was Saturday with a “Meet Me at the Circus” theme. Riders could wear costumes as staff members and volunteers helped them complete various tasks around the outdoor arena for 20 minutes. Three riders also participated in a group performance.
About 20 clients participated in the fun show, and each received a trophy.
“This is one of our favorite days,” said Calli Johnson, who established Reins to Recovery in 2008 and has since served as its executive director.
“The volunteers get to spend a lot of time on horses, but today is special because they get to do the horses up with special additives. The little (horses) have their hair and manes all painted up,” she said. “It’s fun to get to see the riders, one, do what they love, and two, get recognition with the trophy.”
Johnson said she also likes seeing family members attend throughout the day.
“They can’t always make it every week, but when we have this day, they can come out and make it special,” she said. “It’s just a fun event for the therapeutic riding program, and it’s neat for me to see. I don’t get to see them all every week, so for me, I get them all in one day, and I get to really take in what’s going on out here.”
Janette said she was happy to see Billy participate in the fun show again.
Billy, who is now 16, started therapeutic horseback riding when he was 5. Janette drove from North Vernon to Zionsville for Billy’s lessons once a week for three years until that facility moved.
After Billy took some time off, Janette found out about Reins to Recovery opening in Hayden in 2008, checked out the facility and met Johnson.
“A few months later, I had Billy riding, and maybe 30 days after that, I was volunteering, and within a year, I was getting my certification,” Janette said.
She said she never thought she would see her son put on a helmet and spend time around horses, but the Reins to Recovery staff members and volunteers have helped make that possible.
The lessons have helped Billy stay active and work on his motor skills, his mother said.
“Honestly, if he didn’t have this therapy, he wouldn’t have any therapy,” she said. “This is the only therapy he does other than ABA (applied behavior analysis).”
It also has helped him being more outgoing.
“This gets him out doing something, and it helps him expend energy that he usually does by just pacing in the house all day long. It gives him something constructive to do,” Janette said. “It’s more sensory-based for him and just getting that physical exercise that he couldn’t get anywhere else.”
Danielle Guffey, 21, of Seymour also has been going to Reins to Recovery since it opened. She has cerebral palsy.
Her father, Jack Guffey, said therapeutic horseback riding has helped her with balance and stretching and given her self-confidence.
At first, he was worried she would be scared of the big horses.
“Now, she thinks they are like dogs,” Jack said, smiling. “I think for people like Danielle that are handicap, it gives them so much confidence. The ability of being able to control something that big, I think that helps them out a lot.”
Jack said he can always tell when Danielle is in between riding sessions.
“When they are off, that’s all she’s talking about is going back to ride horses,” he said. “It’s a great program. She really enjoys it.”
Since she has participated in the fun show every year, Danielle has a collection of trophies at home. It’s an event she looks forward to, she said.
“They get to have more people here,” Jack said. “Usually, it’s just the people helping them and the parents. Now, they get to show off what they’ve learned all this summer. I think getting to show everybody what they can do, that’s a big thing.”
Reins to Recovery Inc. Therapeutic Riding Center’s next fundraiser is a comedy show from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Nov. 11 at Celebrations, 357 Tanger Blvd, Suite 101, Seymour.
Jeff Bodart will be the headlining act with comedian Robert Hay-Smith as the opening act.
Doors will open at 7 p.m. Tickets will be sold at the door, and you must be 21 or older to attend. Tickets are $15 for single and $25 for couple.
Beer and wine will be available for purchase, and there will be light snacks.