Atop a well-trained horse, dreams really do come true. Just ask the special-needs children and adults who make the weekly trek to Equine Dreams.
The therapeutic riding center relies on patient horses, along with a trained staff of nine Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) registered instructors, to nurture abilities for the nearly 100 clients they serve each week. Access for all is of paramount importance, which is why Equine Dreams’ clients are never saddled with any costs.
Founded in 1996 by Rick and Sharon Mason, the Illinois-based non-profit has a singular mission: to improve the quality of life for children and adults with special needs. In the ensuing years, the Masons’ have seen that mission realized time and time again.
As Windy Kopecky, a board member and PATH instructor explains, riding a horse mimics the same three-dimensional pelvic movement that occurs when walking. For clients with mobility issues, time on the horse’s back can lead to improved balance, mobility, muscle control and posture. Additionally, the horses offer unconditional acceptance, and a place to practice self-control, gain self-confidence, improve motor planning and have some fun, too.
However, it may be the social benefits that are most apparent. “The animals have a powerful impact on relationship building, teamwork and self-esteem,” says Nikki, a regular volunteer. “I’ve found that for those who struggle to connect with other people, learning to build relationships with animals can be a great starting point.”
At Equine Dreams, riders don’t just learn basic riding skills, they also assist with grooming, feeding and caring for the animals. It’s all part of the program to improve students physically, mentally and socially. “We see goals met each and every day at our program,” Windy emphasizes, noting that sessions are individually tailored to meet the physical, emotional, social and cognitive needs of each participant.
While therapeutic riding remains the primary focus at Equine Dreams, the center also offers bedside miniature horse visits, a veteran’s program and lessons on a life-size horse simulator – all at no charge. Volunteers (along with grants and donations) keep the organization going. And what keeps the volunteers going? According to Windy, it’s the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of those they serve.