Rebel and Kaitlyn share a special bond. Atop Rebel, Kaitlyn can put her cerebral palsy aside, focusing instead on building balance and strength.
Her first visit to Southern Reins, a nonprofit equine therapy program, was in 2016. Since then, with the help of Rebel and a dedicated group of volunteers and staff, Kaitlyn has developed her riding skills – and her strength. “When I started, I needed a horse leader and two side-walkers,” she recalls. “But the first time I got to ride was the first time, in a long time, that I felt free.” Today, she is a proud, independent rider, who credits the Tennessee nonprofit for changing her life.
Kaitlyn’s experience is not unique. Southern Reins currently serves more than 250 clients, up dramatically from the program’s original 12 participants just five years ago. Clients range in age from 3 to 78, and are struggling with wide-ranging disabilities, including Down syndrome, autism, multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury.
According to executive director Jill Haag, the program’s rapid growth demonstrates how impactful horse therapy programs can be in the lives of people with disabilities and hardships. “Horses are magnificent creatures that bring out the best in us all,” she explains. “They are powerful, generous, forgiving, challenging – and keenly intuitive to humans. With their help, we witness small victories become pivotal achievements every day.”