Rita Nicholson witnessed the benefits of therapeutic riding firsthand, watching as her young daughter with Down Syndrome gained confidence and strength atop a horse. Inspired by the experience, Rita set out to become a certified Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) instructor and bring the program to other families in need.
After working and managing other therapeutic stables, Rita founded Steps and Strides Equestrian Services, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to providing equine-assisted activities for children and adults with a medically diagnosed disability. “We use the whole farm experience to help clients, from the therapy dog to our sheep, cats and donkeys,” she explains. While the horses are the stars, families can also enjoy fishing and nature walks amid the farm’s quiet, peaceful atmosphere.
Steps and Strides is staffed entirely by volunteers and offers its services at no charge. Still, Rita insists she gets far more than she gives. “I am most moved by the confidence that clients get from working with our horses,” she explains, noting that the program’s benefits extend well beyond the barnyard gate. “Parents consistently tell me how it carries over into other areas of their lives.”
Volunteer Gina Morton concurs. “The children learn so much from working with the horses,” she says. “They learn how to interact with this big animal and get physically stronger each week, as they lift saddles, groom horses, attach girths, and get on and off the horses.”
The horses benefit, too. By the time they reach Steps and Strides, most are on their second or third career. For them, the Kentucky-based program offers a chance to remain physically and mentally engaged, surrounded and adored by children.
“This is top-notch horse care at its finest,” Gina insists. “Even after retirement, our horses receive exceptional care.”