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Riding Center Connects Hooves and Hearts

by and on August 08, 2019 5:00 AM

No matter who you are or what you have going on in your life, Yvonne McCaslin believes you can benefit from riding horses. According to McCaslin, the rhythm of the horse’s gait, the strength and focus it takes to ride, and the special way horses interact with humans all come together to provide any rider with physical, cognitive, emotional and social benefits.

As the program director and lead instructor at Rising Hope Therapeutic Riding Center, McCaslin has made it her mission to make sure those who may benefit the most can have the opportunity to ride and develop a special relationship with horses.

These individuals may have a wide variety of special needs, including but not limited to spina bifida, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, depression and PTSD.

The center also offers therapeutic riding services to U.S. military veterans, making it the only multi-faceted therapeutic riding facility in Centre County.

“Right off the bat, when someone sits on a horse, they’re automatically engaged in the core and working on balance,” McCaslin explained. “That carries right on into your daily life, using those muscles. So physically, they get the strength in the core, the strength in the legs, the balance, the posture. They get stretching and flexibility that increases as you sit there.

“Then, when the horse actually starts walking you have those same motions as if you’re actually walking — the same motion through the hips, the up-down side-to-side rotation. … Several types of studies that have been done with children and with veterans have shown that the rhythm of the horse may be helping to open up different avenues in the brain.”

Katie Brigger has been riding at Rising Hope for more than two years. Now 22, she first started riding therapy when she was three years old at a center in Maine.

“We love it here. This is probably Katie’s favorite activity that she does,” said her mother, Heather Brigger. “It’s really good for her core strength. It makes a huge difference in her gait when she’s walking. When she’s away from it, we can tell. … When she was two years of age, she had bilateral strokes and she lost her speech; riding a horse, her speech improved.”

Verbal skills are part of the social benefits McCaslin cites, which come not just from interacting with the horse, but with the volunteers the program relies upon to help during the lessons.

Also important to McCaslin are the emotional benefits the horses can offer.

“The connection with the horse that comes with touching it, rubbing it, grooming it — this has been where some of the biggest benefits have come for our veterans,” she said. “Working with a horse requires a lot of focus. A lot of the things that may have been encroaching on your brain have to go to the background in order for you to be in the moment with the horse. … I’ve had veterans give me testimony of their anxiety levels coming down, their anger levels coming down, and they learn to cope better in other situations.”

Rising Hope was born when McCaslin was introduced to Cindy Lamey-Kocher, the owner of the property on Reese Road that now houses the Rising Hope facilities. Lamey-Kocher had experienced the healing benefit of horses upon the tragic death of her husband, and she wanted to share the experience with others who needed it. McCaslin had worked at a Clinton County therapeutic riding center for seven years and had been longing to bring one to Centre County.

“Cindy is just one of those people that gives and gives — very generous — would rather share something than keep it to herself. Because of that, this was allowed to blossom,” McCaslin said.

The two teamed up and brought together a board of directors, creating a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2015. The resulting facility boasts a beautiful mountaintop vista, an immaculate barn with an indoor riding arena, and 10 horses, six of which are part of the Rising Hope program. Some are owned by Lamey-Kocher, some are from Last Chance Ranch, a rescue organization in Quakertown, and at least one was donated by a breeding program that gives Gypsy Vanner horses to therapeutic riding programs. Several miniature horses are used for community outreach or for work with younger children.

Two of the horses, Dakota and Willow, handle most of the lessons, but several others are currently in training to become part of the rotation. That’s because the program is expanding rapidly, McCaslin said.

“We currently have about 10 veterans and around 20 to 25 therapeutic riding participants, and we’re running about 50 to 70 lessons per month,” she said. “We started our first lesson in June of 2016 and each year we’ve doubled as far as participants, budgets and everything. … We’re not sure what the next stage is; we’re pushing our barriers of growth. Things are really blossoming, and we’re looking at some different opportunities.”

At the moment, McCaslin is the only instructor for the therapeutic riding program, although two people are currently working toward their instructor certification through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, she said.

Although most of the organization’s manpower is provided by volunteers, McCaslin said, keeping horses healthy and happy is expensive. Veterans can participate at no cost, while special-needs therapy participants pay a $30 fee for each 45-minute lesson. Mainly, the nonprofit has been relying on traditional fundraising efforts to cover its expenses, she said, including hoagie sales, bingo nights and participating in Centre Gives. They’ve also earned several grants from the JB Griffin Memorial Foundation, and will be the primary beneficiary of the JB Griffin Golf Classic scheduled to be held at Toftrees Golf Resort on Aug. 8 and 9.

For more information about Rising Hope Therapeutic Riding Center, visit www.risinghopetrc.com.



This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


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