By Alex Morgan
“He’s just alive,” says Cathy Huston, while she watches her son, Luke, grin widely as he is being led on a horse at Free Rein Therapeutic Riding on West Star Ranch in Spokane. Luke was born with cerebral palsy.
“We come up from Idaho … just for the day,” says Cathy. “He just wants to be a kid … he has the ability, his body just doesn’t cooperate … it’s something for him to actually own,” Cathy says of Luke’s love of horseback riding. Luke is one of the 50 riders who regularly take classes at Free Rein.
“He’s getting better with his walker and his communication has improved,” she says of Luke’s improvements since beginning therapeutic riding four years ago. Luke is one of the many success stories related to Free Rein.
Free Rein founder Sandy Jones obtained her Hippotherapy and physical therapy assistant certification after her work with a therapeutic riding center in Woodinville, Wash. When she moved to Spokane, Jones noticed “there really wasn’t any programs here serving a large number of riders adaptive riding, the recreational sport type riding program.”
She says “seeing the benefits of it for the riders, we decided it was something we wanted to start.” In the summer of 2008, after two years of planning, Free Rein Therapeutic Riding began with 18 riders.
People with disabilities that are medically allowed to ride and are under 190 pounds are accepted at Free Rein. Students’ disabilities include anxiety disorders, Down syndrome, stroke, developmental delays and other chromosomal disorders.
“Anything qualifies,” says Jones. “Watching people grow and excel, almost immediately, right before your eyes is inspiring,” says Adele Ohler, Free Rein’s volunteer coordinator.
While beginning and maintaining Free Rein has been a long and intricate process, the organization has grown. Jones and her staff have large goals for the future that are “limitless.” Jones would like the program to grow to support 120 riders. Free Rein is also looking into adding programs such as “Horses for Heroes,” which aids military service victims.
“With Fairchild right here, it really makes sense,” says Jones. Free Rein is also researching a Hippotherapy program, as well as programs to help at-risk youth.
Free Rein is a non-profit organization. A third of the funding comes from the riders’ tuition and the other two-thirds come from fundraising, grant writing and donations.
Throughout the year Free Rein holds fundraising events leading up to a large auction and barn dance in February. Other ways to support Free Rein include donating saddles or other horse tack, sponsoring riders and/or the therapy horses.
Free Rein has also added a scholarship they hope to expand to be available for all riders. “Our ultimate goal is that anybody can ride, no matter what their financial obligation,” says Jones.
While Jones and her team are responsible for the direction and organization of Free Rein, it is truly the volunteers that help the program grow.
“We want to grow smartly to make sure that the quality of the program and the quality of the service that we provide doesn’t go down,” Ohler says.
“The more volunteers we have, the more riders we can accommodate,” says Ohler. “There’s a lot of camaraderie … students that carpool together, moms and daughters, sons and dads.” Volunteers are always welcome and students from junior high to college are encouraged to help. This age group makes up a large number of the regular volunteers. Those majoring in sports medicine or physical therapy are encouraged to volunteer to gain valuable therapy experience.
“When I hear stuff come back from random places in the community where people say ‘Oh yeah, my nephew rides there,’ you get some kind of story you wouldn’t hear,” says Jones. “To feel we’re touching people and it [Free Rein] worked its way into the community.”
If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Adele Ohler at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more information about Free Rein Therapeutic Riding, please visit www.freereinspokane.org or call 509-979-1468.