Program gives disabled kids an experience to remember
By Marcia Treadway
CENTERVILLE — The Therapeutic Riding Institute (TRI) is a special program helping kids with special needs. Co-founder Betty Lou Townley of Centerville said TRI offers a unique horseback riding experience for children who require assistance for disabilities that may be medical, mental or psychological.
North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) instituted a national program in the United States in the late 1960’s patterned after the successful handicapped riding programs in Europe. Co-founder and Centerville resident Linden Moore (who has since passed away), discovered the very first program in the United States initiated by NARHA, in Michigan while attending college. “Linden was blown away by the new and innovative program,” said Townley. “She came back to Centerville looking for someone to help organize a program here.”
At that time, Townley, and her husband Ted, owned Normandy Riding Academy, behind Church of the Incarnation. Townley was a registered nurse working at Miami Valley Hospital on the OB/GYN floor.
A close friend of Linden’s happened to board her horse at Normandy Riding Academy. Once Linden and Betty Lou met, they decided to create the very first therapeutic riding center in the Greater Dayton area. “We had no money and dug into our own pockets to pay for insurance. We started out with just a couple of horses for the kids to ride,” said Townley.
“We found a sponsor that donated $1,000 for the pilot program and we were on our way.” According to Townley within one year of starting TRI, she and her husband got out of the stable business and had to find places to hold the program. “We called people up asking to use their facilities and held the program in six or seven different sites, including our own back yard,” said Townley.
NARHA developed stringent standards by which to deliver this type of service. TRI used these standards, and today is a premier accredited center. TRI is a non-profit organization run by administrative professionals who volunteer their time.
Other volunteer positions include Side Helpers, people who walk beside the horse to assist the rider with maintaining balance and a secure seat; Horse Leader, a person who grooms and tacks the horse before class, maintains control of the horse, and follows the direction of the instructor; Ring Assistant, a person that assists the instructor during class, and more.
All volunteers must complete a training program for each position. TRI contracts some services at a very minimal salary. Townley said, “Without all the wonderful volunteers over the years, this program would not be in existence.” According to Cindy Redolfi, TRI’s Program Director and Instructor since 1981, the riding therapy program contains six learning components: mounting, warm up, lesson, exercise, games and dismounting.
Students benefit from physical activity, mental stimulation, extended communication and new peer relationships. “Our riders range from age three to adult. Some of our students are able to become independent riders, while others’ goals may be just touching the horse, holding the reins, or even just saying ‘whoa’ to stop the horse,” said Redolfi. “We use the horse as an incentive to learn right and left, colors, and shapes, but also the horse helps them learn balance, spatial awareness, as well as help with muscle tone and coordination.”
TRI’s program doesn’t have a home of its own.The program is supported by the local horse communities who lend their arenas and facilities for the five to seven week programs in spring, summer, and fall.
“There are numerous folks to thank for their support for use of facilities and horses, monetary, and inkind donations over the years, ” said Townley. “Dayton Horse has been very supportive since the mid 1970’s, and TRI has been the beneficiary of the Dayton Horse Show for the past seven years. TRI appreciated Beechwood Farm, Conference School of Horsemanship, Rams Arabians, Menker’s Circle 6 Farm, Cape Cod Farm, Trails End and Bonnybrook Farms, just to name a few.”
TRI’s therapeutic riding programs have been held at Beachwood Farm, owned by Jeff and Cheryl Whitesell, 9429 Clyo Road, for the past 11 years. The Whitesells are currently accepting boarders, 937–885-5777, and Townley said their generosity has ensured the continuance of the program.
TRI’s classes are held Monday through Thursday evenings and on Saturday mornings, beginning in April. Riders are scheduled for one class per week for sessions of 5–7 weeks. Group lessons are 45 minutes with two to three students per class and private lessons are 30 minutes. Lessons are $30 per class for Group and $35 per class for Private Lessons.
Students must be referred to the program by parents, agencies, schools, and health care professionals. Each student is evaluated by the TRI staff before being accepted into the program. Redolfi said TRI has taught students from both the Centerville and Bellbrook-Sugarcreek School districts, as well as surrounding communities.
Redolfi speaks at community events bringing awareness to the equine assisted therapy program. “I spoke at the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Optimist Club meeting at BellHop Cafe, sharing our program, our special riders, our wonderful horses, the benefits of therapeutic riding as well as ways to help our program such as volunteering or becoming a donor,” said Redolfi.
TRI hosted its annual Friendraiser event at Beechwood Farm. The fundraiser included dinner, dancing, live auction with Doug Sorrell a professional benefit auctioneer, a silent auction, and a riding demonstration by the students. This year’s 6th annual Friendraiser was held Saturday, August 25 at Beech–
Why do Townley and Redolfi work so hard to make this program a success? According to Townley it is the joy of the child and the elation of the parents. “No achievement is too small and every accomplishment is miraculous,” said Townley. Redolfi said, “It is magical when the students feel the warmth of their horse’s fur and feel the strong steps their horse takes when their are riding high up on their backs, as well as the strong comforting helping hands of their volunteers walking beside them. All limitations are gone.” Redolfi remembers fondly when students who never spoke, began talking to their horse, and those who had a hard time sitting up in their wheelchairs sat tall in the saddle. Redolfi said, “I am thrilled to be a part of these miracles.” NARHA recently changed its name to Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH International), ensuring excellence and changing lives through equine-assisted activities and therapies.
For information about donations, the TRI Advisory Council or Board of Directors contact Betty Lou Townley at 937–885-7909 or email her at townleyES@aol.com. To enroll a student call Cindy Redolfi at 937–836-2149 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to become a volunteer call Bethany Spriggs at 937–313-8973 or email at email@example.com.
Marcia Treadway writes for the
Xenia Daily News.