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Helping children and adults one stride at a time

Sweet Velvet arrived at the Dumb Friends League Harmony Equine Center as a transfer from Kentucky. The 17-year-old Morgan/Walker Cross didn’t travel far to her new home at neighboring Promise Ranch Therapeutic Riding where she spends her days with other equines and one very quiet horse, named Maple Stirrup, who doesn’t eat or need to be cleaned up after (because “she’s” an Equicizer, which is a mechanical horse that simulates riding and its movement), helping people.

Promise Ranch is a local nonprofit that provides equine-assisted activities and therapies for children and adults with disabilities and/or other therapeutic or rehabilitative needs. They also offer adaptive/therapeutic riding and horsemanship lessons (including a new ground work program), hippotherapy treatment sessions, which uses riding as a means of improving coordination, balance and strength, nature-based Occupational, Speech and Mental Health Therapy services and Horsemanship for Veterans. They currently serve 75 clients and participants.

Suzanne Opp, President of the Promise Ranch Board of Directors, began working with the organization about a year ago, and knowing the Harmony Equine Center was right next door, it was a logical next step when it was time to start working on integrating a few new horses into the herd. The Right Horse Initiative was also a critical component of their decision to adopt.

Velvet is the first horse Promise Ranch adopted from Harmony, but she won’t be the last. “We had looked at several there who might have been possibilities, but when we met her, we were immediately impressed,” said Suzanne. “Immediately, we were struck by her calm demeanor. We have an outline of questions that we follow when evaluating a new horse, and The Right Horse Initiative also offers a Basic Behaviors Profile to follow. She passed both with ease. It was really funny. We decided to adopt her the day before the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship Conference took place with sessions at Harmony. Velvet actually became a demonstration horse for the qualities centers can look for in an adoptable horse! I remember being approached by many other center directors and feeling proud that we could connect with her first. It really reinforced our good fortune in finding her, but there are so many wonderful horses like her who need homes.”

Velvet has adjusted well at Promise Ranch and even has a best friend, a paint mare named Snip. Once Velvet was comfortable with her new routine, the team slowly began rotating her into lessons with clients who were more independent riders. “As time has gone on, we have been able to partner her with clients who present with challenging behaviors, or have physical needs and difficulties with balancing or stability,” said Suzanne. “Velvet has partnered beautifully and has been tolerant of the many volunteers we have who handle the horses. Often, that is the most demanding aspect for horses who come to a program like ours. In addition to our clients, we have many volunteers, and it’s not always easy for the horses to accept such a numerous and varied set of people!”

While each program—and even each hour—can look different, Suzanne notes that horses need to have a willingness to be exposed and become familiar with many types of unusual (for them!) activities, including basketballs, loud iPad games and the incorporation of hoops, pool noodles and bean bags before working with a rider. “Additionally, in our ground work program there is much value for the participant to learn to lead a horse safely, as well as many other important tasks that involve sequencing, mindfulness and horse body language, among other skills,” said Suzanne. “Velvet is a smart mare, and after a little bit of time, she has adjusted beautifully and calmly to what is asked of her.”

We’re looking forward to hearing more about Velvet’s contributions at the Promise Ranch! You can learn more about Promise Ranch and follow Velvet’s journey by visiting prtr.org.

“I just want to recommend the Harmony Equine Center and the staff and trainers there, who are so skilled at identifying horse and people matches,” said Suzanne. “Aside from our experience, I’ve known many other people in the community who have adopted lifelong riding partners, and it’s a really terrific option for finding a horse.”

Visit harmonyequinecenter.org to learn more about the facility, including horses for adoption.

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