ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – It's so much more than a pony ride; it's physical and emotional therapy. I know this, because I have a front row seat, watching it happen in my backyard, every other Monday. And I truly feel blessed to be a witness to it.
Hope Therapy is a non-profit therapeutic riding program based in Middleburg, but now it has added another location in St. Johns.
Its co-founder Rebecca Davenport says she's thrilled to be able to touch more lives.
Ever since I can remember, I have loved horses and everything about them. I love children, too; so it made sense to get involved with this organization that combines both. I was not prepared to be so taken by the combination, though; and now it seems there's no turning back!
It gives children like 5-year old Gillie her first ride on a horse. But more importantly, it's giving her confidence, better mobility and is improving her speech and fine motor skills.
The program offers therapy for children and adults with various diagnoses, from cerebral palsy, to Down syndrome and autism. Veterans with physical limitations or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can also benefit from the therapy in the saddle.
Davenport started Hope Therapy with her mother, at a farm in Middleburg in 2001. Together, they have enriched the lives of hundreds of clients, from the back of a horse.
Davenport says the rhythmic movement of the animals and the connection the patient makes with the horse, enhances the therapy she provides as an occupational therapist. Taking the child or adult out of the clinic setting, and putting them safely astride a horse, with a view from above, provides an experience that brings smiles, and encourages healing.
What's truly incredible, is watching a timid child arrive at the farm, terrified of the 4-legged "therapist", but then pleading with her mother to let her stay at the end of the session. The next visit, she runs across the arena, arms outstretched, to reach the pony. Another horse lover is born!
But even more remarkable, is the child who speaks his first words during a session; or takes his first steps after dismounting.
Expanding the organization's reach to the St. Johns area, means more children and adults with varying needs will have the opportunity to experience the "hope" of this therapy.
Hope Therapy is Northeast Florida's only "Premier Accredited Center" according to the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, or PATH.
For more information go to HopeTherapy.org.