By Britney Anderson
There’s a unique bond between horses and people that can be particularly meaningful to children with disabilities. Riding programs provide a relaxing, non-academic environment in which children can interact with adults and peers and, more importantly, with their horse.
Research has shown that therapeutic riding programs offer physical, psychological, social and educational benefits to special students. The riders themselves show the benefits through their smiles, determination and their sense of accomplishment. The Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center, or BTRC, aims to bring these benefits to children in and around Buffalo, New York.
“In 1990 we took over what was the Saddle and Bridle Club, which had been here in Buffalo since 1922,” said Susie Schoellkopf, executive director. “It was built as an indoor polo facility, and then it became a riding center, and it was basically falling down around us.”
The board took out a loan to facilitate the repairs necessary to create BTRC. “Susan Lenahan Kimberly put together a group of people who really believed this place should exist, so we became a therapeutic riding center,” Susie recalled.
Now, while lessons are given through Buffalo Equestrian Center on other days of the week, Mondays are reserved for therapeutic lessons. The BTRC currently offers programs for mentally and emotionally impaired, learning disabled and developmentally challenged children ages 6 to 18.
“We have so many kids with autism, so many with down syndrome, and spina bifida — it’s just been non-stop with kids that we’ve helped along the way,” said Susie. “I don’t think there’s anyone that we haven’t been able to help, that we haven’t been able to give some kind of joy and happiness.”
The BTRC is a Premier Accredited Center by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH), an organization that fosters safe, professional, ethical and therapeutic equine activities through education, communication, standards and research for people with and without disabilities. All of the BTRC’s instructors are PATH Certified Instructors.
Many of the BTRC’s school horses are donated. While they’re carefully filtered for their manners and suitability, the BTRC provides a win-win situation for horses retiring from competition. “We’ve been given great show horses who wouldn’t have had another life if we weren’t here to take them in,” said Susie. “A lot of them would have ended up in not such a great situation.”
Each year, the BTRC hosts the Buffalo International Horse Show and receives all profits to benefit the facility and therapeutic riding program. Buffalo International is a USEF Heritage Competition due to its history as a long-standing and influential show in the horse world. In 2016, the show celebrated its 70th anniversary with a look back at its history, including professionals such as Debbie Stephens, Bill Ellis, Missy Clark, Mason Phelps, Ian Millar and more.
In addition to hosting the Buffalo International Horse Show, the BTRC hosts riding and auditing clinics open to the public. All clinics and events serve as fundraisers for the BTRC including its programs, horses and special-needs children. This year, George Morris will teach a three-day clinic November 11-13, 2016. Since George is teaching very few clinics this year, the clinic is expected to be filled to capacity.
“I’d like to see the BTRC have the financial ability to do a lot more for kids,” Susie concluded. “We just want to see the program grow and grow.”
For more information on the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center, visit theBTRC.org.
Photos courtesy of the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center