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FETC to hold Sizzling Summer Celebration on Saturday
FEC conner obrian
Conner O’Brian gets a lift aboard a horse at the Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center. The center is holding fundraising events Saturday. - photo by Photo by Sandi Van Orden

Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center is hosting a “Sizzling Summer Celebration” beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday at the Effingham County Fairgrounds.

The event will include live entertainment, food and craft vendors, a live auction and games. The daytime event will continue until 5 p.m. There will be a concert with Warren Barfield beginning at 7 p.m.

Faith Equestrian opened in 2005 after Bonnie Rachael worked to open it. She said the idea for the center came to mind in 2004.

“I was actually in church when the Lord laid it on my heart,” she said. “I had read an article for another therapeutic riding center, and it was like right then and there He told me, ‘this is what I want you to do.’”

Rachael had horses that were trained and a farm. The organization came together in less than a year and held an open house in 2005. Rachael said there have been many wonderful people involved and many Boy Scouts involved with their Eagle Scout projects.

The center is a member of the North American Ride for the Handicapped Association.

“It’s a therapeutic riding and activity center for children and adults with special challenges,” Rachael said.

She said that could include a variety of challenges, ranging from autism to paralysis to cancer or other challenges.

“Animals are healing, and horses in particular are very healing,” Rachael said, “and kids that might not open up to another human being, a horse can bring them out. We had one little girl who has selective mutism — she wouldn’t speak.

After being with the horses for a while, her guardian called me one day and said she called her grandfather and told him about her horses. It’s just amazing what this program does.”

Rachael said the program is not therapy, but it is very therapeutic for the participants.

She said there is one rider at the center who has not only become an independent rider, but also has gone to the Special Olympics and won gold and silver medals.

“To see the look on his father’s face,” she said those things are what she receives from the program.

“The reason we’re having this event is to raise awareness and hopefully raise enough to make our budget,” Rachael said. “We want to raise awareness for volunteers because without volunteers, a child can’t ride. Being a member of the North American Ride for the Handicapped Association, we have things that we have to do to keep them safe.”

She said the volunteers are trained, and people do come and go.

“It’s not an easy job that we do,” she said.

Volunteers are paired with a child and will be with that child walking next to them while they are on a horse.

“In the summertime, it’s hot. It’s physical because you’re walking around. You might have to jog short distances. It’s not the easiest type of volunteer work because it’s mildly physical,” Rachael said.

She said the rewards you get from seeing the benefit to the child make it worth it.

“We need a large group of people as volunteers so that we don’t burn people out,” she said.

Rachael said it’s not only good for the children with disabilities, it’s also good for the teenagers who volunteer. A mother told her how much it had done for her son who volunteers at the center.

She said there are a number of teenagers who come to the center as a way to get community service hours and later realize it’s a good thing.

“We’re a Saturday-only program because I work a 40-hour week,” Rachael said. “One day, we hope to be big enough to do more. Right now, we can handle a maximum of maybe 15 to 20 kids a day, depending on the activity and the special challenge they have.

“I like a lot of one on one things for the kids. I think they learn more, and they enjoy it more.”

Rachael said her vision would be for the center to have its own location one day. Currently she donates the use of her time, land and horses to the program.

“It’s a possibility, but it’s a financial thing and it’s an awareness thing,” she said.

“We are a faith based organization,” Rachael said. “We’re not a church or anything like that. We don’t preach. Our foundation is built on God, and the reason I named it Faith was because it was a leap of faith.”

The program is free and Rachael said it will continue to be free. She said some people have told her she should charge, but she believes it is important to have this available to families who are working to make their child or loved one well.

“But again, that is dependent on volunteers,” she said. “We’re looking for people who have horse experience who might be interested in becoming instructors.

“I need volunteers for other things, too — administrative work, fixing up the farm. I desperately need someone to do a newsletter for us. People who donate to us, be it in kind or money, I think a newsletter would let them know ‘this is where my money’s going.’ That’s my next thing.”

Ryan Brantley has volunteered at Faith Equestrian since the center opened and started working on an Eagle Scout project. He said his experience with the center has been great.

“I’ve always been interested in horses, but never could find a place to be around them,” he said. “Then I came here. I love being away from the city and being with the horses and the kids.”

Brantley’s Eagle Scout project was a handicapped ramp to the office and a pump house. The ramp was built for a volunteer who is in a wheelchair who comes to the center and rides. The ramp makes it easier for her to get into the office, Brantley said. The pump house, he added, “was an eyesore.”

“We felt like it would be a good idea to cover it up and keep some of the stuff out of the kids’ way,” he said.
Brantley said working with the children has been a great experience.

“It’s been a very moving experience,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see the kids come out here. They have a smile on their face when they get out here, and even bigger smile on their face when they leave they know that they’ve done something that helps them feel a little bit better.”

Karen Zantow has volunteered with the program for three years and became involved after meeting Rachael at work.

She said the two talked about the program, and she had experience with horses and with disabled children.

“It sounded like something fun to do, and something I knew I had skills to offer,” she said.

She said working with the children is hard to describe.

“It is hot most of the time, and it is dirty, but is fun,” Zantow said. “You don’t even think about it. It’s very rewarding. In the three years I’ve been here, there’s not been one child who’s not come out here and just tremendous changing to the good, to the benefit, and we’re not giving therapy out here. It’s just the magic of the horses and the children interacting with the horses. Changes are phenomenal.”

Rachael said she is also hoping the event brings awareness to other non-profit groups.

“Right now with the economy the way it is, we all need to band together,” she said. “We need to get out. We need to celebrate the blessings we have. The best things in life you can’t pay for. People need to know that.”

The entry fee for the festival is $2. Tickets to the concert are $15 prior to the event and $18 at the gate. A group rate of $13 is available. Children under 12 will be admitted to the festivities for free.