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Faith, horsepower improve lives of riders with disabilities
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Ben Lambeth uses paint to apply a personal touch to the coat of Pocahontas during a June 20 Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center summer camp. - photo by Photo by Deanna Stephens

GUYTON — An idea that originated from old-fashioned horse sense and faith has proven to be beneficial for more than a decade
Started in 2006 by Bonnie Rachael, Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center offers equine-assisted activity for the purpose of contributing to the cognitive, physical, emotional and social well-being of individuals with special needs. The center typically serves 125 riders per year through weekly classes.
The classes are far more than pony rides. Each is tailored for the specific challenges of the riders whether they be physical, mental or emotional.
Horse riding has been proven to have a calming effect on people with sensory disorders. It also provides those with physical disabilities a sense of independence that is difficult to achieve in other ways.
Hallie Myers, program director at the center at 243 Appaloosa Way, has seen riders and horses accomplish surprising things.
"It's amazing how horses are such intuitive animals," she said. "So many of them have such a sense for what we do. We have one horse that actually has a rider who is blind, and every time this rider goes to get onto the riding ramp she leans into him to make it easier for him to get on. That's not something that we trained her to do. It's just something she knows to do and she only does it for that one rider. It's the craziest thing."

Myers added that horses — the center has more than a dozen of them — also tend to connect with children with autism.
"Horses are going to treat everyone the same, whereas people don't always know how to be normal (around autistic children) — if that makes sense," she said.
One of Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center's greatest triumphs with a non-verbal autistic child occurred before Myers' arrival two and half years ago.
"He was actually scared of horses at first," Myers said. "It took several weeks before he even wanted to get on but once he got on it was the opposite. He didn't want to get off.
"From there, they just worked on basic walking around. The instructor would tell him to tell the horse to 'walk on' and he would just kind of sit there and not do a whole lot. They kept asking him and them, one day out of the blue, he just shouted out, 'WALK ON," and his mom burst into tears because she had never heard his voice before."

See the July 4 edition of the Effingham Herald for more details.