2017-01-06 / Health & Wellness
Ride On clients sit tall in the saddle
Jim Faust gripped the horn of his saddle as his horse, Dante, plodded along the dusty streets of the western town, passing an old wooden building marked “Sheriff” and then moseying out into the chaparral-covered countryside.
The 49-year-old Thousand Oaks resident was one of about 80 riders who explored the trails of Paramount Ranch in an event held by Ride On Therapeutic Horsemanship on Dec. 10. The nonprofit teaches horseback riding to children and adults with physical and mental disabilities, serving about 220 people at two locations, in Newbury Park and Chatsworth.
Faust, who has been riding since he was 5, takes weekly lessons at Ride On’s Newbury Park facility. He said he enjoyed the chance to ride around the ranch, which is an annual excursion for the nonprofit’s clients.
“It’s a perfect country area,” Faust said. “I’m having a great time. It’s nice and cool.”
Ride On’s clients, who range in age from under 2 to over 80, have a variety of cognitive and physical disabilities. The organization offers two types of programs: adaptive riding, in which clients learn how to ride a horse, and therapy services, in which they work with a horse and a physical, occupational or speech therapist for specific medical improvements.
Sara Jones, Ride On’s chief operating officer, said that therapeutic horsemanship provides physical as well as social benefits.
“You’re exercising yourself, strengthening your core and working on fine-motor skills,” Jones said.
As for the social aspect, “a lot of the kids don’t get involved in sports or other group settings. Here, they get in a group and ride with their peers,” she said.
Simi Valley resident Logan Ellis, 20, started therapeutic horsemanship when he was 5. At that point, he was barely able to walk, but the program helped in his development.
“The horse gait mimics human walking gait,” said Logan’s father, Manie Ellis. “The horse and the rider really work together.”
Ellis said that the horsemanship program continues to be a highlight of the week for Logan, who has Down syndrome and several related medical and developmental challenges.
“Even if he’s had a rough day with other issues, he pretty much always wants to ride,” Ellis said.
Husband and wife Bryan McQueeney and Gloria Hamblin founded Ride On in 1994. The nonprofit now has 30 horses and, in February, will mark the milestone of 100,000 lessons.
“One hundred thousand times we’ve put riders on horses,” McQueeney said. “That’s huge.”
Some clients receive scholarships for free or half-price lessons.
“We don’t turn anyone away,” Jones said.
About 31 percent of Ride On’s revenue comes from fees for lessons and therapy services, according to the nonprofit’s 2015 annual report. Donations, special events, grants and boarding account for the rest of Ride On’s income, which totaled $1.46 million in 2015.
In November, the City of Thousand Oaks awarded the nonprofit a $20,000 Sports Facilities Endowment Fund grant to help in renovating its equestrian facility in Newbury Park. Jones said that Ride On leases the site from the Conejo Recreation and Park District for $40 per year.
The Ride On staff includes nine certified instructors and nine therapists. The organization also relies on more than 200 volunteers, many of whom came to the Paramount Ranch event to lead horses and support riders as they ambled along the trails.
“You can see what kind of teamwork and universal support it takes to give these riders with disabilities the kind of opportunity that many of us might take for granted,” McQueeney said.
Emily Aguirre, 16, of Simi Valley was all smiles as she took a break next to Paramount Ranch’s train platform, which functioned as the mounting area. Today, Emily was focused on helping other riders.
“She rides and volunteers, which is amazing,” said Brie Doherty, head riding instructor for Ride On’s Chatsworth location.
Woodland Hills resident Zachary Inkeles, 29, hit the trails on Mr. Pibb, a bay quarter horse he called “my big baby.” He described the connection between rider and horse.
“We have a focus and we’re doing what we have to do,” Inkeles said.
Faust regularly rides Dante, a bay quarter warm-blood, but he said that he has also bonded with Ride On’s other horses.
“They’re all good,” he said. “They’re like my own children.”