Any child would be thrilled to spend an evening running rampant through the Cincinnati Therapeutic Riding and Horsemanship (CTRH) facilities.
Riders enter a spacious lobby and eagerly await the moment they are ushered into the tack room to find their names scrawled on a board alongside their assigned horses; perhaps it’s Bentley or Zeke or Streaker. From there, they grab the appropriate bridle and girth and head out to meet their match for another session of riding.
But CTRH lessons aren’t just for fun. The Milford-based program provides equine therapy for people ages 2 to 75 with an array of disabilities ranging from autism to cerebral palsy to stroke.
The nonprofit organization has grown from one pony serving five riders in 1985 to the nine program horses and approximately 120 annual riders involved today. Funding comes from private donations and fundraisers.
Program Development Director Laura Benza has been working with CTRH for 19 years, and her affection for the horses and ponies she works with is evident as she describes their distinct quirks and characteristics. However, it’s the horse’s size and ability to accommodate a motion or movement that matches them to a rider more than personality.
Participants have different options for therapeutic riding at CTRH. Most visitors attend recreational riding, a group class led by an instructor and several volunteers. Anyone with a disability can participate; there’s no discrimination at this stable.
“Everybody mounts from the same mounting ramp, if you need it or not,” Benza says. “So anyone in a wheelchair versus someone who looks to be a little more able-bodied—they’re all going to get on the same exact way.”
Instructors keep class fun and exciting for younger riders in a variety of ways, incorporating games with ring tosses, egg and spoon, and hula hoops.
Patients can also elect to participate in hippotherapy, a one-on-one session in which a rider works with an occupational or physical therapist.“Instead of being at the hospital for therapy, they’re using a horse to illicit the same movements,” Benza explains.
In addition to rec riding and hippotherapy, CTRH is beginning to work with psychiatric patients from the College Hill Children’s Hospital Campus. “It’s more like social therapy working with a horse instead of just riding,” Benza says. “It’s a lot of social needs—being nice to get something back; not using somebody to get further along.” While these patients don’t necessarily have physical disabilities, spending time with the horses provides some much-needed perspective and talk therapy outside the hospital walls.
It might seem like a stretch to say that horse interaction is a guaranteed cure for the riders’ often serious diagnoses, but the classes have an inimitable positive impact on participants. “This is a lot of our riders’ sport,” Benza explains. “They might not be able to play soccer or tee-ball, so this is kind of their [sport] where parents come and sit in the viewing room and watch.”
Although CTRH doesn’t accept insurance or waivers, Benza would like to say that the organization would never turn anyone away because of cost. “If finances are an issue, we try to do a ridership program where we might pay for some of the actual cost of the lesson.” Because CTRH already subsidizes more than 50 percent of the cost for riding lessons, the added financial assistance serves as a testament to the program’s strong desire to help those in need as much as possible.
Anyone interested in getting involved at CTRH can call 513-831-7050 or visit ctrhonline.org. It’s not necessary for volunteers to have any previous experience or knowledge about horses, just a desire to make a difference.