Winston Churchill said, “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.” Heaven’s Gait Therapeutic Riding (HGTR) in Woodstock proves this truth every day. Hour after hour of lessons are given on horseback to provide emotional, physical and social benefits for children and adults with special needs such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, asperger syndrome, autism and developmental delay, among others.
Heaven’s Gait Director Kelly Rickard, a certified PATH International instructor (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) has been teaching these lessons for years. Rickard’s dream of opening her own therapy center became a reality in 2013 when the Alpha Equestrian Center was established to provide a platform for Heaven’s Gait. The beautiful acreage located at 2471 E. Cherokee Drive in Woodstock, has a state-of-the-art, 18-stall barn and riding arena that opened to the public in January 2016 (all handicap accessible).
“The barn is presently open to the community for regular boarding, which supports HGTR’s operating expenses,” Rickard said. “We have two additional riding instructors, Danielle Isgett and Amy Perez (both PATH certified), and our dedicated barn manager, Paige Harvey.”
While more than 20 volunteers work with 50-plus children receiving therapy, there is room for more students and horses. HGTR presently boards 14 horses, six of which work hard in the program. Also, three of the boarders allow their horses to volunteer to work. “We are very excited about a grant that was recently given to build a sensory therapy trail in the woods behind the arena. The trail includes interactive stations where students perform tasks on horseback like banging the sound tubes, throwing bean bags through tires, and putting puzzles together,” Rickard said.
Heaven’s Gait, a 2016 Readers Choice winner in the equestrian services category, has a lot to offer those in our community with special needs. One mother of twin boys said, “As I have watched my boys every week on the back of a horse with Kelly by their side, I can say with confidence that there is no doctor, medicine or other therapy that could replace this in their lives. Within the first two months of riding therapy, my son with speech delays began verbally communicating at home with understandable language. It was as if Wesley never had the delay! My other son with cerebral palsy works to overcome right arm weakness and balance issues. With compassion, gentleness, creativity and energy, Kelly consistently challenges Samuel, while setting reachable goals. This therapy makes an invaluable difference in his progress toward walking independently.”
Horses lend us the things we lack. While working diligently with these loving instructors, the horses at HGTR also freely give the gifts of freedom, power and medicine that heals. Just think of the children in wheelchairs who are usually looked down upon. Imagine the power and strength they feel being elevated above us all on the back of these beautiful animals!
If you would like to get involved with this life-changing work, there are many things you can do: side walking or horse leading during lessons, stall cleaning, barn and property maintenance, public relations, and donations for vet supplies, scholarships or monthly support of a therapy horse. For more information, visit hgtrinc.com and facebook.com/hgtrinc/ or contact Kelly Rickard at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 770-656-5764. All donations are tax deductible.
By Susan Schulz