A Helping Hoof: The Magic of Therapeutic Riding

The NC Therapeutic Riding Center in Mebane, North Carolina, offers equine centered activities and therapies that help empower riders to create a healthy and happy lifestyle.

Whether it’s a dog, cat, or a horse, animals can help people feel better. However, horses are uniquely qualified as they can teach humans self-awareness, communication skills, leadership, affection, and much more, according to Jackie Cole, Director of the NC Therapeutic Riding Center in Mebane, North Carolina. The center is one of the oldest therapeutic riding programs in North Carolina where participants maximize their potential through high-quality equine centered activities and therapies.

Volunteers gathered around one of the horses at the NC Therapeutic Riding Center, who had just come back from surgery. Photography by Jonathan Van Ark

The center specializes in high-quality equine centered activities and therapies, through different programs and therapy sessions that help empower children and adults with physical, mental, emotional and social challenges to create more active, healthy and fulfilling lives. “Our programs are designed to help empower our participants to believe in themselves, knowing they can conquer and complete different activities offered during their therapy sessions,” says Cole. “It’s truly an amazing feeling to see how much of an impact the programs have on our participants.”

The NC Therapeutic Riding Center currently has more than 110 volunteers who work diligently toward the common goal of helping others through horseback riding and other horse-related activities. “Whether someone is a donor, volunteer or participant, I want everyone to feel appreciated in the role they play in making the therapeutic riding center so special,” she says. One of those volunteers who helps make the NC Therapeutic Riding Center possible is sophomore Katie Zinke. Upon arrival at Elon, Zinke knew she wanted to find a way to combine her passion for horses to give back to the greater community. Zinke had heard about NC Therapeutic Riding Center through the grapevine and reached out to Cole, expressing interest in volunteering.

Volunteers can serve in a variety of ways at the riding center including more demanding positions such as serving as a “Horse Leader” or “Sidewalker” during weekly riding lessons and therapy sessions. Zinke volunteers as a Horse Leader, paying attention to the horse and making sure it stays calm, whereas the Sidewalkers serve the kids, paying attention to their needs and how they are acting during the sessions. Other ways to get involved can be through assisting with events, helping with administrative work and/or helping with farm maintenance.

“Seeing these kids who might not be able to do things at school that other kids can do so easily, physically or mentally, have control of the horse and able to do activities such as throw a ball into a hoop while on this big animal has been so rewarding for me,” says Zinke. “The therapeutic riding center is really good about making sure you can commit to the same riders so you can build a strong connection with the riders.”

The NC Therapeutic Riding Center provides an opportunity to gain hands-on learning experiences you might not have the chance to learn about in the classroom. “It’s a great place to learn about working with kids with disabilities and meet people you might not have the chance to meet at Elon,” says Zinke. “Even if you are having a bad day, you always leave the riding center happier knowing that you have left a positive impact on the riders.”