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Therapy horses help kids faced with disabilities

As a feature writer, I often do reviews on family-friendly places to bring the kiddos. That's why I headed over to Lothlorien, a stable close to my home in East Aurora.

I brought my four girls and assumed we'd check out their horse-back riding lessons and be on our way. Boy was I wrong. What they do goes way beyond horsing around. This place is making life better for children in our communities.

The first thing I noticed was just how sweet everyone was, including the horses. There's no doubt, animals do seem to have a sixth sense. We’ve all seen the amazing things that dogs can do as therapy animals, but did you know horses can provide therapy in many ways?

The horses are sweet and gentle. Mary Friona-Celani/Special to The News

The horses are sweet and gentle. (Mary Friona-Celani/Special to The News)

At Lothlorien Therapeutic Riding Center, they count on it. Since 1983, their horses have been providing much needed joy for those who, perhaps, need it most. The staff and volunteers at the center work with many organizations, including Essential Care, Boys and Girls Clubs, and the Wounded Warriors Odyssey Programs.

In fact, they serve more than 700 people every year, many of them children, including those with physical and emotional disabilities. Each one is treated with kindness and care by the humans and the horses.

The horses, these mammoth creatures, are so graceful around the riders. They slowly carry children on their backs, and some of those kids have never walked. Their wheelchairs are brought over to a ramp, where they are lifted on to the huge animals. The riders then feel something they may never have felt before: what it feels like to walk.

The horses are very gentle and calm at Lothlorien Therapeutic Riding Center in East Aurora. (Mary Friona-Celani/Special to The News)

The horses are very gentle and calm at Lothlorien Therapeutic Riding Center in East Aurora. (Mary Friona-Celani/Special to The News)

The horses have a gait similar to that of a human. Their stride and pace make the movements very much like that of a person, the way they shift their body back and forth. Maggie Keller, executive director at Lothlorien, said there is nothing like watching the children. “There is such a liberation for people in wheelchairs. An incredible sense of freedom,” she said.

But, it’s even more than that. Keller said that riding the horses means paying attention, which is a good thing. “You have to be present and in the moment, for safety, so you forget about what is going on and you think only about the horse and that moment. You forget what is wrong and for that time, it is all about you and that horse.”

The kids pick up quickly on the fact that the animals don’t judge, instead they mirror what they see and feel. “It is so good for these children. Some talk to their horse. Some don’t really talk much in life, yet there they are, talking to that horse,” Keller said.

My daughters and I spent a couple of hours at Lothlorien and it was an incredible experience. We learned a great deal. My 4-year-old even got a quick riding lesson on a cute pony named Acorn. But the bigger lesson is what was most important. The care and compassion that the staff, volunteers and horses have is truly something special, and it’s contagious. It's something we can all strive for.

At Lothlorien, kids can ride and groom the horses. They learn about responsibility and what it means to care for a living creature that asks for nothing in return.

Lessons are open and available to anyone. Lothlorien offers four- and six-week lesson sessions and an indoor riding ring. Costs vary since they do offer income-based pricing.

They are always looking for volunteers and donations. They do not receive any grants or funding and run on private donations. If you'd like to help out, no experience is needed and they promise it'll make you just as happy as it makes those sweet kids. I talked with a few volunteers who say they absolutely love every second of it.

Info: Lothlorien Therapeutic Riding; 15 Reiter Road, East Aurora

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