Riding club maintains highest standards for special-needs riders

New programs offered for preschoolers and veterans

BY JENNIFER KOHLHEPP
Staff Writer

ALLENTOWN — The Handicapped High Riders Club at Riding High Farm in Allentown has once again achieved premier accreditation from the global authority on equine-assisted activities and therapies.

Founded in 1969 to promote safe and effective therapeutic horseback riding throughout the United States and Canada, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) has certified 7,000 groups and individuals in countries all over the world that support 42,000 people with special needs through a variety of equine-assisted activity and therapy programs.

Riding High Farm, a 10.5-acre property including a stable and indoor riding arena, has been accredited through the NARHA for the past 20 years. Certified by NARHA, the club maintains the highest standards of care, safety and instructional benefits for special-needs riding.

“We’ve gone through the vigorous accreditation process [again], which holds us to a higher standard of quality — for instance, with staff, care of horses and the services we offer,” said Robyn Struz, program director at Riding High Farm. “We are a premier accredited program — the highest level.”

Above: A participant, with help from volunteers, takes a ride through the woods at Riding High Farm in Allentown. Left: A volunteer helps a participant gets ready to hit the trail. More photos at www.gmnews.com. PHOTOS BY ERIC SUCAR staff Above: A participant, with help from volunteers, takes a ride through the woods at Riding High Farm in Allentown. Left: A volunteer helps a participant gets ready to hit the trail. More photos at www.gmnews.com. PHOTOS BY ERIC SUCAR staff The nonprofit began in 1979 with a mission to provide special-needs riders with recreational and therapeutic instruction. Currently, the program relies on seven staff members, volunteers and 11 horses to enrich the lives of physically, cognitively and emotionally challenged persons through riding instructions.

Since its inception, the organization has extended its programming to provide hippotherapy and group lessons to school districts that require physical education for special needs students.

The club also added an inclusive summer camp riding program for children and the recruitment and training of volunteer and community service workers to assist its professional staff in conducting riding lessons, maintaining horses and facilities, and assisting in fundraising.

Historically, the farm has offered riding programs to children ages 6 to 15 and adults age 16 and over. The club recently added a program for preschool children ages 4 to 6, according to Struz.

“We have found through studies and early intervention that people are becoming more aware,” Struz said. “Autism is being diagnosed earlier. We decided to offer a program to younger children.”

Therapeutic riding helps those with special needs improve balance, muscle strength, flexibility and mobility; increase patience, confidence, self-esteem and self-confidence; and improve social skills through bonding with the horses.

Riders also have the opportunity to participate in therapeutic activities off the farm through the program, such as horse shows and other events sponsored by NHRHA of New Jersey and Special Olympics New Jersey, according to Struz.

The farm also recently implemented “Horses for Heroes.” Initiated by the NARHA and offered only through select, premier riding centers, this program provides equine therapy to injured veterans who would benefit from the interaction between rider and horse to assist in their rehabilitation from warrelated injuries, according to Struz.

Volunteers are vital to helping the club achieve its goals with all the programs offered at Riding High Farm, Struz said.

“Volunteers are the heart of our program,” Struz said. “They help with day-to-day activities, assist with riders and the care of the horses and the facility. Whatever your interests, whatever your skills, we have a place for you.” Volunteers do not have to know a lot about horses to help. In addition to working directly with horses, there are a number of other ways to assist, with training provided for program-related activities. All volunteers must be at least 12 years old.

As a nonprofit organization, the farm relies on donations, fundraisers, grants and tuition to meet operating needs. Maintaining the horses costs $100,000 annually. In addition to the ongoing hay, feed, veterinarian and farrier services required for the horses, the farm works hard to maintain and upgrade the barn and grounds and to have the most up-to-date riding equipment and supplies. The nonprofit does not receive funding from the government, with more than half of its annual budget met through the generosity of donors.

The nonprofit’s next money-raising event will be its annual “Beef and Beer Fundraiser” in October at the Trenton Ancient Order of Hibernians Lodge in Hamilton. The date has yet to be set.

Contributions go a long way toward keeping special-needs riders happy. Struz said she loves to see the children’s faces light up when they ride a horse.

“There is nothing greater than taking children out of their wheelchairs and putting them freely up on a horse and watching them enjoy the movement of the horse — the freedom,” Struz said. “I also like to see the adults’ faces light up. I have been a rider my entire life. I know that bond and joy that comes from the horse.”

To participate in the horseback-riding program or to volunteer, contact Riding High Farm at info@ridinghighfarm.org or 609- 259-3884.