Horses for Hearts program needs votes to win grant for roof

July 20, 2010|By TRISH RUDDER
  • Avery Lackey smiles when he rides Scooter, one of the horses used for therapeutic riding at Horses with Hearts in Martinsburg, W.Va.
Photo by Trish Rudder,

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A therapeutic riding program called Horses with Hearts, Inc. needs a roof over the riding arena at Pleasant Ridge Farm.

The nonprofit organization applied for a $250,000 grant from Pepsi Refresh to build the roof so it can provide services all year instead of only during the summer months.

Cofounder Kay Barkwill said Horses with Hearts began in 2005 to provide therapeutic riding activities to children and adults with physical, mental and emotional disabilities.

Clients from ages 3 to 42 "and as old as 77" participate in the program, she said.

The organization's motto is Create a Smile, Grow Confidence and Change a Life, and all that happens, Barkwill said.

"It increases their independence, balance and self-esteem," she said.

About 30 volunteers work with the program and its four horses -- Penny, Scooter, Nugget and Blackie -- and assist the clients by leading the horse or walking beside it, depending on the client's needs. Clients get to know and ride the same horse, Barkwill said.


Volunteer Kelly Dotson, 18, said she has fed and groomed Blackie for the last three years at Pleasant Ridge Farm.

She likes participating in the program "to see the kids smile -- it's worth it," Dotson said.

Sean McCoy, 18, began volunteering her time because a family church friend, Brendan, 3, participates in the program.

"It's really good to see him be with the horses," McCoy said.

"I love horses, and if I can share that love with the clients, that makes me happy," said cofounder Cathy Dodson, the program's certified riding instructor.

Clients Avery Lackey, 8, and Ricky Sample, 16, rode horses and received instructions from Dodson while their parents watched.

Summer Walsh, Avery's mother, said he has a passion for horses.

The therapeutic riding has increased his confidence, and it allows Avery "to enjoy this for himself," she said.

Ricky's father, Thomas Carpenter said this is Ricky's second year in the program.

"It has helped him tremendously," Carpenter said.

"When you have a special needs child, it's hard to find things for them to do. This program has been good for him," Carpenter said.

He said when Ricky began last year, two volunteer handlers stayed with him, "but now he rides by himself. He's trotting now," Carpenter said.

The biggest improvement is that Ricky's coordination has improved, he said.

Barkwill said the organization wants to operate full time with hippo (horse) therapy to accomplish the medical goals, and a certified hippo therapist is needed.

"We want to work with vets, the school system and provide indoor riding," she said.

The riding arena, tack room and office on the Pleasant Ridge Farm grounds off Arden Nollville Road were all provided by grant funding and donations, Barkwill said.

Getting the Pepsi Refresh grant to build the arena roof is the next goal and everyone can help by voting for it on the Internet, she said.

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She said about 200 programs are competing for the $250,000 grant, and the top two programs with the most votes will win.

People can vote every day in July to ensure Horses with Hearts wins in July, Barkwill said.

Horses with Hearts is in the top 100 and if it stays in the top 100, it will be eligible for next month's contest in August, if it does not win in July.

If Horses with Hearts does not win but stays in the top 100, it will continue to be eligible for the rest of the months through 2010, she said.

"That's why it's important to vote every day," Barkwill said.

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