Bluffton charity to make horse therapy available for wounded warriors

A Bluffton-based charity has provided horse therapy to disabled adults and children for the past nine years. Now, it hopes to offer help to another group of local residents in need.

Officials from Heroes on Horseback, a nonprofit organization founded in 2000 that offers horse therapy for mentally and physically disabled children, will meet with representatives from all three of Beaufort's military bases next month, said program director Peggie Noon. The nonprofit hopes to offer equine therapy to Beaufort Marines and sailors injured in combat.

"I can't tell you how many of our 250 volunteers are either veterans themselves, have a veteran in their family or know a veteran personally," Noon said. "This was something that we not only wanted to do as citizens but something we felt like we could do as an organization to address an area in need in our community."

The charity's newest offering is modeled after Horses for Heroes, a program started in 2007 by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association to offer equine therapy and rehabilitation for wounded veterans.

Given its close proximity to area military bases, many of which send soldiers into war zones, the program is a natural fit for Heroes on Horseback, Noon said.

"We're located so close to Beaufort, which has (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) Parris Island and (Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort) and to Savannah and Hunter Army Airfield, so we started looking at what we might need to accommodate them," Noon said.

A detachment from MCAS Beaufort's Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31 is the only local unit deployed to combat. They were deployed in March and are stationed in the Helmand Province in southwest Afghanistan, according to the air station.

If implemented, Heroes on Horseback would have the first equine therapy program for injured troops in the state, according to the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association's Web site.

To prepare for the program, the charity moved last week from the Rose Hill Equestrian Center to the Coosawhatchie Stables at the Tulfinny Preserve of the Lowcountry and hopes to add some larger horses to its eight-horse herd, Noon said.

Debi Lynes, founder of Tulfinny, said the relationship between her facility and Heroes on Horseback is an important one.

"The mutually beneficial relationship evolving between us and Heroes on Horseback affords Tulfinny the opportunity to support an exemplary nonprofit that truly makes a difference in ... lives here in the Lowcountry," Lynes said in an e-mail. "In the new economic environment, we all need to do whatever we can to find unique and strategic ways of aiding nonprofits in the Bluffton and Hilton Head areas."

Heroes on Horseback wants to get its program for injured troops off the ground "in the near future, but there is no definite timeline in place," Noon said.