On Hilton Head Island, a horse is not just a horse of course, of course. Sorry Mr. Ed.
Here, at Lawton Stables in Sea Pines, horses have the power to heal.
That power has evolved through the years into an acknowledged therapeutic technique usually referred to as equine therapy, and largely promoted by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International. At Lawton Stables, we are blessed to have a trained group of riders who manage an organization known as the Wish Upon a Horse Foundation of Hilton Head. The group follows the guideline set down by PATH in their efforts to eventually become accredited.
In the summer months, the horse trainers make themselves available to island visitors who have children with special needs who want a guided trail ride through Sea Pines. During the school season, they round up any of the interested local youngsters and teach them to ride.
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Executive director Didi Summers says the program is “a robust place for volunteers.” She chose her words carefully here because the word “robust” carried the full weight of its definition. First of all, in the sense of numbers - they need a lot of volunteers - a “robust” number - to keep the program running smoothly.
Secondly, this is not a job for the faint of heart. You must be able-bodied (i.e., “robust”) enough to hold someone steady on a saddle - some of the riders may not be able to maintain their balance - for a lengthy period of time. It helps if patience is one of your virtues.
And, obviously, you should like animals, and dirt, and you should probably not be allergic to hay.
There is also extensive paperwork to muddle through as a volunteer or if you are the parent or guardian of a special needs child interested in learning to ride. But it is well worth the effort since equine therapy has proven to have far-reaching benefits for everyone involved. Many children come from programs that fall under the guidelines of the Special Olympics, and are severely disabled.
The work is hard but the rewards for everyone involved make it worth it.
Wish Upon a Horse stays well above code in stable maintenance and safety, including flood and hurricane preparedness.
When I visited last week, I was impressed with how well maintained and landscaped the property was. While cleaning flood panels (interlocking plates that fit across the doors when the weather alarms sound), Summers stressed how inspiring the work was, and how much donations and volunteers were needed and appreciated.
Learn more about at www.wishuponahorsehhi.org/ or call (843) 671-2586.
You might just want to saddle up.