Horses provide needed therapy to kids
July 07--HEMLOCK TWP. -- Eleven-year-old Dillon Hartman tossed soft squishy toys into buckets while sitting on Tiny Mite.
Noah Weigle, 9, rode Thunder to position himself for throwing basketballs into a net and later threw softballs at bowling pins -- his favorite activity to end the day.
They and Kami Moore, 28, rode in the indoor arena of Eos Therapeutic Riding Center near Bloomsburg. Eos is the shortened form of Eohippus, the first horse of evolution meaning new dawn or new beginning.
The center, at 288 Dahl Road, will celebrate its 25th anniversary July 29 with an open house, riding demonstrations, music and more from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., said Executive Director Debbie Smith.
Eos has 96 riders, including eight veterans who are part of the new Hoof Beats and Hearts, and a waiting list of more than 20 people.
The riders, ages 2 to 76, have all types of special needs including learning disabilities, autism, cerebral palsy, brain trauma and stroke, she said.
"We are very unique because we serve the more physically involved riders," she said.
"Our riders have smiles on their faces as they come through the door and see their instructors and their friends," she said.
Greeting and escorting riders around is Blue, an Australian shepherd therapy dog.
No one is turned away due to inability to pay. Families pay what they can afford, she said.
Dillon's mother Shannon Hartman, of the Danville area, said the program has helped socially. "He is tremendously more vocal now," she said of the boy with mild autism and ADHD. He will be in seventh grade this fall and has been a rider for four years.
Noah, who will be headed to third grade, is in his fourth season of riding and was on Thunder. "He's very fond of Miss Denise," Smith said of instructor Denise Treven.
"Sometimes this is the most positive moment of his week. He's excited to come and has a good time socially with the other riders," his dad David Weigle, of the Danville area, said of his son, who has autism and ADHD.
"He loves bowling," volunteer Bethany Brown said of Noah.
Kami, of Jerseytown, can ride Zac independently with volunteer Haley Morris and Ashley McCracken, of the staff, overseeing her. "It has helped to build my confidence," Kami said of coming there once a week for 45 minutes.
Smith said Kami and some veterans, also with anxiety issues, started coming to the center to help her brush horses and clean stalls.
She hopes the public will turn out to the open house to see how riders are helped along with other riders who come there for private lessons. Vo-tech students and board members will give tours. There will be games along the outside trail. "We welcome visitors anytime. We always have an open door," she said.
If people want to come to the buffet that day, they can copy the invitation on the Eos Facebook page to make their reservation and send in their payment, which is due July 15.
The Eos program operates 10 months of the year, offers private lessons year-round and serves Columbia, Montour, Snyder, Union, Northumberland, Luzerne and Lackawanna counties.
The center has added a trail for blind riders done by a Boy Scout for his Eagle Scout project. It features the same types of activities as the indoor riding arena such as basketball and teaching numbers and letters.
The homeless veterans, many of whom suffer from PTSD, stay at a center, come every other week and work with the horses. "They brush them. They learn to lead a horse and how to communicate with a horse. It's awesome to watch them interacting with the horses," Smith said.
The program uses 12 horses ranging from 4 to 21 years old, including Pony of America, quarterhorses, draft crosses, gypsy cobs and Haflingers. Some were donated and they purchased others. "Our horses are a gift from God. They are trained to accommodate people with braces, who are off balance, have balls thrown over their heads, have basketballs bounce off them, kids dropping things and noises. I can usually tell in two weeks if a horse will be suitable for the program," she said.
With four paid instructors, including Smith, the nonprofit Eos does lots of fundraising to support its $240,000 annual budget, which includes everything from maintaining facilities to caring for the horses to paying for utilities.
Their annual dinner, dance and auction last year raised $40,000. This year it will be held on Nov. 11 at the Caldwell Consistory in Bloomsburg.
The charity was supported by a recent pow wow at Sunnybrook, purse bingo in Washingtonville, raffle ticket sales and a Stroll Roll at Bloomsburg University June 4.
Others are a raffle drawing on July 29, Marley's parking lot party on Aug. 12 and the Bloomsburg Nationals Car Show on Aug. 11, 12 and 13 at the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds. Their volunteer and rider appreciation and award dinner will be held on Oct. 29 in Buckhorn.
Donations can be sent to the center, at 288 Dahl Road, Bloomsburg, or made to the endowment fund at csgiving.org or can be sent to the Central Susquehanna Community Foundation, Attention Eos Agency Endowment Fund, at 725 W. Front St., Berwick.
"I am very privileged to live on my farm and walk out my back door to the sound of horses and kiddos," Smith said, who refers to all their riders as kiddos. "To see the smiles and hear the laughter and joy each rider has. They truly are a gift," she said.
She said many people from the community help out including 4-H, Girl and Boy Scouts, Bloomsburg University students, Central Columbia and Columbia-Montour Vocational-Technical School students and service, church and youth groups. "We couldn't do it without the help of everybody involved," she said.
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