An important Ottawa County service for those with disabilities needs support to maintain its strength.
Riders Unlimited of Oak Harbor, a non-profit equine therapy service, is in need of donations as the organization has fallen on hard times in recent months. Since its founding in 1996, the organization has helped several people with disabilities ranging from various types of physical and mental disabilities in a handful of locations before settling in Oak Harbor in May 2011.
In general, the program needs anywhere from $5,000 to $7,000 to operate each month, to pay for upkeep of the program's 11 horses who work with the 100 clients they serve during the year, according to Jennifer Keating, secretary of the organization's board.
To alleviate costs for their clients, lessons are $30 per week for a ten-week session. Lessons last an hour, and the largest classes including three or four clients at once.
Operating costs and repairs are among the organization’s most pressing needs.
Last fall, the organization received a tractor, its largest donation to date, which helped remove snow last winter.
The organization also received a grant from the Ottawa County Community Foundation in late June.
Thankfully, generous patrons from local businesses and churches have stepped up to help. Millinger Farms of Graytown, for instance, has pledged to double donations of local farmers.
“We’re slowly getting out of this rough patch (with their help),” Keating said. “It’s so touching that everyone is coming together for us.”
During therapy sessions, clients work their upper and lower muscles, helping the muscles tone and strengthen.
“The muscles that normal people use to walk are the same muscles that our clients use when riding a horse,” Keating said.
The services benefit their clients physically, but also help them improve mentally and socially as they bond with their horse and gain leadership skills. During lessons, clients learn to speak specific commands to the horses, which can be applied in games.
“(The therapy) helps them feel inclusive,” Keating said.
From using Riders Unlimited’s therapy services, parents like Heidi Blohm have noticed improvement in their child’s condition. Blohm’s daughter Rebekah, 11, suffers from a learning disability and selective mutism, a type of anxiety disorder.
“Before therapy, Rebekah never talked to anyone, not even me,” the Catawba Island resident said. “Now, she talks to teachers, friends and workers (at Riders Unlimited), even though it’s in a low voice.”
Sandusky resident Carol Collins also attests to the organization’s usefulness in improving her son Christopher’s posture.
“When Chris first started lessons, he would lay back on the horse. Now, he mounts on the horse and sits up,” Collins said.
Volunteers feel honored to witness improvement in their clients’ well-being.
“We see miracles happen here,” Keating said. “We heard a client with speech impairment speak his first words recently. For awhile, he only made non-verbal sounds, until he first commanded his horse to 'walk on.'
“It’s therapy for everyone here," she said. "With all the bad things that happen in the world, it’s nice to see beautiful things.”
Riders Unlimited holds annual fundraisers, including a golf scramble, and has recently made an account on GoFundMe.com, an online fundraising website. At the time this article was written, about $5,000 already had been donated on the site.
“We give everything we’ve got to help everyone. We have a wait list, and we can’t get everyone in,” Keating said.
The organization puts clients’ needs before their own, something clients' parents appreciate.
“(Riders Unlimited) is very important to us,” Blohm said. “(The staff) gives unconditionally, the therapy relaxes her. It’s given her more confidence. It’s neat to watch each (child) grow—it’s a really cool organization.”
“It’s amazing as a mother to see your child enjoy something and succeed at it,” Collins said of her son. “I’ve seen an increase in (Chris’) confidence and how he handles new things. He looks forward to (lessons) each week.”
“We aren’t asking for donations for ourselves, we’re asking for the people we’re trying to help,” Keating said.
Want to help?
What: Riders Unlimited, Inc
Where: 3140 N. Behlman Road, Oak Harbor, OH 43449
How: Those interested can either send a check in the mail or donate online using GoFundMe.com- http://www.gofundme.com/902dhg