BRISTOL - Shepard Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center now offers an equine assisted program for veterans who are seeking to heal from the emotional wounds incurred while serving in the military.
The new, free 10-week program called “Operation Warrior Horse” partners veterans with horses, explained Nicole Knoll, the center’s volunteer coordinator. Knoll explained that she helped facilitate the program, and that being a combat veteran, she completed it herself.
“It was such an immeasurable program for me. In 10 weeks, it increased my self-awareness exponentially. It gave me the confidence and self esteem to get back in the world,” said Knoll. “I believe in it. I’ve benefited from it.”
Operations manager Sally Schultz Blair said, “We all know the therapeutic benefits ourselves. We want everyone to experience this. There isn’t a person out there that couldn’t benefit from this opportunity. We are all so passionate about the program because we know it works. Everyone should visit and see for themselves the passion we have here.”
The center, with its seven horses on 26 acres, focuses on programs for any and all kinds of disabilities and offer programs for anyone including children, youths and adults, Blair said.
“We see more youth,” Knoll said. “Kids bring such an incredible energy, and their personalities often match those of the horse.”
The center opened in 2005 and has an outdoor arena as well as a covered one. It now has between 50 and 60 people who participate in either four- or eight-week programs, Blair said.
“Any problem someone has, we have a horse and program for them,” Blair said. “The programs and horses teach them so many things, such as confidence, self esteem and leadership skills. It takes a special kind of horse to do the programs. Most are retired show horses so they have the training and discipline needed, and are used to being around people.”
The center, located at 733 Hill St., is certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, which entails a rigorous process and re-evaluation and re-accreditation every five years, Blair said. It also acquired its nonprofit status in 2005, she added.
It has worked with the Kids in the Middle program at Plainville Youth Services and the Bristol Veterans Council, Blair said. It also organized a new equine assisted learning program for children last spring and informed local schools of those programs, she said.
That learning program teaches kids to partner with horses to learn skills that are applicable in other parts of their lives, she said.
“The kids will have to join with that horse in order to accomplish something,” Blair said. “It’s what you take away from the program. Everything you learn, you can take back into your life.”
Equine therapy is up and coming in New England, but is more common in other parts of the country, such as in Texas, Knoll and Blair noted. “It’s starting to take off here,” Knoll said.
The center has five staff members, but over 100 volunteers ranging from ages 14 to 65, Knoll added. “We couldn’t do what we do without the support of the community,” Knoll said.
Lorenzo Burgio can be reached at 860-801-5088 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org