From the very first moment of the first session of this spring’s Horses for Healing program, we knew it was going to be special. It all started with the very enthusiastic phone calls and emails we received from prospective participants, all eager to make sure they had the correct paperwork submitted and that we had them on “the list”. Our first all-female group bonded like they were part of a sisterhood, and in fact they are part of a not so exclusive club – one they wish they weren’t.
Founded in 2015, our Horses for Healing program provides an opportunity for individuals living with cancer or are surviving cancer a way to deal with difficult and stressful health challenges by bonding with our horses, while learning a new skill in a supportive environment. H4H as it is affectionately known around Mane Stream, combines groundwork, riding lessons and horse care as it creates community among the participants. One of the only programs of its kind in our area, H4H is unique because we incorporate riding lessons into the program and we offer it free of charge.
For one hour each week, our program facilitator, Kelly Champion, a PATH Certified Instructor, helped our six participants overcome their personal challenges, whether physical or emotional, and taught them to ride a horse. For some it was the very first time on a horse, for most H4H was a return to a much loved hobby. In fact, for many of our participants, part of the attraction of the program is the desire to regain a skill or recapture a memory from before their cancer diagnosis.
Fueled by chips, Oreos and plenty of water and Gatorade, our participants advanced from needing leaders and sidewalkers in session 1 to trotting independently in session 8. Our army of weekly volunteers went from offering lots of hands-on encouragement to being cheerleaders mainly from the side of the ring as the women’s confidence and abilities grew from week to week.
Trish Hegeman, Executive Director, was able to join the group most weeks. “The laughter, smiles and just overall sense of joy is contagious. Even the horses seem happy during the program.”
The 8 week session concluded recently with a celebration of the laughter and freedom this program brought to participants, volunteers and staff. Glasses of sparkling cider were raised to toast the bonds of love and support that were created over the session. And to commemorate the time they shared, the ladies presented Kelly with a strong but graceful silver horse head statue.
The participants this session were definitely memorable. Their zest for life and positive attitudes made for an amazingly fun group and we hope to see them back at Mane Stream again. In the meantime, we wish them the best of luck on their journey.
Horses for Healing will offer another 8-week session in the fall so if you or someone you know would like to participate, please have them contact Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org. H4H is possible through the generous support of our donors.
To donate go to www.manestreamnj.org/take-action.