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Therapeutic Riding Program Looks to Help Children with Disabilities

Christiansburg, Virginia—For 11-year-old Somer Saladiner, even on her grouchy days she’s happiest when she’s trotting on the back of her friend, Prince.
“The bouncier it is, the more she likes it,” Somer’s mother, Tina Saladiner, says smiling. “Just knowing that she’s happy, even if it’s just for a little bit, is worth coming out to the barn even on hot days like today.”
The Saladiners are just one of six families who participate in Tekoa’s Reins to Ride, a therapeutic riding program to provide children with disabilities an opportunity to ride horses. Since 2003, children like Somer, who has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, have benefited from their six-week experience with the Tekoa staff and horses.
“(Reins to Ride) has definitely helped Somer improve her physical and mental skills, her balance issues and her sensory, tactile issues,” Tina said. “The staff work really well with her and the other kids. Somer can’t speak, so they’ve come up with simple things she can catch on to, like clapping, so she can communicate with the horses.”
On Tuesday, August 8th at 4:00 p.m. at Willow Ridge Farms in Christiansburg, Virginia, the Saladiners will join the other Reins to Ride families, Tekoa staff and volunteers for an Open House to attract potential sponsors and future riders to the program. Many of the riders, like Somer, receive a scholarship from Tekoa to help off-set the costs of their equine training. While Tekoa is always looking for volunteers to donate time and money, what they are really looking for are new riders.
“This is such a great program, and we feel that many people don’t know that it is out here,” Tiffany Smith, Tekoa’s Equine Program Director, said. “We currently have scholarships available for children with disabilities, and would love to help more children.” 
The Tekoa Reins to Ride Program is mutually beneficial to Tekoa residents serving as volunteers and the children with physical disabilities. Through this program, the Tekoa youth have an opportunity to gain further life skills, including empathy and concern for others. Meanwhile, the riders increase their physical abilities and gain new experiences while they and their families gain a better understanding and respect for the “at-risk” youth that are safely and compassionately helping make the program possible. 
Community Housing Partners (CHPC) is the sponsor of Tekoa, a non-profit corporation which provides residential care and special education services for at risk youth. Established in 1994, Tekoa operates four facilities and employs teachers, therapists and counselors to provide housing, education and life skills development for 50 youth annually. Using a strength-based model, Tekoa utilizes experiential learning such as therapeutic recreation, community service and equine activities to facilitate healing and healthy development for the residents.