Equine therapy center still open despite lack of funding

Published On: Mar 05 2014 04:51:57 PM CST   Updated On: Mar 05 2014 06:39:46 PM CST

They thought they would have to close their doors in March, but thanks to an anonymous donor that won't have to happen. At least for now.

The Flint Hills Therapeutic Riding Center has helped special needs kids and adults since 1999.  They want to keep helping those who need them for years to come.

"There's just no income that we can say every month 'Oh, we'll be ok because we have this steady sponsor,'" said Amanda Meinhardt, program facilitator and instructor at the riding center. "Every month it's 'Are we gonna make it? What's this month gonna be like?'

The anonymous donor has promised monthly donations from now until the end of 2014, but it's still not enough.

"It's usually about $8,000 per month for us [to operate]," she said. "So we still need about half of our monthly expenses filled."

They offer therapy classes to people with special needs for free or a highly reduced cost.

"It's income based. We did get a grant from Children's Miracle Network so a lot of our riders are sponsored through that, so they don't have to pay anything," said Meinhardt. "Most of our riders, their families are so bound by medical fees from their children that they just can't afford it, so we do charge a very reduced rate. Most of our clients pay $35/less. It costs us about $125/lesson."

The needed funding would help with some of the costs of discounted lessons, as well as caring for and boarding the horses, as well as paying staff.

For 4-year-old Elizabeth Brown, her riding lesson each week doesn't seem like therapy. Instead, it's more of a time to be with her horse.

"The first step was overcoming her fear," said her mom Mandy. "She's talked about it to everyone all week. She really loves it.

Elizabeth has down syndrome and has gone through many different therapies to help with core stability, learning words and balancing. All things she now learns with her horse.

"She's been in all sorts of therapy her whole life and I've never seen her this motivated," said her mom. "It makes me tear up every single week when we're here."

Elizabeth is asked to put her hands on her head, touch her feet, name the color of plastic rings and reach to place them on colored poles, all while on her horse. She's also learned words like "horse", "whoa" to stop the horse and how to get her horse to go.

"With a daughter with special needs, it's neat to see her express herself about something and how much she cares about something," said Brown. "Just to see her grow in that confidence and the vocab. It's just been really neat."

Another rider, 9-year-old Christian, says he likes to go fast on his horse. He has ADHD and his instructor tells Eyewitness News being on the horse helps him learn to focus.

"We work with all different disabilities whether it's physical, mental, emotional, anything," Meinhardt said. "With a lot of them, the movement of the horse stimulates them enough that they're able to calm down long enough for them to start learning things. I teach my riders to read, write and learn their alphabet."

The riding center has 35 lessons scheduled each week, but would like to double that amount in the next year. The problem is they're having trouble just funding the classes they have.

If you would like to learn more about Flint Hills Therapeutic Riding Center you can click here.