Tucked away in the countryside of Magnolia, a group of individuals are changing lives through the use of a distinctive brand of therapy.
The JoyRide Center provides horseback riding related therapeutic services to children and adults with a wide range of disabilities. Each lesson is custom designed to meet the needs of each individual client, according to Roger Wagner, president of the board.
“The beauty of therapeutic riding is that it can help our riders deal with a variety of disabilities, whether they be physical, cognitive or emotional,” he said.
Horseback riding is therapeutic because the way the body moves while riding a horse simulates walking, according to Lee Rounavaara, therapy team leader.
“When you sit on a horse, it’s moving your pelvis through space using the same muscle sequence and timing as when you’re walking,” she said. “Just by sitting on a horse you’re training the body and the brain how to walk, how to move.”
In addition to that kind of physical therapy, JoyRide sessions can be designed to address behavioral needs, such as following directions, developing appropriate social skills and teaching independence.
Most of JoyRide’s instructors and staff have been involved in therapeutic riding in the Houston area for 15–25 years, Wagner said.
“When we first opened up here, many of the clients our instructors worked with in Houston followed them up here,” Wagner said. “There’s loyalty and a real connection there.”
JoyRide thrives on the dedication and support of the community it serves, said Penny Kvello, volunteer team leader. The center enlists the help of roughly 60 regular volunteers, who help with everything from interacting with clients to handling the horses. Many staff members who work for the center on a daily basis are also volunteers.
“There is no way we would have a program without volunteers,” she said. “They are our lifeblood, and we are always looking for more people who are willing to help.”
An upcoming volunteer training session will take place Aug. 14 from 9 a.m.—noon. No previous horse experience is necessary. Wagner said both volunteers and clients tend to benefit from the relationships they develop at JoyRide.
“There is a huge carry-over effect where, when you open yourself up and give to others, you get a lot back in return,” he said.
The JoyRide Center itself was made possible by the generosity of two of its founders, Bill and Jackie McDonald, who purchased the facility and have led the effort to fund many of the improvements along the way.
The JoyRide Center’s benefits are invaluable, according to Sheryl Thompson, whose son, Devon, recently completed his second semester as a client.
“Devon has grown a ton since starting this program,” she said. “He’s learned patience and how to interact with the horses. He loves it, and if he could do this all day, he would.”
As the JoyRide Center continues to develop, the staff plans to remain dedicated to it’s top priority.
“Our goal is not for them to be the best horseback rider,” Rounavaara said. “It’s for them to be the best person they can be. And they might become a good horseback rider in the process.”
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