With its picturesque farms and historic racecourses, Kentucky is known as the horse capital of the world. So it’s no surprise that Central Kentucky Riding for Hope, which started in 1981 in a small barn, evolved into a 24-acre therapeutic riding center at the renowned Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.
“The minute we walked in, and saw all the pictures on the wall showing the bond between the children they work with and their horses, we knew it was special,” said Jay Simon, Erie Insurance vice president and Kentucky branch manager. “It is exactly the type of organization ERIE supports.”
What is Riding for Hope?
Riding for Hope provides equine-assisted activities and therapies for individuals with mental, physical, social and cognitive needs. From therapeutic riding to quality time on the saddle with a new friend, individuals enjoy this unique experience.
Susan Weiss has been taking her 90-year-old mother, Joyce, to Riding for Hope for the past year. She says the program is helpful both physically and mentally.
“The entire experience is amazing,” Weiss said. “My mom is no longer strong enough to mount and dismount on her own, but still wants to ride, so the special lift helps her get on and off. We are thrilled to have a facility and programming like this in the area. It has a special place in my Mom's heart.”
Riding for Hope started with four horses borrowed from area enthusiasts. In the early years, programs were offered seasonally. As interest in the therapeutic programs grew, it became clear that Riding for Hope needed an indoor facility to support year-round programming, regardless of weather or time of day.
Following a successful $4 million capital campaign, the state-of-the-art John A. and Virginia Creech Therapeutic Riding Center opened in 2011.
Pat Kline, the executive director of Central Kentucky Riding for Hope, says the organization now has the capacity to serve more than one thousand people each year.
“We have a herd of specially trained horses of all different shapes and sizes,” Kline said. “The horses are very loving and affectionate. They are sensitive to the needs of their riders. Because of their intuitive and non-judgmental nature, it’s a good way for a kid to learn because it teaches them a lot about their behavior and how they express emotions.”
How the Horses Help
For those with physical disabilities, a horse's strength, warmth, soothing rhythm and three-dimensional movement pattern provides healthy exercise while improving circulation and muscle tone.
Instructors personalize sessions to the interests and needs of each rider. Instructors and trainers design individualized games for each rider—for example, an “escape room” type of game, where riders collect clues and complete a variety of riding tasks in order to win.
Eight-year-old Alexander Justus, who has been riding with CKRH since 2017, loves these games. Alexander was diagnosed with low muscle tone and ataxia, a degenerative disease of the nervous system that affects his walking, balance, coordination and eye movements. He also copes with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“Riding lessons help him with core strength, focus and coordination,” Alexander’s mom Brooke said. “I can tell a difference after each session. Not to mention, it’s fun.”
Riding for Hope also collaborates with Fayette County Public Schools through The Stables, a program for students in grades 8-12.
“We have a public school housed in our building,” Kline said. “They spent part of their day learning academics and another working with the horses to learn character development and responsibility, and form bonds.”
Helping Wherever (and However) We Can
Riding for Hope’s biggest annual fundraiser is Night of the Stars, an upscale cocktail event held at the historic Keeneland racecourse. Since 2015, Erie Insurance has been a major sponsor of the event with a $5,000 Giving Grant.
Erie Insurance Giving Grants allow field offices to fund causes they care about across ERIE’s footprint – 12 states and the District of Columbia.
But ERIE’s support goes beyond the big events. ERIE’s Kentucky branch employees also volunteer their time to help clean the facility and grounds.
“Riding for Hope is so uniquely Kentucky,” Simon said. “Much like ERIE, they always try to do things the right way.”
At ERIE, doing the right thing is what we are all about. It means more than just insurance coverage and customer service.
Find out more about ERIE’s longstanding commitment to our local communities by visiting our Giving Network page or following #ERIEforgood.