Hometown Heroes: Southern Delaware Therapeutic Riding, Inc. Serves Special Needs

Episode Date: February 22, 2018
(MILTON, Del.) - For some people with special needs, it's not always possible to perform certain sports or certain activities. 

But at the Southern Delaware Therapeutic Riding center, anything is possible. 

"Sammy didn't want to ride for years," Chie Kelly said, mother of 22-year old Sammy who is autistic. 

Sammy is a graduate of the Sussex Consortium, a component of the Cape Henlopen School District that services autistic students and others with special needs, The Consortium works closely with the SDTR, along with other local schools, to provide therapeutic riding to its students. 

"He just out of the blue asked for the horseback riding. He's been working here and he's very comfortable. I came to watch, so I was like amazed," Kelly said. 

The SDTR is certified in PATH training, or Profession Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, and is the only PATH-affiliated center serving Kent and Sussex County. 

Staff and volunteers help run the facility, offering programs to a variety of people with special needs including veterans. 
Kelly Boyer is one of the main instructors and a member of the board. 

"SDTR offers individuals with special needs equine-assisted therapy. We serve individuals with a variety of needs. It may be physical, emotional, it may be a learning disability. This activity is something that is the one activity these riders may have in their week," said Boyer, who's been doing this line of work for 15 years. 

The SDTR teaches more than just riding skills. 

"They don't necessarily have to be riding goals. They can be emotional goals, confidence, self-esteem, that sort of thing," said Natalie Garbutt, an SDTR instructor. 

Boyer said horses have a special connection with their riders due to their sensitive natures. 

"Horses by nature are very sensitive animals. And I think that is one reason why they're so in tune to riders. The beauty of it too is that if we have riders that are unable to speak, it's not necessary to use your voice, you can use your body language to communicate with them," Boyer said. 

Some of the clients with special needs are not necessarily active or able to participate in sports outside of the facility, while some are trained Special Olympic athletes. 

"This is their sport. Regardless of what their abilities may be, they're all on an equal plane when they're on a horse," Boyer said. 

"I've been an animal lover my whole life, especially for dogs and horses. It's definitely been a dream of mine to share the passion with anyone else." 

The SDTR admits clients ranging from four years old up through 85-years old and older. Scholarships are available for those who cannot readily afford the discounted classes of $35, which are typically priced at $100 before state grants are applied. 

The SDTR relies heavily on community support to continue providing horse therapy to those with special needs, as well as scholarships for clients. 

It's just one of the reasons why the Southern Delaware Therapeutic Riding center is one of WRDE's Hometown Heroes.