Breaking Free Therapeutic Riding Center
Experience the power of the horse.
Most children dream of riding a horse. That dream can become reality at Breaking Free near Norwich during their 15th season. Riding lessons are provided here for children of all abilities. However, they focus on riding for children and veterans with physical or mental handicaps.
Imagine the thrill for a young girl in a wheelchair as a special lift takes her to the horse’s back. Then volunteers strap her safely on and walk alongside as she gets her first horseback ride. Her face lights up with newfound joy as she experiences a degree of freedom!
To learn more about their riding lessons, contact Breaking Free Therapeutic Riding Center at 740-995-9395. Their mission is to empower those with diverse challenges through equine-assistance therapeutic experience.
Linda Lake, director and founder, received inspiration for this program back in 2005 when she felt the need to help disabled children in a lasting manner. She began by using their family farm and a few of their own horses. While working in the public schools, she shared her enthusiasm for the program and created a base of volunteers and community supporters.
Three years later in 2018 it all began and they are now a Premier Accredited Center Member of the Profesional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International. They offer several programs in a safe supportive environment for children with special needs and veterans.
PATH sets standards for equine therapy and equine facilitated learning for centers that provide services for the disabled. All instructors have completed the PATH training and testing to become registered. They also have continuing education classes every year. All horses must also go through an assessment program and must meet all PATH guidelines 100%. They want to make sure that participants, volunteers, and equine are all safe.
It takes a special horse to be a Breaking Free horse. They must be patient, friendly, reliable, and calm. Most horses used are from private donors. Horses for the Therapeutic Riding Program require different qualities than those with the veterans’ Horses for Heroes program. Horses go through a six-week training program before they are accepted for use. They seem to have a way of knowing when a person needs their attention and often on their own will place their head on the shoulder of someone needing attention.
Participants include physically and mentally handicapped children and veterans with disabilities such as PTSD. Riding can help and the horse is not only a means of exercise but also a warm and friendly companion. Riding improves the individual’s physical, psychological, and cognitive abilities. Sometimes a child will speak for the first time after connecting with their horse while riding.
Breaking Free instructors teach over 1000 riding lessons annually with up to 100 children participating. Help comes through over 55 volunteers and 16 equine partners. There are usually three volunteers with each student- two walking alongside and one leading the horse.
These volunteers do everything from brushing the horses to cleaning out the stalls. They are the ones who prepare them each evening for those coming in for lessons. Most of the volunteers have had horses so understand how to care for them.
This is a non-profit organization, so it depends on gifts from interested community sponsors as well as grants. Scholarship gifts are welcome for those not able to pay for the lessons. Without volunteers and sponsors, the program would not be the success it has become in touching the lives of students.
Breaking Free offers two types of activities for disabled children in a six-county area: a day camp/group outing program and our riding -for-the-handicapped program for children 4-25. They have recently added riding lessons for able-bodied, Veterans’ Horses for Heroes, day camps, and veterans’ retreats.
They have an annual fundraiser, Duck Derby, Sept. 16, 2023 where they have duck races with locally donated prizes for students and adults. This is also a chance for those who have taken lessons to show their skill to their parents and friends with a small “Horse Show.”
If you are interested in volunteering, there is always a spot for you at Breaking Free during weekly sessions, their monthly work day, organizing a fundraiser, or mucking stalls. Volunteers must be 14 years of age, complete an interview, and have a full day of training at the center before beginning work.
Call 740-995-9395 to register for lessons or if you have an interest in volunteering. Breaking Free is located at 2781 N. Moose Eye Road in Norwich where you can experience the power of the horse in the lives of those who ride and volunteer.