On the ground, four year-old Ethan Lee sometimes faces challenges. But when he’s on the back of a horse at Riverwood Therapeutic Riding Center, Ethan – who suffers from a mild form of autism – is on top of the world.
“He’s doing very well on the horse,” said his mother, Pam Stovall-Lee, who has been bringing him to weekly therapeutic riding classes at the Tobaccoville facility since August. “He anticipates it and counts the days down until he can come.”
Stovall-Lee, a computer science instructor at Forsyth Technical Community College, said her son has a “near obsession” with horses. His flair for all things equestrian, combined with the therapeutic elements of the program at Riverwood, made it an ideal fit for Ethan.
“I feel like he’s a natural horseman,” she said. “He’s happy, and I’m hoping that in the long term that this could teach him patience, care and empathy for animals, which he doesn’t have. That kind of thing isn’t easy for a child like him, but he’s very into it, and I knew from his long term love of horses that he would be. It’s very satisfying to see him happy.”
Ethan is among the children and adults who have benefitted from programs at Riverwood since it opened in 1995. The center currently serves more than 100 clients a week with classes in Therapeutic Riding, which serves students with physical, cognitive, social and/or emotional needs; Hippotherapy, where students work one on one with a trained physical therapist to improve speech, mobility, balance and self awareness; and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP)/Equine Assisted Learning (EAL), which uses experimental methods that incorporate horses to help promote personal growth and learning. Riverwood also offers riding classes for the able-bodied.
Founder Susan Hubbard, a former registered nurse, said she was inspired to create the center as an outward expression of her love of horses and her passion for caring for people. The New Jersey native has been riding since she was a child.
“It’s important to me to leave good tracks, to feel like I have in some way made a difference, and being able to share my love of horses, kids and the natural world with other people means a lot to me,” Hubbard said of her inspiration to start the Center. “At Riverwood, nobody’s excluded. You wouldn’t know once those kids are mounted who has a physical disability, who’s visually impaired, who has cerebral palsy, who had a terrible day at school – everybody’s pretty much equal.”
Hubbard, who serves as the executive director at the center, says Riverwood allows its riders to experience things they might never have the opportunity to experience any other way.
“For them to leave their chairs on a ramp and be mounted on a horse, where they’re not looking up at everybody (is powerful),” she remarked. “They can go places they wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.”
The Center, which began with eight students and two horses in an outdoor ring adjacent to a chicken coup and a portable restroom, is currently gearing up for its signature fundraiser, the Bluegrass Bash. The center’s indoor riding ring will be transformed into a festive venue for the Oct. 27 event, which will offer barbecue, live bluegrass music, a silent auction, dancing and a demonstration by Riverwood riders. Hubbard said proceeds from the Bash are essential to support Riverwood’s day to day operation.
“Our tuition and fees cover about a third of what it costs to operate Riverwood, so this is a great opportunity to raise some needed funds and hopefully introduce some folks in the community to Riverwood that may not be here on a regular basis,” Hubbard said. “And it gives some of our kids a chance to show off their skills.”
Incoming Board President Linda Coleman is a member of the Bash’s Planning Committee. She is thrilled to be helping to raise money for a cause she believes in so wholeheartedly.
“These horses, they’re just so in tune with the kids. It’s just amazing. I’ve heard non-verbal children who’ve never talked to anyone, and they’ll talk to the horse,” said the mother of two. “This is the happiest place. It is the greatest place to go. It’s just magical.”
Winston-Salem residents Mandy Addicott and Heath McLaurin started bringing their four-year-old son Aydyn to Riverwood last spring. He rides twice a week, during the day with his classmates from the Special Children’s School and on Wednesday evenings with the therapeutic riding class.
“Because of his Down Syndrome, he has low muscle tone, so we like to keep him involved in physical activity that will help him develop his muscles,” Addicott said. “I like when he can go somewhere that he can participate in activities just like a typical child would, so he can feel special, too.”
Addicott said she hopes the Bash will attract more donors and volunteers to help support the unique population that Riverwood serves.
“It’s important to support our community’s disabled children,” said the Pennsylvania native. “They’re a part of our community too, and I feel like oftentimes, they’re overlooked.”
Riverwood is currently seeking volunteers to assist riders in the various programs. No equestrian or therapeutic experience is necessary.
The Riverwood Bluegrass Bash will be held Saturday, Oct. 27 beginning at 5 p.m. at the Center, 6825 Rollingview Drive in Tobaccoville. Tickets are $30 each or $275 for a table of 10. Children eight and under are free. For more information, visit HYPERLINK “http://www.riverwoodtrc.org” www.riverwoodtrc.org or call 336-922-6426.