Volunteers, horses bring joy in the face of challenges

"A merry heart does good, like medicine," the Bible says. Mississippi Valley Therapeutic Horsemanship volunteers are finding they have a role in bringing that joy to people facing health challenges. Through their willingness to assist and horses that carry their share of the weight -- literally -- "children and adults with disabilities ¬Ö achieve greater physical strength and flexibility," the caption in a recent Southeast Missourian photo gallery said. On Jan. 26, volunteers gathered to learn how to help these riders.

Equine therapy aids those with various physical and social needs. Exercises that include throwing, catching, balancing and even playing games with a toy sword are part of the activities employed. Physically, the rewards of the therapy are many and include balance, core strength and communication, for example.

As the Southeast Missourian reported in 2014, horseback riding helps stroke victims, those with autism and even the wheelchair-bound. In addition to those physical benefits, it provides a sense of control and a boost to self-esteem, which people with disabilities often need.

Perhaps the best attribute of the program, however, is the joy it provides -- the merry heart it awakens. Program director Mary Ann Mann told Samantha Rinehart almost two years ago, "They're not even thinking about the physical work they're putting into it because they're playing a game," adding, "And that's what's amazing."

Indeed, the best kind of learning occurs when students are so engaged they don't even realize they're being taught -- when they don't feel like an experiment. Mississippi Valley Therapeutic Horsemanship offers that to those who need it. And to make it all come together, it has relied on the kindheartedness and service of volunteers.

The program needs more of those volunteers to keep this valuable therapy operating optimally and to assist as many adults and children as possible. We urge you to consider donating time and effort to bringing improved health to bodies and joy to hearts. If interested, please call (573) 788-2100. Visit semohorsetherapy.org for more information.