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June 26, 2013

Dalton Gulasa, a program participant at Discovery Riders, with “his” horse, Mo.
Union County children with special needs are riding high with confidence at United Way’s newest Partner Agency. Discovery Riders Therapeutic Riding and Learning Center in nearby Zanesfield offers a six-week program connecting a child with a horse, enabling them to develop relationship skills that transfer to other areas of their lives.

Many of the participants in the Discovery Riders program have families that do not know how to help their children overcome their social isolation or difficulties learning in traditional settings. Often they are children with developmental disabilities.

“The children benefit from work disguised as horseback riding,” said Kara Brown, Associate Director of the Union County Board of Developmental Disabilities and United Way Board Member. “The horse acts as the catalyst to make other advancements in the participant’s life. Not only does the participant see improvements in their ability, but many times the entire family benefits from the experience.”

Discovery Riders Therapeutic Riding and Learning Center in Zanesfield is United Way of Union County’s newest Partner Agency, admitted at the June Board Meeting. Discovery Riders offers a six-week course connecting a child with a horse, enabling them to develop relationship skills that transfer to other areas of their lives. Pictured from left to right: Kriss Schmerge, Certified PATH Instructor; JéRee Sopher, a program participant; Linda Hauck, Discovery Riders Executive Director; Shari Marsh, United Way Executive Director; Dalton Gulasa, a program participant; and Amy Schaefer, Discovery Riders Program Director. United Way also awarded a $3,000 grant to Discovery Riders Scholarship fund.
“The use of horses is extremely effective for certain individuals who struggle relating to other people. Discovery Riders provides the opportunity for these individuals and horses to interact in a very safe, controlled environment with a program designed to develop confidence and improve their interpersonal skills. The Discovery Riders program is perfectly aligned with the mission of Union County United Way, bringing the community together with over ninety volunteers working to improve the lives of special needs children and adults. It is extremely well managed with a very small professional staff that really love what they do.”
“I had a child who had never had a full conversation with anyone other than her Mom and Dad,” said Amy Schaefer, of Marysville, Discovery Riders Program Director and a Certified PATH Instructor. “And the first time she got on the horse, she just fluently came out of her shell and had a conversation with the horse. Her speech therapist didn’t believe me. It was amazing!”

Schaefer says the instructors simply facilitate what happens between the rider and the horse. What happens is a bond that develops between child and horse, through which the child follows and gives directions, becomes responsible, and builds self-confidence that transfers to other areas of the child’s life.

“Friendships are made here,” Schaefer said. “This gives kids a chance to come to a place where they are ‘the normal.’ This is that place and they always light up when they walk in the door.”

United Way awarded a $3,000 grant toward the Discovery Riders Scholarship fund this month to help offset the $240 cost of the program. Discovery Riders also became a Funded Partner, ensuring annual funding so that more Union County children might have access to the facility. Families receiving scholarship dollars are asked to donate at least four hours of volunteer time at the center.

JéRee Sopher, a program participant at Discovery Riders, with “his” horse, Bucket.
“Most children who have special needs, whether physical or cognitive challenges, have supplemental funding of some kind,” said Linda Hauck, Executive Director of Discovery Riders. “The scholarship dollars go for those who are socially challenged or have a diagnosed learning disability, but don’t have any supplemental funding. Those are the kids who fall through the cracks who could really benefit from our program.”

Discovery Riders offers programs for ages three and up. They even have a Silver Saddles program for seniors 55 and over. It has been operating since 1999 and is one of only 13 internationally accredited therapeutic riding centers in the state. An indoor/outdoor arena, obstacle course, and wooded trail highlight the facilities, while award-winning, certified instructors highlight the staff. For more information about Discovery Riders, visit www.discoveryriders.com.

United Way works to bring neighbors and resources together to improve lives in Union County. United Way of Union County has raised more than $17 million for local needs since it was established in 1958. More than just a fundraiser, United Way collaborates with local businesses, government, and non-profit organizations to solve pressing social service issues large and small.

For more information, please contact Shari Marsh at (937) 644-8381 ext. 1 or visit www.unitedwayofunioncounty.org.

LEFT:  Volunteers from Honda Trading America pose after completing projects at Discovery Riders on Community Care Day 2013.
RIGHT:  Volunteers from Scotts Miracle-Gro pose after completing projects at Discovery Riders on Community Care Day 2012.
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