For those with special needs, getting involved in extra curricular activities can be challenging. That’s why SARI Therapeutic Riding has offered opportunities for those with special needs for over 40 years.
SARI was started in memory of Sarah (her jewish name was Sari) who was born with down syndrome, and loved to ride horses. Unfortunately she died as a teenager due to her disability, so her parents Jean and Syd founded SARI for those with special needs to ride horses. SARI has grown from one girl and a horse, to 129 participants and 19 horses.
Program Coordinator Janine Langley says that the benefits riders see are unbelievable and that half an hour on a horse, helps the rider grow so much. Riders also get to tell their friends and family that “Ya I am going horse back riding tonight” versus always having to say “I have another doctors appointment.”
SARI caters to all types of disabilities and modifies as much as possible to ensure that each rider has the experience they should. “We have to get creative sometimes when it comes to getting riders on the horse. We make a lot of our own saddles and tact to make sure it is safe for the riders and the horses,” added Langley.
The 19 horses that SARI have are some of the most well trained and calm in the country. “It can be a really hard and long process picking out which horse will ride best. We go and visit the horses when someone makes an offer and we really try to test their boundaries and irritate them at their home to try and gage how they are going to be when they come to us,” said Langley.
SARI is 95% volunteered based with only 7 paid staff and over 30 volunteers. Langley says that without the volunteers SARI would not run nearly as smooth as it does, but also that they are looking into adding more paid staff as the number of participants continues to rise.
Paige Singer has been a a volunteer with SARI for 3 years and says that most lessons are the riders highlight of their week but also the highlight of her week. “Just getting to see how much each rider grows in only 30 minutes is so inspiring, they become so much more independent, and stronger its so awesome to get to be a small part of their progress,” said Singer.
Coaching those with special needs also has it challenges, as some of the riders have never been on a horse let a lone in a barn out in the country so the adaption process can take a while for some.
For those with special needs, doing something of the norm and getting to fit in is a huge highlight in their life. SARI therapeutic riding gives them the opportunity to feel like they are on top of the world for 30 minutes a week, and that’s a feeling each and everyone of them deserves.