Sinclair, who battles cerebral palsy, came to the program with a phobia of touching. Anthony gave him small pony gloves and now he is able to hold the reigns and is even able to use verbal cues. “Some come to us as little heaps,” said Anthony. “And before they know it they’re riding. It’s amazing. A lot of non-verbal kids even start to talk.” According to Anthony, a lot of the kids progress to riding independently and others just enjoy the movement of the horse. “I give them confidence and as much instruction and horse knowledge as I can give them.”
Almost 20 years ago, two friends went out for coffee. They were both horsewomen and one of the ladies had a child with special needs. She wanted to pass on her love of horses to her son, but didn’t know how to start. They brainstormed ideas and soon a group of Peninsula friends put together a program to teach horsemanship to people otherwise unable to participate. Later in the year, their afternoon of coffee turned into the South Bay’s only therapeutic riding program, called Ride to Fly.
“Horses are quiet and non-judgmental— it’s a safe place for them,” said instructor Lea Anthony. “These kids get judged everyday in their lives… These horses do what they want to do.”
Now, the program that is located in Portuguese Bend has helped hundreds of children and adults succeed in ways they never imagined possible.
“There’s this little tiny person and this big horse is doing what they ask,” said Anthony. “It gives empowerment to individuals that have virtually no power in their lives. It gives them something that they feel good and positive about and it radiates to other parts of their life. They get better at school and it goes out like a ripple effect.”
“Horses heal in quiet ways,” said Anthony. “Each client finds something in a horse that helps. Some clients love to trot, hold on, brush and hug them. Some don’t get in the saddle for weeks, but they all just love their horse.” To begin the program clients have to pass an evaluation process and their name is put on a rotating waiting list and eventually passed onto the scheduler.
Alyssa Metcalfe, 21, rides Cochise during a 30-minute lesson. Ride to Fly has a client list of 63 but only takes about 27 students per 10-week session. Most lessons last 30 minutes and are only a maximum of two students per lesson. Volunteers are always on hand to help.
Jean Metcalfe watches her daughter Alyssa’s lesson. “It’s a special experience for the parents to see their kid do something they didn’t think they could do,” said Anthony. “They get to watch their child succeed and they get a time to just sit and relax. It’s an escape.” Metcalfe comes to the program to socialize and gain confidence.