By Laura Ingram
Stardust Equestrian Center, Inc, is an equestrian program whose goals are to introduce people to the power of the horse. We were founded in April of 2011 and are located in the Sanford community of Madison County, approximately 10 minutes north of the Athens loop. Stardust offers beginner riding lessons, but our offerings go far beyond just that.
One of the main programs we have is therapeutic riding. Therapeutic horseback riding centers on teaching riding and horse care skills to riders with disabilities. Riders learn to groom, tack, and control their horses. These processes teach confidence, responsibility, compassion, and dedication. In addition, riding offers physical benefits, such as core strength and coordination. People who benefit from horseback riding include those with autism, cerebral palsy, ADHD, learning disabilities, hearing or vision difficulties, traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, and more. There is a growing body of research that provides scientific proof that horses are good for the body and brain – what we in the horse community have known for a long time! Some of these studies have shown a reduction in stress levels of teenagers with autism, and neurobiological changes in the brain that can improve life for those with PTSD happen after time spent with horses.
I have seen some of these benefits in person over my dozen years of instructing therapeutic riding and time volunteering with programs prior to that. I have seen a rider with cerebral palsy develop strength and coordination that enabled her to walk assisted across the long side of the arena, when the rider had struggled to walk 10 feet with support when she started riding. Another rider, diagnosed with autism and notoriously quiet in school and with non family members, improved his social skills and made his momma cry at a group event where he stood up to speak in front of a crowd of over seventy folks. Even small changes like being able to control their response to anger for a whole lap of an arena rather than lashing out at the horse and volunteers are big wins for the daily life of riders and their family.
Another program offered by Stardust is our nursing home visits. While we have had to curtail this program during COVID, we are looking forward to starting it again as the vaccine helps slow the spread. We take our very calm, patient horses to the nursing home. The residents love coming to see the horses, feed them snacks, and see their tricks. They always laugh when we tell them the horses can’t go inside because we are afraid we will come home to find them on the couch if they learn they can go indoors!
COVID has also curtailed our school visits. Most years in the spring we can be found sharing about horses, riding, and careers in the equine industry at various career and agriculture days in Madison, Jackson, Clarke, and surrounding counties.
We also offer pony rides and comet classes – short lessons designed for groups. A step up from pony lessons, but not as thorough as a traditional introductory lesson, comet classes work well for birthday parties or team building. The riders learn how to walk and steer their horse, and have a chance to trot, while having a “spotter” or leader to ensure their safety. Our largest “comet class” has been at the Boy Scouts Fall Family Weekend at Camp Rainey Mountain in Georgia. The scouts have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to ride, and some even have their favorite horse that they want to ride again year after year. We do offer the occasional pony ride, but have found that horse-crazy kids love the opportunity for a longer ride and the independence of steering their horse. My favorite part of the comet classes is letting kids trot, usually for the very first time. I get funny looks when I tell the kids not to fall off giggling when they trot, but the parents suddenly understand as the horse picks up the trot and the kids double over with laughter!
We are hoping to expand our programs to include a day in April for riders with autism to celebrate Autism Awareness Month, and one in November to honor veterans and their sacrifices. Every positive experience with a horse opens the door for another person to learn about the power that horses have, and share with us humans so generously.
For more information on joining our programs as a participant, volunteer, donor, or sponsor, please contact Laura Ingram at 706-521-4705, find Stardust on Facebook (@stardustequestrian), or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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