by Joey Bristol, BDF Volunteer
Speech pathologist, foster mother, and life-long equestrian Cat Thompson established Butterfly Dreams Farm Therapeutic Riding Program with co-founder Tracy Mosher in 2005 after seeing the powerful way horses impacted a special child in her life.
Horseback riding increases strength and balance, rehabilitates pathways in the brain that have been impaired (whether that be by various congenital disabilities or by trauma), reduces irritability and hyperactivity in children with autism spectrum disorder and even improves speech and social behaviors in those same children. It is the combination of the movement of the horse, communication with the horse and connection with the horse that confers well-evidenced neurological, psychosocial, and emotional benefits.
Riders are able to benefit immensely from the two forms of therapy offered at BDF. Hippotherapy can start as early as two years old and uses the movement of the horse itself as a therapy tool and helps riders develop better coordination, balance, and muscle strength. Therapeutic riding teaches riders, ages 4 through adult, about horse care and riding skills. It also builds confidence and independence for the riders. Both hippotherapy and therapeutic riding allow riders to work on necessary skills in a fun setting outside of a traditional clinic.
Cat Thompson and Ashley Burnette are speech pathologists who have a passion for hippotherapy and the riders they treat. Heidi Maloy is PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) Instructor certified in therapeutic riding, interactive vaulting and equine yoga. Heidi’s teaching focuses on her riders’ abilities, not their disabilities.
The therapy offered at BDF would not be possible without the assistance of our patient, dependable horses. Most of them have had a former job prior to coming to BDF and have reached a time in their lives where they are safe with all of our riders. We are so fortunate to have been trusted with the care of many of our horses from equine professionals and owners throughout north Georgia. We make it a priority to give them the utmost care so they are always comfortable and healthy.
Volunteers are a big part of the success and safety of our program. They serve as horse leaders, side walkers and help with daily chores. Many of them are students at UGA interested in a career in a medical or veterinary field while others are local residents wanting to give back to the community by helping with our horses and riders. Volunteer hours are very flexible and can be scheduled on a weekly basis.
Our board consists of volunteers, too. We believe in the power of equine therapy that changes children’s lives, so we make it part of our mission never to turn away a child who needs support – that is why 75% of our families are receiving reduced cost or free services in consideration of their challenging financial circumstances.
Our major fundraiser is the Butterfly Dreams 5K and Lap of Love that will be held on Saturday, September 4 at 8 am at Briarwood Baptist Church. After the 5K, just before prizes are awarded, we have a Lap of Love around the parking lot. This is for all children and even features many of our riders – it is lots of fun! We depend on the proceeds from the race to provide scholarships for our riders, care for our horses and help with regular maintenance of the farm. We would love to have your support! For more information: http://butterflydreamsfarm.org/5k/
For more information about BDF visit butterflydreamsfarm.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Joey Bristol is a long time Oconee resident and retired 4-H coordinator. She volunteers at Butterfly Dreams.