RIDING ON HOPE
The Kentucky Horse Park is big. Big enough, in fact, to spend 40 minutes driving around it lost.
Situated on over 1,200 rolling acres, just north of Lexington, it is the horse capital of the United States. Serving as a shrine to the relationship that humans and horses have shared for nearly 6,000 years, its list of associated programs, facilities, museums, and stadiums is impressive.
Tucked in a quiet corner of the grounds, the Central Kentucky Riding for Hope program and facility can be easy to miss, especially for two novices that didn’t even know how to pronounce “dressage.” Turns out it rhymes with massage, not message.
Central Kentucky Riding for Hope is an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life and the health of children and adults with special physical, cognitive, emotional, and social needs. They do this by utilizing the special bond horses and people have forged over millennia. Horses and humans have worked together in agriculture, industry, entertainment, law enforcement, travel, and sport. Via equine-assisted therapy, this connection is being taken one step further through therapeutic activities with horses.
The kinship we have with our equine partners has been documented and celebrated via countless songs, poems, movies, paintings, and stories. But it’s still something that can’t be fully understood until you find yourself straddling a horse, riding high above the ground, hearing the rhythmic hoof-steps, and feeling the gentle undulation of the gait. It’s not hard to imagine how this experience can have a profound impact on those with special needs.
After seeing most of the 1,200 acres through a curtain of rain drops pelting our windshield while we tried to find where we were supposed to be, we finally oriented ourselves. Pulling our van into the sand-covered parking lot, and slipping into our rain gear, we steeled ourselves for the wind and precipitation, and prepared for our two day stint helping with a fundraising horse competition. The first day was spent setting up for the event. Putting together dressage arenas and obstacles for jumping, we lent our inexperienced hands to whatever needed done. Despite being covered in mud, sand, and rain, the majesty of the horses that watched us, seemingly amused, made it feel like noble work.
The following day, the competition commenced under much more agreeable skies. Awestruck at the abilities of both the horses and their riders, we spent the day helping replace and reconfiguring jumping obstacles, while learning a little about the culture, terms, and nuances of horse-riding competitions. We also added to the already high level of respect we have for horses. Their abilities go beyond what is expected of a domesticated animal. They can empower and heal both those that need it, and those that didn’t know they did.