Evan McCown, 9, has some developmental delays. One side of his body isn’t as strong as the other, and his brain works a bit differently than most kids his age. He’s not into team sports and is usually hesitant about trying new things, often reciting the risks associated with the activity to his mother as if he’d read them in a textbook. It’s how his mind works, says mom Sara McCown.
But on this sunny Wednesday, Evan bounces past his mom on top of a trotting Cheyenne — a huge, chestnut-colored, teenage quarter horse.
“Whoa, Cheyenne,” Evan says, pulling on the reigns. Cheyenne slows down to a saunter, then stops. He says, “Walk on, Cheyenne,” to get her to the next destination.
Evan takes therapeutic riding lessons at Hooves of Hope Inc. on Chenault Bridge Road in Garrard County. The non-profit organization has been given new life, after a few years of downtime, by co-founder Blair Newsome. It began as a program through McDowell Health when Newsome worked for the wellness center.
It became too big for one horse to carry, Newsome said, and she moved it out to her barn on five acres of land after jumping through hoops to operate it as a non-profit and reconstructing her barn, making it handicapped accessible. After the other founder, Lisa Dreager, had shoulder surgery, Newsome took over until she had a baby and had to take some time off herself.
“I’m back and ready for this program to expand now,” Newsome says.
She brought on a certified riding therapist of 20 years, Rita Nicholson, and both say they would like to begin offering the program to educational organizations, veterans’ groups, retirement homes and facilities that treat behavioral and emotional issues.
“She’s the therapy side of it, I’m the horses,” Newsome says.
Hooves has volunteers on hand as well.
Hooves runs completely on donations and fundraisers, which don’t cover what it takes to run the sessions, Newsome says.
“We don’t ever charge what regular lessons are. We don’t take insurance, so we want to make it affordable. We’re considering this a pilot project,”¿she says.
McCown says Evan has been in occupational therapy, speech therapy and has gone to local pediatric therapy off and on since he was 2. With a strong analytical mindset, Evan is regimented and strict about his schedule.
“When we tried to get him to ride his bike, he told me about all the risks associated with it, from head injury to broken bones,” McCown says. So she was surprised when Evan took to riding horses so easily without hesitation.
“He’s become very passionate about riding,”¿McCown says.
About the time Evan started riding therapy, he began riding his bike — now, every morning like clockwork before school. McCown says maybe it’s a greater sense of self-confidence he’s developed since working with the horses.
In the barn, Newsome holds on to Cheyenne’s halter as two volunteers walk alongside Evan, holding him steady in the saddle, while Nicholson says what the next exercise is. Today, it’s maneuvering Cheyenne in and out of large barrels holding several flags in small buckets on top. Evan must pull out one flag each time he passes one.
Nicholson praises Evan, then asks him what he did wrong when he misses. Each time they begin an exercise, Nicholson asks Evan if he wants to do it the easier way or try the more difficult. Every time, Evan requests to do the harder task.
McCown was impressed when Nicholson recognized during the first lesson that Evan is weaker on one side — Evan is not noticeably unbalanced to the untrained eye — and immediately began working with him on it. McCown says it’s incredible the community has this type of therapy organization that is so affordable and is excited for others to find out about it. Previously, when the family lived in Cincinnati, she looked into a similar program and was shocked at the cost.
“Based on his reaction, this has been superior therapy. They’re very passionate, they care. He’s become calmer, more organized ...”¿