In the fall of 2007, Peggy James, Katy Kempton and David West began working together providing therapeutic horseback riding to the special needs community. Four years later in the summer of 2011, they founded Reins in Motion Foundation in Livermore.
Reins in Motion is a unique program that offers year-round support to its riders, who range in age with some as young as 2 years old. Kempton is a riding instructor and the executive director of the nonprofit organization. She runs the riding program with the help of Amanda Dortch, a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) certified instructor, and volunteers.
The original impetus for the program was the dearth of equine therapy programs for both children and adults with disabilities, the organization told Livermore Vine in an email.
The focus at Reins in Motion is the "positive and possible, which is achieved through goal setting and support to gain strength and skills through weekly lessons or via camps in collaboration with The Taylor Family Foundation."
According to the organization, horses promote coordination, communication and cognition while also connecting with their humans as nonjudgmental companions. They said the bond between a horse and rider bolsters a “can do” attitude, social skills, self-esteem and feelings of accomplishment.
During a lesson, riding students display their talents and abilities in the arena while staff and volunteers celebrate progress toward greater independence or skill acquisition. A Reins in Motion spokesperson said the efforts of the staff and volunteers have proven results whether they be physical, neurological or social.
The PATH-certified instructors make a point to research each individual situation of their clients to develop the best approach as each rider is unique and requires a specific plan for helping achieve the best outcome.
There are currently seven horses at Reins in Motion which they said provide hope, happiness and an increased quality of life to everyone who rides or loves them.
"Our equine friends share their strong backs with our special riders and are deserving of continuing great care such that they are always ready for our therapeutic riding lessons," a spokesperson for the nonprofit said.
"Ensuring our horses are happy and healthy is paramount to a safe and enjoyable experience for our riders. Our focus has been on raising funding for the health and safe boarding of these gentle giants this year from those who would like to join our herd."
According to Reins in Motion, riding on the back of a horse simulates human walking more accurately than any other therapy tool known to man. The pelvis of a horse moves almost identically to the pelvis of a human.
A horse’s movement is rhythmic, repetitive and fluid. Their body heat and movement helps decrease spasticity in tight muscles. When a horse moves, the rider must activate their muscles to stay upright and centered. Stronger core muscles lead to fine motor skills and speech production.
"Several of our riders have gained greater flexibility and muscle movement thereby no longer needing their wheelchairs. We have had another rider go from being non-verbal to communicative by first talking only to the horse and eventually to the staff and her own family," the spokesperson said.
While Reins in Motion's current clients are mostly veterans and special needs youth, the organization said it continually evaluates the needs of the community to determine which other groups might benefit from equine therapy.
"We are embarking upon an early childhood intervention program to support children before they enter preschool and have plans to expand the program to include an Alzheimer’s program," the group spokesperson said.
They've recently added art therapy camps involving the horses as canvases for artistic expression in an effort to continue to find innovative ways to meet the needs of the youth in the community.
"While the course was originally designed for our current clients, it was opened up to anyone who would like to attend as it was seen as a means of expression for so many who were hurting during the pandemic," the nonprofit's spokesperson said.
"The reasoning behind the camp was that arts/visual arts compliment equine therapy well as both allow for talking or not talking that creates a sense of peace. This was a space for our artists to think and feel or just be. A lack of pressure and a lack of judgment are what art should be all about. Art and horses offer a unique way to meet the individual wherever they are in life, development, or ability."