By Megan Parker, Transcript Correspondent
When someone walks into Stockhands Horses for Healing, they might think it is just a regular horse barn.
But once riding lessons begin, it becomes clear that the barn is not at all ordinary.
Stockhands is a nonprofit organization in Delaware that provides therapy in the form of horseback riding lessons.
The organization helps treat both children and adults with any kind of disability, including mental, physical, developmental and emotional delays.
It’s been nearly three years since founders Lisa Benton and Tim Funk started the nonprofit.
Since then, the two have expanded the organization to include a variety of services, such as group sessions and private lessons.
Stockhands’ facility includes a sizable barn and several outdoor pastures. The barn is home to about thirty horses, many of which are ridden during lessons. The horses include large thoroughbreds, miniature horses and a mule.
The therapeutic riding lessons are conducted by Funk, but volunteers play a large role in helping the riders. These volunteers include Ohio Wesleyan seniors Sarah Fowler and Rheanna Wilson.
“Volunteering at Stockhands has been one of the most rewarding opportunities I’ve ever been presented with,” Fowler said.
“Not only do I get to work with children who are in need, I get to watch them grow and make leaps and strides in their normal day to day functioning.
Knowing that, even if only for a few hours a week, I’m making a difference in someone’s life is one of the greatest feelings.”
Wilson said, “Stockhands has been a really great way to give back to the community and experience how horses can help children and adults with disabilities.”
While many of the children who take lessons at Stockhands also go to therapy elsewhere, the staff at Stockhands believes that they have played a key role in helping them improve their social and motor skills.
“We do a lot with kids on the autism spectrum, and it’s rewarding to see a kid who’s nonverbal come in and in a couple months’ time to see them progress to the point where they’re appropriately saying ‘walk on’ and communicating with the horse,” said Benton, who runs the administrative aspects of the barn. “Sometimes it’s not verbal, but you can tell they’ve developed a bond.”
In addition to children on the autism spectrum, veterans and children with cerebral palsy commonly take lessons at Stockhands.
Lessons take place in six-week sessions, and are available at different times throughout the week.
Volunteers at Stockhands must undergo a free training session before working at the barn, but no previous experience with horses is necessary. Volunteer training takes place on the second Saturday of every month at 9 a.m.
Volunteers are able to schedule their hours according to their availability, so it is possible for OWU students to participate when they don’t have classes or other commitments.
“Being around the horses is therapeutic for everyone, so we can get our therapy, too,” Benton said. “But it’s the most rewarding to be able to see the kids.”
Not only do volunteers get a chance to help others, but according to Benton, the barn’s staff and volunteers also benefit from being around the horses.