By Grace Kuikman
Kathy Sanders and Mary Lenzini both looked into the Holistic Riding Equestrian Therapy (HRET) because they love horses. Certainly, getting to work with horses as HRET volunteers is a nice part of the commitment. But what Sanders and Lenzini – and so many other HRET volunteers – have come to really love is the people they serve in this very special program.
Sanders and Lenzini, both Beverly/Morgan Park residents, have been HRET volunteers for several years, assisting children and young adults with special needs who benefit from the unique therapeutic effects of riding horses. The program, which gives so much joy and health benefits to participants, requires a tremendous amount of organization and a tremendous number of volunteer hours.
Marlene Karman, HRET Executive Director and Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) certified trainer, started the program several years ago with her husband Art Karman, Equestrian Manager, using their own horses and funding to help just one child. Today, the not-for-profit program assists more than 30 riders each week and offers more than 200 classes a year.
HRET staff and volunteers receive extensive training in order to provide skill-appropriate equestrian therapy services that are designed to improve physical, emotional, cognitive and social aspects of the lives of individuals with special needs and, beginning this year, veterans.
The ten horses trained for the program range from ponies to a retired Chicago Police Department horse that was donated to the program to a retired thoroughbred polo pony which Sanders share boards. The horses live with a variety of other animals on a farm near the Palos Forest Preserves. HRET classes are held at the farm, using indoor and outdoor arenas, and, when weather permits, nearby horse trails.
Sanders and Lenzini were both impressed by the program from day one of their involvement.
Sanders is trained as an exerciser and horse leader which allows her to ride the horses, warming them up before classes and cooling them down after. She grew up riding horses, and really enjoys the hands–on work she does with the animals as well as the clients. In classes, Sanders works with a sidewalker – one of two volunteers per horse who keep the riders stable and secure — to guide the horses through the class sessions and anticipate behaviors that may affect the lesson. Sanders also puts in a lot of time working with the horses outside of classes.
Lenzini also volunteers as a sidewalker and, in addition, helps with fundraising. Because she works full time, she devotes most of her volunteer time during the summer. She grew up riding horses during vacations at her grandparents’ farm, and said she was “profoundly happy” when she first started volunteering with the equestrian program and seeing how therapeutic the riding sessions were for the clients.
Through the program, riders can improve their core strength, relax muscles, increase mobility and develop ways to communicate. “It’s heartwarming to be a part of their successes,” Sanders said. Volunteers spend a lot of time with clients and their families, which Sanders and Lenzini agree is a wonderful experience.
As the program grows, volunteers like Sanders and Lenzini, and other Beverly/Morgan Park neighbors Edris Hoover, Linda Temple, Katie Gervais and Jean Ryan become more and more important. In 2018, volunteers logged 5600 hours with HRET, nearly double the number of hours needed in 2017.
HRET now offers volunteer training once a month, and is seeking compassionate, dedicated adults who are interested in learning more about the program. For information on volunteer training, email email@example.com or call 630-878-8096. For more information on the program and other ways in which it can be supported, visit www.holisticridingtherapy.org.