A relaxing ride on a sweet steed can be so beneficial

order now Photos (above and below) and story by Bob Wellinski

15-year-old Clare Frawley keeps a pretty busy schedule with her classes, service clubs, sports and parish activities. Recently, she began volunteering with an organization that allows her to “horse around” and at the same time, help others.

In September of 2018, Clare lent her services to Reins of Life in Michigan City, working with a perfect combination horses and people with special needs.

Reins of Life works to improve the quality of life for children and adults with disabilities through equine-assisted therapy. The organization annually serves more than 500 riders with 3,000 hours of lesson time.

“I’ve always liked horses since I was little, and this is a great opportunity to combine volunteering and working with horses. So when I heard about Reins of Life, I was definitely interested,” said Clare, a Valparaiso High School freshman.

Daniele Charriere, an instructor with Reins of Life, said volunteers are “the heart and soul of the organization.”

Volunteers help care for the horses by feeding, grooming and walking their four-legged friends. They also help maintain the facility.

The real joy comes in working with the riders.

Volunteers walk along each side of the horse, keeping the rider perched on the saddle, while another leads the horse around the stable.

“We’re teaching them to ride horses, but in the process there’s a whole lot of benefit they’re getting – the movement of the horse warms up the riders’ legs, it helps engage their core, holding the reins helps with their arm muscles, social work, we can even incorporate numbers, colors,” said Daniele.

The organization uses horseback riding to promote the mental, physical, emotional and social growth of all participants in the program. Many of the riders are children who can’t walk or are limited in walking. Horseback riding helps build various muscle group or helps to stretch them.

Clare described the atmosphere between the riders and the instructors/volunteers by saying, “There’s a very unique bond between everyone.”

Clare’s mom, Sharon, echoes her daughter’s observations. “Look in the faces of the children. It’s like a small miracle has happened. These small children, the excitement and happiness in their faces.” 

“Life changing” is how Margaret Moore, of northeastern LaPorte County, describes Reins of Life regarding her 3-year-old son, Oliver. Prior to starting nearly a year ago, Margaret said Oliver wasn’t standing, just crawling. “It’s been crazy. Now he’s standing all over the place and recently started to walk. He loves it. They can barely get him off the horse.”

Liam Schult, 7, is another youngster who has benefited from Reins of Life and the dedication of its volunteers. Liam’s dad, Walter, said because of Liam’s cerebral palsy, he draws up a lot and gets very tight. “Coming here helps him loosen up — stretch his muscles out and help with the motion in his hips.” The program has given the family hope for Liam’s future. “He doesn’t walk but it helps him to stand. (We) hope to have him walking someday. It’s unorthodox but it’s working out very well.”

Clare said volunteering has made her think about a future career. She would like to follow in her dad’s footsteps (a surgeon) in the medical profession and become a doctor to help others, especially children with disabilities.

“It’s important to me (to volunteer). It’s not about yourself; this is a way to express that,” Clare explained. “It can be cold; it’s hard at times but you have to remember, it’s about the kids and their happiness. Anyone interested in volunteering, I highly recommend it.”

Anyone interested in volunteering or getting more information about Reins for Life may call 219-874-7519 and visit www.reinsoflife.org.

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