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story.lead_photo.caption Megan Smits, Horses for Healing executive director, helps Alexis Sifuentes ride Milo at the nonprofit organization’s farm in Bentonville. (Submitted photo)

Through the pandemic, Horses for Healing has adapted and continued fulfilling its mission of offering therapeutic riding programs designed for children.

The group provides equine therapy for children with physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities. Programs are provided regardless of ability to pay and rely solely on community donations, receiving no federal or state funding, Medicare support or insurance payments.

Megan Smits, executive director, says their “pandemic goal has been to try our best to stay open. Gyms have been closed, schools changed in the spring, so we wanted to keep serving the children we serve. We’ve been able to do lessons and offer all therapeutic classes. Our goal is to do them on a small scale, a few kids at a time,” to observe social distancing recommendations. “We don’t want to do anything to put those riders at risk.”

In a typical year, the group provides approximately 2,200 lesson hours to some 450 children. In the past few months, they’ve been able to work with about 40 to 50 children each week.

Horses for Healing Inc. also provides adaptive recreational riding lessons, as well as inclusive hunter/jumper and dressage lessons, and offers horse boarding.

Smits says the majority of their students are from Benton and Washington counties; “however, from time to time families who live outside our immediate area choose our facility for the needs of their child.”

Horses for Healing has had a partnership with the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter and now also works with children from its newly opened Hope Academy.

Volunteer opportunities are available as side walkers, horse leaders and general help with horses and and the farm.

“As one of only two Professional Association Therapeutic Horsemanship Internal Premier Accredited facilities in Arkansas, our facility stands out as a leader in best practices among other riding programs in the state,” Smits says of the organization. “Our instructors carry certifications through PATH and/or Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA), and we’re proud to offer a unique and comprehensive approach to inclusive lessons that allow children with special needs to participate with children who don’t face the same challenges. This helps our kids not only expand their peer groups, but we also see more compassion for others and a stronger sense of good sportsmanship.”

Online

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Horses for Healing

NWA

What: The group provides equine therapy for children with physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities. Where: Bentonville Information: (479) 795-0570 or horsesforhealingnwa.org

Columnist Carin Schoppmeyer can be reached by email at [email protected] .

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