Horsing Around Brings Smiles to Those With Special Needs

Offering Alternative Therapy with Smiles, O.A.T.S. provides a variety of horse experiences for individuals with physical and emotional disabilities.

Offering Alternative Therapy with Smiles, Ortonville, MI — March 1, 2023

What is it about horses that inspire such awe in us? They are majestic creatures, strong, muscular, beautiful, and generally large. Horses are incredibly social. No, they don’t tweet. They communicate the old-fashioned way with personal interaction. They share their emotions outwardly and can quickly form bonds with us that can outlast some of our personal relationships.

Something about being around horses often seems calming and peaceful. Smiles come easily. That is the secret that O.A.T.S. (Offering Alternative Therapy with Smiles) has discovered. O.A.T.S. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with the goal of providing “a lot of smiles to children and adults with a wide variety of physical and emotional disabilities.”

Horse Therapy

In alternative therapy with horses, they become the whisperers. Individuals with physical disabilities and emotional needs see the horses respond to them in a unique way.

Volunteer Kendra Rogers explained. “Horseback riding provides a special body and mind connection that helps everyone grow and experience movement differently.” Horse lovers understand this closeness. It is incredibly heartwarming to see such a relationship develop with an individual that has special needs.

How it Happens

Therapeutic Riding Classes are offered to all individuals in need. The current participating group of riders ranges in age from 3 years old to over 67 years young! Riders must complete a registration form and have a physician fill out a Medical Release Form. Riders are also required to wear a horseback riding helmet.

A herd of 23 horses spread out in 5 different pastures, they are a mix of breeds. In addition to 3 miniature donkeys, cattle, countless chickens, and Mitzi, the therapy pig, all interact with guests. Through these amazing animals and the help of selfless volunteers, the organization is able to offer life-changing programs.

Benefits of Therapeutic Riding Include:

  • Improves balance, flexibility, muscle strength, and tone
  • Develops communication, listening, and attention skills
  • Encourages social interaction
  • Builds confidence and self-esteem

O.A.T.S. participates in community events throughout the year to bring in more families who will benefit from the therapeutic riding experience. They also host, open to the community, events on the property so families can meet the animals and interact with the staff. On the schedule, an Easter event (April 2) and a Halloween stall-or-treat (October).

25 Years and Growing

in 2022 O.A.T.S. celebrated its 25th anniversary. Under their new director, Doug Rohrabaugh, the programs continue to expand. In addition to special needs therapy, the following opportunities for interaction with the horses have been added.

  • Equine-Assisted Learning: Instructors offer professional development services and personal discovery opportunities. Partnering with horses through learning experiences relevant to life issues and authentic work situations.
  • Independent Riding Lessons: Riding lessons aren’t just offered for kids and adults with disabilities. Instructors can teach all ages and abilities.
  • Ground Work Classes: Teach stable maintenance, horse farm essentials, and work ethics.
  • Golden Saddles Riding Groups: Senior riding opportunities.
  • Home Schooling Program: Field trips for home school families.

O.A.T.S. is located at 4920 Groveland Road, Ortonville, MI 48462. Their telephone number is (248) 245-1020.

Volunteer opportunities exist in horse care, feeding, cleaning, grounds crew, and guest assistance. For information about the program, contact O.A.T.S Volunteer Coordinator Amanda by email at oatsvolunteers@gmail.com.

There are several ways you can become an O.A.T.S. supporter: Monetary Donations, Hosting Fundraisers, In-kind Donations or Donations of Goods/Services, or by purchasing items directly from O.A.T.S. Amazon Wish List.