Surpassing Boundaries

Animal therapy transforms disabilities into abilities.

Located in Mount Holly, New Jersey, Beyond Balance is not your typical horseback riding facility. The nonprofit organization aims to provide therapeutic riding experiences for individuals with special needs in a caring, family-oriented environment.

Helping a wide variety of clients, such as those with cerebral palsy and autism, Beyond Balance was created when instructor and co-executive director Missy Rush came across Keeper, the organization’s current therapy horse. “As soon as we saw Keeper, we knew he was perfect for this cause,” recalls Rush, who has been a certified North American Riding for the Handicapped instructor since 1998 and now runs Beyond Balance. “We wanted to have a great horse like Keeper to teach and help as many people as possible.”

Beyond Balance offers mounted activities to teach participants how to ride a horse, which improves their flexibility, balance and strength. The organization also provides ground lessons to promote horsemanship skills and animal bonding, as well as community outreach in order to educate others about the benefits of therapeutic riding and equine-assisted activities.

Therapeutic riding has been proven helpful to individuals with special needs in a variety of ways, allowing participants to reap positive changes in many areas of their lives. Some of the physical, psychological, educational and social benefits include improved self-confidence, better eye-hand coordination and increased social interaction with the horses, therapists, instructors, volunteers and other students.

Suzanne Owens has been taking her neurologically impaired son Christopher to Beyond Balance for nearly three years. “Horseback riding makes Christopher feel like he’s participating in something that’s fun and enjoyable, but at the same time gives him a lot of therapy,” says Owens. “He can’t play sports, so this is something he can do. It’s been fantastic. He’s joined other programs in the past but this one seems to really speak to him. He loves the volunteers and the workers.”

According to Owens, therapeutic riding has granted Christopher improved posture, fine motor skills and muscle strength. She adds that her son has been much calmer and has better self-esteem since going to Beyond Balance. “He has a hard time sitting still at home but when he’s on the horse, he sits tall and proud,” says Owens. “He sees how we respond to him when he’s riding and he just lights up. He’s really come a long way, and we will definitely continue bringing him to Beyond Balance.”

Rhoda Dompier is the mother of a 6-year-old Beyond Balance participant. “Beyond Balance is a safe place where disabilities become abilities, fear and frustration become joy and excitement, and anxiety becomes laughter,” Dompier comments on the Beyond Balance Web site. “I highly recommend this program to anyone who has a child with a special need. It has consistently been a source of happiness for my daughter. This program has been a gift to our entire family.”

Owens encourages other parents with disabled children to enroll in Beyond Balance. She also stresses the importance of keeping the organization running due to the benefits of therapeutic riding, praising the volunteers and low program cost of the nonprofit. “Without volunteers and donations, Beyond Balance couldn’t function, so I’m very thankful for all those who contribute to this great cause,” she says. “Parents of special needs children have skyrocketing bills, and Beyond Balance keeps their program costs down so we can keep going as much as possible.”

There are many ways to help Beyond Balance flourish, including volunteering, which provides a means to learn about horses while making a difference in people’s lives. Volunteers must be at least 14 years old and assist with horse preparation, horse leading and grooming. Monetary donations and horse sponsorships are also needed. Donations are raised through fundraisers and charitable giving programs.

“Being a part of Beyond Balance has been a wonderful experience,” says Rush. “It’s wonderful to see the progress of the clients and their pride when they learn a new skill with the horse.”

Follow Beyond Balance on Facebook at www.facebook.com/beyondbalancetr for frequent updates. Visit www.beyondbalance.org or call (609)969-8899 for more information.