Exclu. Interview: ‘Breaking Free’ Therapeutic Riding Center

Photo by Alicia McQuain

Breaking Free: Therapeutic Riding Center is a nonprofit dedicated to providing therapeutic horse riding services to children who are physically and emotionally challenged.  They currently serve children in Muskingum and Guernsey counties in Ohio.

ICare4Autism recently got the chance to speak with Center Director, Linda Lake.  Throughout the conversation, Lake told ICare4Autism about the roots of Breaking Free, a walkthrough of a session, and the results that a child sees after 7-weeks in their program.

Q: When did Breaking Free: Therapeutic Riding Center begin?

Linda: It began in January of 2008.

Q: What was the inspiration behind starting the Center?

Linda: The idea came from years’ worth of researching therapeutic riding.  I really felt the Lord was leading me at the time to do something about what I knew.  My husband and I have a 150-acre farm, which we have totally committed to the Center and operating it.  It took about 3 years to set up before opening day, and this [year] will be our second season of running the Center and having students.  About one-third of the student body are autistic.  These kids respond so well to what their doing with the horses.  We can get them to pay attention and communicate more successfully.  We work on many goals and objectives additionally, which are set by parents and doctors.

Q: I saw on your website that you serve children that are physically and emotionally challenged.  What other kinds of disorders and disabilities do you serve?  What’s the age range for the students?

Linda: The age range of the students runs from 2 to 17 and a half.  The main disabilities we serve are cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, bipolar disorder, and the developmentally delayed.  We tap into many other areas, but those are the main ones.  As I said, we are currently only serving students between 2 and 17 and a half, but we are looking to branch out within the next 2 years and serve adults as well.  We get a lot of inquiries about it, since we’re the only therapeutic riding center in the 3 surrounding counties.

We’re also associated with the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA).  We just became a center member at the beginning of this year.

Q: I know that no session is typical, but if you could, walk me through a session.

Linda: Therapeutic Riding instructors work with the Program Director and myself to set up a unique program for each one of the kids.  During a typical session, we spent the first 15 minutes getting the children ready.  We do this by playing learning games and going through exercises so they’re ready to ride and enthusiastic.  Then they go ride for 30-45 minutes, with the ratio of volunteers to student being 4 to 1.  After riding, a child needs a week of rest between sessions so they’re body can recover.  For some of them, it’s more physical activity then they’ve experienced all week.  A lot of the session is comprised of game play on horseback, although everybody has a different thing that they do.

Q: You also host day/evening camps.  What activities happen at the camp that differ from a normal session?

Linda: It’s fairly similar to a normal session, but we take things a little further.  It’s kind of like a little carnival for them.  There are petting zoos, arena games (off the horse), and a cookout.  It’s a big social event for them and a lot of fun.  As I mentioned, the goals and objectives are set by parents and doctors, and we meet 2/3rds of the goals by the end of their 7 week session.

Q: What kind of results do you see from the children?  Any particular success stories you would like to share?

Linda: When a child starts in our program, there are assessment papers that are filled out by therapists.  In the end, these papers are sent to the parents.

One autistic girl that we have here, when she began, her attention span was simply not there.  She now will tell us items she’s seeing, shapes and colors, and she can communicate with her horse.  She can get on her horse, tell her horse to stop and go, and whatever she wants to do.  While the volunteers on the ground are technically moving the horse, the feeling that the child experiences is what helps them open up.  In school, she’s supposed to be moving on to the first grade.  However, she’s advanced so much that she’s beyond the level of all the other children.  When she first came here, she would just sit in the dirt.  When she gets here now, she doesn’t act out, and is calm and relaxed.

Another autistic girl we have here, would always hit herself.  Once she got the horse, she knew she had to stop hitting herself in order to ride.  She smiles the whole time she’s on the horse now.  For an autistic child to smile, that’s a big deal.

Q: Is there anything you would like to add about your organization and its accomplishments?

Linda: We’re 100% volunteer led and run.  No one takes a paycheck, not even the therapists.  We accomplish what we do because of a lot of good people coming together to do what they can and help these kids.  We would not exist without our volunteers.


For more information on Breaking Free: Therapeutic Riding Center, please visit their official website at:


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  1. Chris Fausett
    Posted June 29, 2010 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Our organization, Women Interested in Children, hosted an event in May at the Breaking Free Therapeutic Riding Center for the Kinship Kamp that we work closely with. Kinship is a wonderful group of grandpaparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives that care for a relatives child unconditionally. The group had a wonderful time, riding horses, hiking and playing games and look forward to visiting the center in the fall. Keep up the good work!

  2. Lori Powers
    Posted June 29, 2010 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Our daughter is a four year old child who rides at Breaking Free. She is currently in her second year with the group. Although she is not autistic, she experiences sensory issues, behavioral problems, and learning delays that are similar to that of autistic children. Riding is by far the highlight of her week. She adores all of the volunteers, the activities they facilitate and the time with the horses. We have seen improvement in her attention span, muscle tone and willingness to accept direction. I don’t have enough positive things to say about Breaking Free and the volunteers that run it. It is amazing to me that they do all that they do without monetary compensation. They work tirelessly for the children they serve. It has been a wonderful opportunity for our daughter and we hope to continue working with them for many years to come!

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