How Horses Serve Special Needs
Corky Dyer has always had a passion for horses. Early in their marriage, the Dyers had a heart to serve people with disabilities. They began by volunteering with Special Olympics, first in the Greenville, SC area, then in Lexington, SC. It was no surprise to God that they would later have a son with his own physical challenges. Lew had a disease which causes the body to deteriorate prematurely. The Dyer’s older child, Jennifer, would often lead her little brother around on her pony. The family was thrilled at the joy Lew displayed and how riding seemed to strengthen him mentally as well as physically. His disease progressed, eventually leaving him unable to walk or to care for himself. Even so, the family began to envision how others might benefit from horseback riding, just as Lew had.
In 1998, the Dyers’ dream became Dream Riders, a therapeutic riding program in Lexington, SC.
When asked, “How does your faith come alive in this program?” Corky, the ‘mother’ of Dream Riders responded, “God is with us in everything, every step we take, choosing every horse, He’s in this place. He lives here.” She also said, “With all the strange things that happened along the way, it was evident that God was bringing this about. We had a donation come in which directly matched the feed store bill. It’s [been] amazing the way horses and people come into the Dream Riders’ mission. [For example,] Jennifer and I were doing an online search for a horse for the program. I was in one room on the computer and Jennifer was in a different room with the laptop. We both said at the same time, ‘I think I found one.’ As we went to look [at each other’s finds], we discovered we were looking at the same horse. Only God can work like that.”
Dream Riders’ official mission statement says they exist “to provide an opportunity for people with special needs to benefit from equine assisted activities in a safe environment.” The real desire of Dream Riders is to be the hands and feet of Jesus as they serve their clients in His love. Many who come to Dream Riders can’t walk or care for themselves unaided. Some can’t even speak. But, while riding on a horse, they are free.
Volunteers are vital for Dream Riders to accomplish their mission. Their hands give aid when needed. They reach out in safety, give congratulatory pats and even hugs. These hands tend to the students, the horses, the farm, the staff, and the community. Some are experienced with horse care and give of their time and talents in the arena and around the barn. Other volunteers are parents or family members of students involved. They assist at the mounting block or help with keeping the visitors’ area clean. Others are people from the community who’ve heard about Dream Riders and want to be part of this amazing work. The volunteers go through a training program to equip them with the knowledge and skills needed for the tasks they will perform.
The true freedom, though, comes from the horses. Their feet become their riders’ wings. Corky related a story about a young woman with Multiple Sclerosis. Her disease had advanced to the point where she needed assistance to get from the car to a specially designed mounting block. Every step and movement was a struggle and took great effort on her part. Corky asked her, “Why do you do this? What makes this so important for you to go through all this work?” “Because for one hour a week I don’t have to think about anything other than competing in the games you set up,” she said. While she’s on the horse, she’s free to move, to do, and just be.
Dream Riders reminds us how we all need the strength and freedom Christ offers. Isaiah 40:31 (ESV) says, “But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Just as those with special needs must trust the horse and their guide for a brief time of physical freedom and sweet joy, we must trust our Guide to lead us into spiritual freedom and everlasting joy.
Cindy Payne is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She’s the owner and care provider for numerous horses, dogs, and cats in Gilbert, SC. She blogs about God, horses, and life at paynefulponderings.wordpress.com.
Dream Riders – Serving God, Helping People, Using Horses. To learn more about how you can be a part of the Dream Riders mission, visit their website at DreamRider.org.