Dr. Lori Kepford, a Marion County native with a passion for horses, returned home from Kentucky, determined to make a difference in the lives of local children. Dr. Kepford founded Providence Therapeutic Equestrian Center (PTEC) in 2012. This non-profit offers Equine-Assisted Activities to people with special needs.
“I have experienced the total benefit of the horse. Whether it be through the development of muscles, respiratory system, and mental acuity via therapeutic riding, the development of job skills in our volunteer programs, or just the calming acceptance of a 1,500-pound animal that does not judge, the horse always seems to meet the challenge of loving people,” Kepford said.
One of the Equine-Assisted Activity is Pony Pals. This is a reading incentive program that is offered to schools at no cost. In a pilot program during the last month of the 2018-2019 school year, Ms. Bell’s first grade class at McKinley Elementary School met weekly to read to Ebony. During the first half of the 2019-2020 school year, Pony Pals traveled weekly to George Washington Elementary School and the Boys & Girls Club.
Before COVID-19, PTEC served almost 200 children a month. The children in the Pony Pals program practice reading so they are ready to read to the horse. The child reads to the horse while sitting in a chair in front of the horse. Volunteers helping in the program manage the horse while the child reads a book. During the 2019-2020 school year, Elgin students in Mrs. Morroco’s class traveled to Providence twice a month to read to the horses and also do basic barn chores. “In one class, the kids became so proficient they had to start bringing two books to read!” Kepford said.
Kepford wants to focus on kids who struggle with reading and thinks that this reading incentive program might help. In order to visit schools each week throughout the school year, work has begun to transform a horse trailer into a mobile Read-to-the-Horse unit. All that is needed is a truck to pull the unit.
In the past River Valley, students participated weekly in the Therapeutic Riding program.
Involved with Therapeutic Riding and other Equine-Assisted activities for over 20 years, Kepford is a Therapeutic Riding Instructor certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH). She has experienced many miracles as a result of bringing horses and people together. When one rides a horse, they use the same muscles that are used when walking. Therapeutic Riding can also help to improve core muscle tone and one’s respiratory system, as well as instill confidence and good self-esteem.
“Some horses like to run, some like to jump. These horses have a passion for people. They are like 1,500-pound dogs,” Kepford shared. “Some of these horses can tell when a child is having a bad day and will give them a hug!”
The parent of a local girl with autism calls this program “Amazing! You have helped so many, my daughter included. Her social skills have improved greatly with the help of Ebony (her first love!)” said Becky Kindred. Other parents have echoed Kindred’s sentiment, commenting that “our nights are so much more relaxed after we leave here!” or “This was the first time I saw my child smile this week!”
To learn more about the Equine-Assisted activities, contact Lori Kepford via the Providence Therapeutic Equestrian Center Facebook page.
Providence Therapeutic Equestrian Center, their volunteers, and Dr. Kepford, helping our children and families grow stronger each day. This is the MarionMade! spirit.