Angels on Horseback Looking for a New Home
5/10/2016 ~ by Tony Fico, AOH Volunteer
Horses have been especially prominent creatures for all of recorded time, and the bond between horses and humans is profound. In the past, horses were important and significant because they were swift transportation, tireless farmers, and sometimes courageous warriors.
The invention of the engine changed all that, and eventually horses became more like our family and friends. Throughout history, and regardless of their role in our culture and our lives, horses were always dependable therapists, reliably bringing comfort and strength to their human partners. In fact, horses have been used as therapeutic aides since ancient Greece, and equine therapy is even mentioned in the writings of Hippocrates, who explored the therapeutic value of riding.
Angels on Horseback takes the horse's unique and special form of therapy and makes it benefit people who must cope daily with physical or mental disabilities. Their mission is to provide emotional and physical benefits to special needs people. They motivate their students to ride and care for a horse, instill in them a strong sense of belonging, self-confidence and happiness. They achieve these goals through proven equine-assisted activities and therapies specifically designed to improve their students' strength, flexibility, muscle tone and motor skills.
Angels is a non-profit organization located in Jasper, Georgia, and operated by an all-volunteer board of directors and staff. Their nearly fifty volunteers are not paid for the thousands of dedicated hours they provide each year to their exceptional beneficiaries. In addition to the specific care provided to each student, these volunteers care for and feed their horses – the keystone of the organization. Although a majority of its student clients come from Pickens County, Angels on Horseback has tended the needs of clients from Cherokee, Dawson, Forsyth, and beyond. In addition to the facility's certification, Angels has two instructors that are Certified PATH International (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) instructors, having undergone PATH's extensive training programs, which require two years of intensive training and annual continuing education.
Each year, Angels on Horseback provides 30 weeks of programs from March through November, helping individuals with a variety of disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy, visual and auditory impairment, and ADD. In recent years, Angels has worked with another local program, the Appalachian Children's Emergency Shelter, (A.C.E.S) whose goal is to provide a safe, secure, and nurturing shelter for children who have been victims of abuse or neglect. While Angels provides this group with opportunities to ride, their objective is to train and supervise them in the care and grooming of horses, the maintenance of the grounds and facilities, and other skills that will give them assurances and talents they can take with them in their passage to adulthood.
The president and founder of Angels on Horseback, Leslie Elliott, said: "It is an incredible experience to witness the transformation that takes place when a student mounts a horse. The rider's face glows with anxious anticipation, and you delight just watching the student's satisfaction when he or she first encourages the horse to move, and then respond to each of the rider's prompts. Next, you are amazed at the rider's grasp of the choreography of the course, the ability to instantly respond to the instructor's commands, and finally, to see the rider's unbridled pride, self-confidence and absolute elation when the ride is complete.
"And it's not only the student that will capture your heart. You will also see the horse's transformation when our special rider mounts. The horse quickly grasps the rider is indeed special, and senses when the rider becomes unsteady, and instantly adjusts its gait in order to calm the rider. The horse immediately accepts full responsibility for the safety of the priceless rider above and seems not to rely on the side-walking volunteers. Undeniably, horses have an extraordinary and unique relationship with our students."
The horses at Angels on Horseback are carefully tested and trained before being integrated into the program for gentleness, calmness, and an even temperament. Equine therapy programs like Angels try to find horses that are calm, but not lazy, and physically suited with proper balance and structure, as well as having good quality gaits. Each individual horse has a distinctive personality with its own likes, dislikes and habits, so paying attention to what each horse is trying to communicate is essential not only in therapy sessions, but also to prevent burnout for the horse.
John Goode, the father of one of the student clients, Jennifer, expressed his appreciation for the program this way: "I know my daughter gains tremendous benefits through the Angels on Horseback Program that she could not enjoy anywhere else. She has the all-too-rare opportunity to raise her self-esteem by her own achievements and take great pride in her accomplishments. For the better part of one hour she is independent, and in control of her environment on the back of a horse that she directs! She says it best herself when at the end of a lesson, she signs: 'Good Work'; 'Proud of me'; 'Awesome'!"
Since 2003, Angels has pastured their horses and conducted equine therapy workouts from 10 acres of graciously donated land on Beth Avenue, in Jasper. During that time, the number of children and young adults that rely on equine therapy has grown significantly. That growth has created a dilemma for Angels on Horseback, because now their horses need more pasture in order to sustain their therapeutic benefits to the students. To meet their current and future needs, Angels on Horseback must move their program and their horses to a larger facility. The deadline for the move is November 2016. Their horses are the bedrock of their work, and they need at least 16 acres of pasture to operate all aspects of their program and for the horses to be healthy and content. Angels on Horseback is seeking help in locating a new facility.
The Board of Directors is actively considering all options for an enhanced facility. They are studying numerous opportunities and have been looking into land purchases and longterm leases, as well as sponsorships similar to their current facility. The board is also exploring an innovative approach to its existing home, which is a management concept based upon the lifestyles of naturally healthy wild horses. This concept, which is called "Paddock Paradise," is a way to provide horses with an environment that closely resembles their natural habitat in the wild and yet requires less land per horse than is generally recommended. This concept has shown to be an enormously healthy and happy environment for horses and has great promise because of the abbreviated land requirements.
In the 13 years since its inception, Angels on Horseback has depended on three major sources of income: tuition, fund-raisers, and grants and donations. Although they often provide lessons at little or no cost to students that cannot afford to pay, they depend heavily on tuition from their students. Nearly half of their students receive sponsorship of 50% or more. As often as practical, they hold fund-raising events, sell T-shirts, and solicit donations through local mailings. They are very fortunate to have some benevolent local businesses, churches and individual supporters who offer grants and donations, which have been vital for fulfilling their mission.
Historically, their annual income is nearly completely offset by three major expenses, namely, the care and feeding of their horses, facility maintenance, including pasture improvements, and operating expenses, including utilities and insurance.
Elliott said: "In the past, accumulating cash was never our goal. We had a nice facility, large enough to take care of our horses and our students, and we always managed to make ends meet. We're not expanding in order to make a profit – we're looking for a bigger home so that we can help more people. We're also looking into the possibility of helping veterans with our programs of equine therapy." She added that with a more aggressive plan for attracting grants and contributions, as well as more frequent fundraisers, she is confident they will gather the resources necessary to purchase property.
Meanwhile, they don't want to abandon the prospect of continuing on a donated parcel of land, either on a long-lease situation or even on a "lease-to-purchase" plan with a private landowner. If you, or someone you know, has an unused parcel of land that is suitable for their needs and would welcome their horses and their precious riders on that land, Angels on Horseback would like you to contact them and discuss the possibilities. If you have the expertise to suggest a method by which a landowner can create a situation that will make their land become a unique opportunity for them and their heirs, through tax laws related to donations or land use, please contact them. Angels on Horseback is anxious to hear any opportunities, thoughts and suggestions you may have that could lead their horses and students to a new home.
Visit AOH website for more information on the program.