Heartland Horse Heroes is a 501c3, not for profit organization whose mission is to provide equestrian activities for individuals who have mental, physical, emotional, social challenges or learning disabling conditions. Our vision is to offer quality equine opportunities, in a state of the art, Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) Premiere Accredited facility, to participants of all ages with disabilities in a ten county region of Central and Southside Virginia.
Heartland Horse Heroes began as a division of Healing Paws and Claws, Inc, a 501c3 organization and Delta Society Affiliate, founded in 2002, which provided pet therapy in Central and Southside Virginia. Healing Paws and Claws visited institutions with dogs and provided pet therapy on a farm setting with horses. Many of our clients expressed the desire to ride the horses. So, the organization went through 24 months of research and training to begin a pilot program to provide those riding lessons that were requested from our clients. As a result of a successful therapeutic riding program sponsored by Healing Paws and Claws, the organization changed its name to Heartland Horse Heroes, and has focused its’ mission toward therapeutic riding. Out pilot program of therapeutic riding lessons began in summer of 2008 at a leased facility in Prince Edward County.
Heartland Horse Heroes began offering therapeutic horseback riding lessons to persons with disabilities living in Farmville and ten surrounding counties as a PATH Member Center. Operating as a member center is similar to club membership, with the stipulation of meeting the obligation of having PATH certified instructors. The HHH Board of Directors spent a considerable amount of time and money over the year to send members to needed training and to ensure that the program meets all the PATH recommendations.
On November 14, 2009, Heartland Horse Heroes underwent 6 hours of inspection, observation and interview by PATH site inspectors. The inspectors compared the HHH program to the highest safety and quality standards possible in approximately 100 areas. Meeting all of the PATH mandatory standards and an additional 80 percent of the general standards is required to receive a passing score. HHH received a perfect score and met 100 percent of all PATH standards. HHH is now titled as a “PATH Premiere Accredited Center”.
In 2010 HHH expanded its program to include Sprouse’s Corner Ranch in Buckingham, as LaRue Sprouse Dowd completed her PATH certification as a riding instructor. The Ranch underwent hours of preparation and training to assure it met the PATH standards. In the summer of 2010 Sprouse’s Corner Ranch held its first session of therapeutic riding lessons with 5 riders and over 30 volunteers participating.
Today, Heartland Horse Heroes still remains a pilot program as we remain limited in our funding. We are attempting to implement our program in a federally designated impoverished area, which greatly limits our funding efforts and charitable contributions. Due to our limited funding, we have a waiting list of riders to whom we wish to provide services (see attached letter as just one example). Any opportunities for persons with disabilities are extremely limited in our poor community. Despite the difficulties, Heartland Horse Heroes has reached many goals, which leads us to believe that we can expand and continue to grow. Since 2008, Heartland Horse Heroes has:
Expansion of the therapeutic riding program in 2011 includes plans to set up a central office with computer and phone where we can communicate with therapeutic riding students and volunteers. We also plan to provide lessons to a progressively larger number of riders. In order to uphold the standards required to keep “Premier” status with NARHA, we must invest in such items as a handicapped bathroom facility at Sprouse’s Corner Ranch. We also need an additional arena specifically for Heartland Horse Heroes that contains no obstacles that must be removed prior to each lesson. This is not only a PATH requirement, but will significantly reduce the volunteer hours needed to perform therapeutic riding lessons. We plan to install a run-in shed at the Prince Edward facility, so that we no longer have to rely on volunteers to board and care for HHH horses. And last but not least, we are in the process of developing permanent signs for each facility to identify our existence to the public. The addition of these facilities will foster the expansion of HHH within the community by allowing better efficiency, communication and stability for the program.
Due to the increasing demand in our region for quality recreational opportunities for persons with disabilities offered by credentialed, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and caring individuals, Heartland Horse Heroes hopes to establish a permanent home in our community while maintaining a safe program. In order to continue to expand and reach our goal of serving 20 students by the end of 2011, we must reach these goals and establish lessons on an on-going basis throughout the year at both the Sprouse’s Corner Ranch site and the Prince Edward activity site.