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Horses benefit country's heroes

January 27, 2011

Heaven. Prophet. Miracle.

The words alone inspire and uplift.

And when those words are attached to 1,000-pound horses, their ability to do seemingly impossible things only grows.

Heaven, Prophet and Miracle are three therapy horses at Rising Hope Farms in Claremont. The farm specializes in therapeutic riding to help individuals overcome or manage physical disabilities, emotional issues and developmental delays.

The latest group of people to benefit from Rising Hope Farm is men and women serving in the country's armed forces.

Rising Hope Farms founder Gail Wartner joined the Horses for Heroes program, which connects wounded service men and women with healing through horses.

Horses for Heroes is a program through the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.

Wartner said a horse's movements mimic the way a human walks, so when injured or disabled people ride a horse, the riding causes their bodies to move in ways that may no longer be possible without assistance.

For example, someone who uses a wheelchair to move can ride a horse and use the horse's walking motion to simulate how human hips move while walking.

"I think horses have a sense," Wartner said. "They see that person, and they seem to know if there's something different."

Therapeutic riding can also improve a participants' balance, posture, muscle tone, strength and attention span, according to Wartner.

Military veterans or those who serve currently are invited to Rising Hope Farms free of charge to experience the benefits of therapeutic riding.

Those benefits don't come only to those with physical disabilities. Wartner said horses help people deal with and overcome traumatic experiences, such as a loved one's death or the atrocities of war.

"We see miracles out here all the time," Wartner said. "You think you're blessing others, but actually, they're blessing you."

Rising Hope Farms also seeks members of the military, firefighters or police officers to serve as volunteers who work with injured service men and women.

Each rider requires at least three volunteers to stand at the horse's sides and front. The volunteers ensure the safety of both the horse and the rider. When volunteers are military personnel, it helps them connect with their injured comrades.

"They can understand if you've got someone with shrapnel from an (improved explosive device," Wartner said. "They're going to understand that."

Rising Hope Farms volunteers undergo a two-hour training process that includes a one-hour video and time spent getting to know the farm's five horses.

"It's been a very uplifting thing," said Vicki Smith, of Newton, and a three-year volunteer at Rising Home Farms. "I get as much out of it as I give."

Smith loves horses and children, so when she saw an advertisement in her church bulletin for those interested in volunteering at Rising Hope Farms, she jumped on the opportunity.

"When I volunteer, I'm looking at a kid who would never have sat on a horse in its life," Smith said.

Volunteer Rachel Pasco, of Conover, thinks the magic and healing power of riding on a horse will translate to service men and women in the area.

"We want them to know we are excited to be able to do this for them," Pasco said. "We're glad to be able to give back to them."

Rising Hope Farms is a 501(c)(3) ministry that relies on support from the community and its volunteers to remain in operation.

Wartner said she appreciates any gift donated to the ministry, and donations are tax-deductible. Donations allow most of the organization's programs to remain free for participants.

"I thought it was the greatest thing ever," Pasco said about Rising Hope Farms' therapeutic riding program. "It was just magic."

For more information about Rising Hope Farms, visit www.risinghopefarms.com or contact Wartner at (828) 638-0879.

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