Inside RideAbility, an Equine-Assisted Therapy Program

Teaching confidence, focus, and friendship, one ride at a time


Published:

RideAbility offers a range of equine-assisted activities.

Wendy Schonfeld

Wendy Schonfeld fell in love with horses in the unlikeliest of places: New York City. At age 14, she took three buses to a city barn in The Bronx so she could ride a horse on a strip of land in the middle of a highway. 

Her love of horses continued into adulthood, and in 2013, Schonfeld opened RideAbility, a therapeutic riding program for adults and children, with two horses on a 15-acre farm in Clover, South Carolina. RideAbility has 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and offers a range of equine-assisted activities to promote emotional, physical, psychological, and social well-being. 

“Since I was little, my love for horses was so tremendous,” Schonfeld, 54, says. “When our daughter was born with leg disabilities, riding horses was her passion. She was able to be just like everyone else—succeeding and being proud of herself. I wanted to be able to do that for other kids and families. Let them know how strong our kids are and that they can do it all.”

Before moving to South Carolina, Schonfeld lived on Long Island where she worked as a chiropractor. She also volunteered at HorseAbility, a therapeutic riding program that served as her model for RideAbility.

 

Built to Succeed

Each rider at RideAbility gets an individual lesson plan based on his or her abilities and goals. Riders might focus on attention, balance, core strength, focus, or memory skills. Activities like brushing the horses, working on an obstacle course, or completing tasks around the barn help riders gain skills and build confidence. 

Many of the horses at RideAbility are donated by members of the community. In these cases, Schonfeld interviews each owner before she accepts their horse into the program to understand the personality and career of the animal. She and the volunteer staff at RideAbility spend time with the horse to determine how it handles touching, brushing, and riding. Then the horse trains for two months. The staff  simulates leaning, flapping arms, bending, and loud noises, and introduces side walkers—all things the horse may experience during therapeutic riding lessons. 

“They have to be accepting and forgiving of our riders’ errors,” Schonfeld says. “Their job is to take care of the rider.”

 

Wendy Schonfeld

Morgan Buechlein brushes a horse with Wendy Schonfeld, founder of RideAbility.

Riders and Volunteers Connect

Twenty-one-year-old Maddie Lovelace began volunteering with RideAbility in middle school. “I used to be extremely shy and wouldn’t talk to anyone, but through RideAbility, I learned communication skills,” she says. “It also gave me something to talk about when I was in the community. I wanted to spread the word.”

It takes 60 volunteers and 11 horses to serve 75 to 85 riders each week. Riders range in age from 4 to 72, though there’s no maximum age. More than 50 percent of the riders receive tuition assistance. 

There can be as many as three volunteers per rider—one leader for the horse and two side walkers—but as the rider grows more independent, the number of volunteers may decrease. Lessons range from 30 to 60 minutes depending on the riders’ ability, and lessons run until 6 p.m. each weekday and until 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

Volunteers like Lovelace help with the care and maintenance of the horses and barn. They lead the horses in the lessons, making sure they’re listening to the rider’s commands and focused on the lesson. Side walkers keep the riders involved and ensure the rider is having fun. “You can see the rider’s confidence soar when they tell a horse to do something and it does,” she explains. “They can see the immediate response. That’s really important to our riders.”

RideAbility is also the training location for Special Olympics Equestrian teams for Mecklenburg County and South Carolina’s Area 11, where teams compete in regional and state games and championships. Lovelace still volunteers once or twice a month at RideAbility and helps with the North Carolina and South Carolina Special Olympics. Today she’s on track to graduate from Clemson University with a concentration on animal and veterinary sciences in December 2020. 

 

Community Support

Until October, lessons depended on weather and daylight hours. But RideAbility raised $135,000 to build a lighted and covered arena that the group calls its “Community Arena Built By Love.” It protects riders and horses from the weather, which increases the number of lessons they can offer every day. 

RideAbility’s annual horseshow and fundraiser is May 3 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Riders show off their abilities to their families and community, and guests enjoy the petting zoo, face painting, and a silent auction, which raises funds for tuition assistance and operating costs. 

“For many of our riders, they’re showing off more independence; they’re showing off they can steer,” Schonfeld says. “It’s not only good for the kids to get their trophies and their awards, but it’s so great for the parents to see their kid achieving and knowing that the possibilities are endless. Every milestone is a huge achievement.”

 

Vanessa Infanzon is a Charlotte-based freelance writer and mom to three. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram: @morethanVMI.


Finding the Right Fit

Interested in a therapeutic riding program for your child? Here are some questions to ask:

•    Are programs year-round? 

•    Do you offer tuition assistance or need-based scholarships?

•    Do you offer afterschool and weekend programs?

•    How are lesson plans determined for each child?

•    How does the program match a child with a horse?

•    Is there an electric lift for assisted mounting?

•    What kinds of activities will my child be doing?

•    When can we tour the farm? Will my child have an opportunity to interact with the horses?

•    Where do the children ride? Is there a covered arena?

•    Who will be working with my child? Are volunteers trained?


Therapeutic Riding Centers in the Greater Charlotte Region

Discover a therapeutic riding program near you:

Bit of Hope Ranch, Inc. in Gastonia

Horse “N” Around in Lancaster

Misty Meadows Mitey Riders  in Waxhaw

Shining Hope Farms in Charlotte, Conover, and Mount Holly

Wings of Eagles Ranch in Concord

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Cost: $11

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Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

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View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
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Cost: FREE

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Art Walk featuring local galleries and artist studios in historic downtown Hillsborough on the Last Friday of every month (no Art Walk in December).

Cost: FREE

Where:
Downtown Hillsborough (multiple locations)
102 N. Churton St.
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Hillsborough Arts Council
Telephone: 919-643-2500
Contact Name: Torey Mishoe
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River Jam at the U.S. National Whitewater Center brings together live musical performances throughout the year to a one-of-a-kind outdoor venue, right in the middle of the world’s largest...

Cost: $6

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Contact Name: Jenny Hill
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The Engage Art Contest is a juried competition for original Visual Art, Music Video, Film and Performing Arts. The topic is the Spiritual Battle described in Ephesians 6:10-20 and related...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online
PO Box 78951
Charlotte, NC  28271
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Sponsor: Engage Art Contest
Telephone: 980-999-1447
Contact Name: Ranika Chaney
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Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
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Farmers markets are essential to the livelihood of farmers and food producers and are exempt from the Governor's Stay at Home Order (page 6). Farmers markets offer an efficient way for residents to...

Cost: free

Where:
Holly Springs Cultural Center
300 W. Ballentine St.
Holly Springs, NC  27540
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Sponsor: Farmers Market Coordinator
Telephone: 919-567-4010
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PARENTS JOIN OUR DHHS APPROVEDCPR/AED & First Aid Certification ClassesFoster parents are required to be CPR & First Aid certified. Must register in advance. Space is limited. Parents, bring your...

Cost: 50-80

Where:
Holly Springs, NC
1001 Silverstone Way
Holly Springs, NC  27540
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Sponsor: Save A Life Now Training Center LLC
Telephone: 919-215-6942
Contact Name: Valentina Cordoba
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PARENTS JOIN OUR DHHS APPROVEDCPR/AED & First Aid Certification ClassesFoster parents are required to be CPR & First Aid certified. Parents, bring your child to class with you. Children 10 years...

Cost: 50-80

Where:
Holly Springs, NC
1001 Silverstone Way
Holly Springs, NC  27540
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Sponsor: Save A Life Now Training Center LLC
Telephone: 919-215-6942
Contact Name: Valentina Cordoba
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Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
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Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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Join one of our talented Mid-South Fencers’ Club coaches for a one hour virtual lesson to the fast paced and exciting sport of Olympic Fencing! This will be a FREE ONLINE class. All you need is...

Cost: free

Where:
Mid-South Fencers' Club ONLINE
125 N. Gregson St.
DURHAM, NC  27701
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Sponsor: Mid-South Fencers' Club
Telephone: 919-286-3100
Contact Name: Jeff Kallio
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It's time to play... TAKEOUT BINGO!!!  Take a screenshot or download the game board. Mark off the locations you visit. Share your progress on Facebook and Instagram using #CRTakeoutBingo. Send...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Crossroads Plaza
Crossroad Blvd
Suite 215
Cary, NC  27518
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Sponsor: Crossroads Plaza/ Kimco Realty
Telephone: 864-979-2291
Contact Name: Katie Earnhardt
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We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
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River Jam at the U.S. National Whitewater Center brings together live musical performances throughout the year to a one-of-a-kind outdoor venue, right in the middle of the world’s largest...

Cost: $6

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Contact Name: Jenny Hill
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Get your summer vibes going at the 1st Annual Hubb’s Beach Blast at Hubb’s Farm in Clinton, NC.  Hubb’s Beach Blast will feature two of beach music industry’s top groups, Jim Quick and...

Cost: 20-50

Where:
Hubb's Farm
10276 US HWY 421 N
Clinton, NC  28328
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Sponsor: Hubb's Farm
Telephone: 910-564-6709
Contact Name: Tammy Peterson
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