CLOVER — Wendy Schonfeld has seen disabled children sit up straight and become stronger after riding on a horse. She has seen an autistic child form a bond with the animals.
Schonfeld, a chiropractor for more than 23 years who has treated both people and animals, is a believer in the therapeutic power of horses. She and her chiropractor husband, Michael Schonfeld, have brought their passion for healing and horses to Clover, where they plan a new therapeutic riding center. The center will offer riding lessons to special needs and disabled children and adults.
The couple, who have relocated from Long Island, N.Y., recently opened the nonprofit RideAbility Therapeutic Riding Center at Cherokee Farms, off Jim McCarter Road in Clover.
Wendy Schonfeld — who has been riding since she was 9 and is a certified therapeutic riding instructor — said she enjoys watching the magic of horses helping people.
“To see them respond and improve, from someone who can’t sit up straight to sitting up straight,” she said, explaining that riders are able to use muscles while on the horse that they otherwise cannot use. “For children and adults to be independent and have a lot more freedom. They’re able to use their body when they haven’t on the horse.”
Schonfeld, 47, said the center will offer private and group lessons and exercises that focus on skills such as right-left discrimination, sequencing, language development, listening skills and cooperation. The program also aims to help improve confidence, self esteem and cooperation, she said.
“Parents are always seeking something for their children to help them,” said Michael Schonfeld, 60, who also works at the center. “Especially if the children love animals, it’s a great way for them to bond.”
The center also is launching a volunteer program for ages 14 and older, she said. Volunteers, who can earn community service hours, will assist with leading lessons, horse and stable care, peer mentoring and fundraising. Experience with horses is not required, she said.
Schonfeld, who grew up in the Bronx, said she began riding horses at 9; she took three different buses to get from the city to a riding center. “I needed to be around horses,” she said.
She became a chiropractor in 1989, after graduating from New York Chiropractic College. She and Michael Schonfeld operated a chiropractic and physical therapy rehabilitation practice in New York.
But her interest in horses continued, and she later began competing as a hunter jumper. She also graduated from Options for Animals Chiropractic College in Kansas, where she became a certified equine chiropractor, focusing on back issues for horses.
Schonfeld has previously worked as an instructor at another therapeutic riding center, HorseAbility, in Melville, N.Y., where she also did coaching for Special Olympics.
Kelly Hart, a special education teacher at the Blue Eagle Academy in Clover, has already signed on as a volunteer at the Clover center.
“I’ve worked with kids that have been deaf and had autism,” said Hart. “And the magic they show when they’re on the horses, it’s more than I could ever get from the classroom.”
Hart said she has worked with a similar program at the Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill. “I see a difference in their confidence,” she said. “It’s hard to explain, but it’s something you can see.”
She said the Clover teacher forum that she leads will be discussing ways it can help with RideAbility.
Wendy Schonfeld said the center has five horses, which are screened to make sure they’re suited for the program. “They have to be a very unique, special horse to work therapeutically,” she said.
The riding and horse care lessons vary depending on the child’s or adult’s needs and abilities. She said they might begin with grooming and bathing a horse and progress to sitting on the animal.
“The riding portion is in a very safe environment,” she said, adding that there are three volunteers and an instructor for each student. The goal is for the student to be able to ride independently, depending on his or her ability.
Schonfeld said therapeutic riding is not covered by insurance, but fees are on a sliding scale. Private classes are $45 for a 30-minute session. Group sessions, with two to five people, are $40 for a 45- to 50-minute class. Most students attend once or twice a week.
Schonfeld said she believes the program can help children and adults with conditions from Down syndrome to multiple sclerosis. The program is wheelchair accessible.
“It’s an exercise program,” she said. “And it can help kids with fine motor skills. And there’s a big socialization aspect of it with an entire group.”
RideAbility Therapeutic Riding Center, a nonprofit organization which offers therapeutic riding lessons for special needs and disabled children and adults, is at Cherokee Farms off Jim McCarter Road, Clover.
Volunteer orientation workshops, for ages 14 and older, will be held from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays in February. Volunteer forms should be completed in advance. Donations of cash and supplies such as feed, hay, grooming supplies and other items also are accepted.
For information, call 803-222-6008 or email firstname.lastname@example.org