New Horse Riding Program Pairs Veterans, At-Risk Individuals

Veteran Mike Law is pictured brushing a horse at 4Steps Therapeutic Riding in Parsonsburg. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

PARSONSBURG – A new program pairing at-risk kids with some of the nation’s strongest role models is giving both the chance to benefit from the healing power of horses.

Teaming for Success, a new program offered by 4Steps Therapeutic Riding, gives veterans the chance to work with troubled youth in an equine-assisted treatment program.

“They deserve more respect than anybody for serving and stepping up,” said Sandy Winter, director of the nonprofit 4Steps Therapeutic Riding. “This is the thing we’d like to instill in our kids.”

At 4Steps Therapeutic Riding, located on Sixty Foot Road in Parsonsburg, people of all backgrounds and abilities are given the chance to work with horses. Teaming for Success, made possible with the support of the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, is designed specifically to benefit troubled youth. Interested veterans are provided with training by Winter and are then given the chance to share their new knowledge of horses with at-risk kids referred to the program by local social service organizations. There are currently five children in the program, most of whom come from families where one if not both parents are incarcerated.

“They come with a lot of trust issues,” Winter said.

The Teaming for Success program, she explained, gives those kids the chance to learn new skills, get their minds off their problems and experience the joy of being outside and working with horses.

“When emotions come out of a kid whose emotions are stuck, it’s amazing how horses do that,” Winter said.

The veterans who volunteer through the program are able to act as role models for the troubled children and at the same time enjoy the benefits of being around the horses themselves.

“There’s a good feeling of learning and giving back at the same time,” Winter said.

Air Force veteran Mike Law said a desire to help local youth was what prompted him to get involved in the program.

“This is something different for the youth to do,” he said, adding that bonding with the horses was a unique experience for them. “It’s a good, slow process.”
Winter says that when kids are on a horse, in the woods, they don’t have to worry about their daily problems and can focus solely on their relationship with the animal.

particpants-go-to-get-horses-at-4steps“Horses are non-judgmental,” she said, adding that they only cared about what the kids exhibited in the moment.

Veterans are able to offer their support to the children as they work with the horses and also serve as good examples for them.

“Kids that come in with a broken spirit know their day doesn’t have to end the same way it started,” Winter said.

One teenager who’s involved in the Teaming for Success program has been coming to 4Steps Therapeutic Riding in one program or another for nearly a decade, since a disturbing family event left him with severe emotional trauma. Winter says she’s watched him grow as an individual and learn to cope with life through his interactions on the farm.

“He experiences different situations and how to handle them,” Winter said. “That translates into life skills.”

Winter, whose mantra is “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf,” started 4Steps a dozen years ago. Today, the nonprofit offers a variety of programs, including therapeutic riding, natural horsemanship and trail riding in the sprawling Wicomico Demonstration Forest. In addition to Teaming for Success, 4Steps offers “Fall-in Fridays” to local veterans. Each Friday from 5-7 p.m. vets are invited on a walk-in basis to meet the 4Steps horses and enjoy an evening on the farm.

For more information on any of the programs, visit www.4stepstrp.org or email giddyup4steps@aol.com.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.