To support children, youth, and their families who face challenges due to adverse childhood experiences, difficult socioeconomic situations, and other factors that place a child at risk, by offering engaging, progressive equine-assisted activities and opportunities to learn from and care for animals in an environment of safety, belonging, and encouragement, in which cost is not a barrier.
To “stir up” in all of our participants the courage to overcome obstacles in their lives, by empowering them with the support of our equine partners to grow in confidence, connectedness, caring, and healthy coping skills.
We have personally experienced the powerful positive outcomes that interactions with horses can have in a child’s development, and the unique invitation horses offer for children to connect emotionally. We feel called to make that connection with horses available to more children who could benefit from it. Because the costs and demands of owning and caring for a horse or even just taking lessons are so great, many children who could benefit and find healing through equine activities do not have access to them. We feel called to help remove those barriers.
Participants (ages 5-21) who may benefit from the program include, but are not limited to, children and youth who:
- May have experienced foster care and/or adoption
- May be grieving a significant family loss (death, divorce, serious illness, addiction, etc.)
- May be struggling with anxiety or depression
- May be facing bullying or rejection at school
- May be living in a low-income environment
- May carry trauma from any other adverse childhood experiences that place them at risk.
We primarily aim to serve children living in Wayne, Stark, and Holmes Counties.
Stirrup Courage is not just a name, but a meaningful description of what we hope to create!
- Stirrup: A light frame that holds the foot of the rider, used to aid in mounting (lifting oneself up into the saddle), and as a support while riding. Like stirrups, we are here to help uplift our participants, and offer support as they ride out the challenges in their lives.
- “Stir up”: to cause someone to feel a strong emotion and a desire to do something.
- Courage: Strength in the face of pain or grief; mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.
The leaders, volunteers, and participants of Stirrup Courage will strive together to make our Equine Learning Center a place of:
- Safety and Individualized Care—where the safety of our human participants is protected to the best of our ability through intentional training and proper equipment, and the health and well-being of our equine partners is a priority; where each potential applicant will be interviewed and assessed to ensure we can meet their needs (or recommend other programs better suited to their needs) and match them with the horse and volunteer combination that is the best fit.
- Belonging and Acceptance—where those who join our program feel they have become a valued part of a family, no matter their background or what they’ve been through; where they are known by name and special life events and accomplishments are celebrated together.
- Encouragement and Empathy—where participants and their families know we are here to listen to their concerns and struggles, and that we are here to encourage and support them through their challenges; where we focus on recognizing positive steps forward and finding accomplishments to praise, no matter how small.
Primary Program Goals for Participants:
By engaging in all levels of equine-assisted activities—from daily care and grooming, to correct handling and safety on the ground, to riding lessons that build balance and physical strength, to games and personal competitive goals, to volunteering—youth will be naturally and intentionally lead to grow in:
- Confidence—through a gradual, trust-building, playful approach to equestrian learning that provides many opportunities for the child to be successful while gaining new skills and knowledge that they can be proud of, and utilizing one-on-one volunteer leaders with each beginner student, focusing first on a solid foundation of trust and safety on the ground and secure balance in the saddle before progressing to new skills.
- Connectedness—as all interactions with horses require a focus outside of oneself, clear communication of what they are asking of their equine partner, awareness of their emotions and responses, and mutual trust and respect in order to achieve their goals as a team—important lessons for healthier relationships in other areas of their lives; along with the human friendships developed and the opportunity to encourage and be encouraged by others, leading to a sense that they belong and are valued.
- Caring—by participating in all areas of care for animals who are fully dependent on their human partners to provide for their most basic needs, children learn firsthand the rewards of hard work, completing a task to the best of their abilities, and the satisfaction of helping to meet the needs of others with compassion.
- Coping Skills—in the healthy physical, mental, and emotional outlet for stress and anxiety that horse riding and care can become for the child throughout their life, and through companionship with horses, animals known to be highly sensitive to the emotions of those around them, which helps support a growing self-awareness of the child’s own emotions and ways of responding to challenging situations.
Program Goals Benefitting Our Equine Partners:
A program that partners with horses to meet the needs of children can also have benefits for the well-being of horses in the community, since:
- The need for dependable, well-trained horses to provide a safe experience for beginner riders can also help provide a new life purpose for older horses and rescues who are no longer able to perform or work at the levels they were trained for. Creating a new purpose for horses that others can no longer use means less horses that potentially end up neglected, suffering, sold in the auction ring, and sent to slaughter.
- Bringing a program like this into the community grows awareness of the value of equine-assisted activities, and the role horses can play in emotional healing. The more people learn about the positive contribution horses can make when viewed as partners, the more likely they will be to respect and advocate for more humane treatment of these sensitive and beautiful animals in their own communities.
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