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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Riding to new heights

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Great Strides rider Jordan Reed enjoys the time she spends with horse Carla.
(Submitted photo)
A special section saluting United Way of Bedford County is included with print editions of today's Times-Gazette. Read about more of the groups which benefit from United Way donations.

Great Strides will begin its 18th year of therapeutic horseback riding in Bedford County in April of this year. The Times-Gazette spoke about the organization with Kay Dennis, founder and current president.

How did Great Strides get its start?

Over the years I was involved with special education students in Bedford County and realized there was an opportunity for us to use the walking horses in this community to provide this service to many children. Sarah Hunt served on our original board. The Child Development Center, along with The Celebration, provided seed money to organize Great Strides."

You started in 1993, how has the program grown since then?

We have increased the number of riders we serve from 12 each year in the early years to serving up to 35 riders some years. In 2010, we added another day of riding lessons each week and made the classes smaller. This allows us to give more individual therapy and riding instruction. We had 32 riders complete the riding sessions in 2010.

What's been your greatest triumph along the way?

There have been many small triumphs along the way. I guess that is a characteristic of Great Strides. Our goal is to make "great strides" but they usually come over a period of time that includes a lot of hours of work and fun.

What's your favorite success story?

One of our favorite stories is about a rider named Buck Griffy. He is the son of Rory and Joyce Griffy of Unionville. Buck started riding with us at age 6. At that time, he had little communication with anyone.

After four or five riding lessons, Buck was listening and following directions from the riding instructor. He also started responding with words rather than grunts or signals.

At the end of the session, he demonstrated his new skills to all the volunteers, his parents, grandparents and friends. We all had tears of joy in our eyes and he was so proud of himself. He continued in Great Strides every year until he was 20 years old. During that time, he bought his own horses and still today at age 26, he works in his own barn.

Tell us about your volunteers.

Our volunteers are the most caring and devoted group of people you can imagine. We all love having the opportunity to see the riders have fun, learn to ride horses and make progress in therapy. We look forward to seeing them return year after year.

What are the keys to the success for your organization?

Our volunteers are the key to the success of our program. Also the support of the community through United Way. We also get funds from the Civitan Club and financial support and volunteers from the Walking Horse Trainer's Auxiliary. Contributions are also made by some businesses, several individuals, and church groups.

Can you speak to the importance of United Way's support of the organization?

United Way is so helpful to Great Strides because they supply a large portion of our budget each year. We also get volunteers through the United Way Day of Caring and from the publicity we get from being a United Way Agency.

What sort of support do you need from the community? Are you seeking new volunteers?

We have a loyal group of volunteers but we are always looking for more! Some of us are getting older and can't walk as long and do as much work as we used to. We can use people of all ages over approximately age 16 who are comfortable being around horses. We also need volunteers to do other jobs such as phone calls, working with the riders before and after their lessons, serving refreshments and even being a spectator to watch and encourage riders.

What's on your wish list for Great Strides in 2012?

We have at least three riders who desperately need a custom designed saddle with a back support to help them sit in the saddle by themselves. We are determined to have it by the time we start riding sessions in April. We held some small fundraising activities last summer and have another one scheduled for this spring. We still need about $2,500 to pay for it. When we get it, I can guarantee we will use it well and will show it off to everyone.

For children who may be eligible, how would they go about signing up for Great Strides?

If you know someone interested in participating in Great Strides, call Kay Dennis at (931) 580-1141 or Charlotte Chrestman at (931) 224-5367. Bedford County students may also contact their teachers for more information.

Great Strides

-- provides recreation and therapy to children and adults with physical and/or mental challenges using Tennessee Walking Horses and Spotted Saddle horses.

-- meets each Monday and Tuesday afternoon at 5 and 6:15 at Bridlewood Farms off Highway 82 near Bell Buckle.

-- groups riders into small classes with two to three riders in each class. Riders are also grouped with others that are similar in their abilities or focus on the same goals. There are classes with mostly therapy, exercise, and games while others that work on independent riding skills.

-- riding sessions last for six weeks, with three sessions each year in April, June and September.

-- is affiliated with PATH International

-- has two certified riding instructors, Ann Burkhalter and Reagan Aymett.

-- served 32 riders in 2010, with 10 new riders and 22 returning riders.

-- is run by volunteers. (New volunteers are always welcomed.)

-- holds training for new volunteers in the spring. New and returning volunteers are encouraged to attend. (Contact volunteer coordinator Suzy Lambeth at 684-1033)

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