Maryland Therapeutic Riding provides positive, life-changing experience for children and adults with a wide variety of disabilities each day. Located in Crownsville, Maryland on a 25-acre farm, the organization is committed to helping improve the quality of life for the people it serves. For this week’s Friday Focus, we spoke to Retired Colonel Ken McCreedy, MTR’s Executive Director, who spoke with us about the challenges and rewards that come from being a part of this organization.
Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.).
A: Maryland Therapeutic Riding is a not-for-profit organization in Crownsville, MD (just north of Annapolis). Our mission is to improve the quality of life of children and adults with disabilities by connecting humans and horses. We are a premier accredited center as certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH), International. As such, we meet or exceed the highest professional standards of our industry.
MTR serves people with autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, ADD, Down’s Syndrome, post-traumatic stress, amputation, and various other cognitive, physical, and emotional disorders. Our largest single population is children on the autism spectrum, but we served riders from ages 4 to 80!
The horse’s rhythmic motion moves the rider’s body in a manner similar to a human gait, so riders with physical needs often show improvement in flexibility, balance, muscle strength, circulation and breathing arising from horseback riding. The movement of the horse naturally exercises the core muscles of the body, giving the rider a real workout, akin to performing many, many crunches!
The horse, like a dog, is an incredibly intuitive animal. Our specially trained and selected horses just seem to know that their riders are special and reward them with affection, trust, and encouragement. The size of the horse and its obvious strength can seem intimidating to our riders, but learning to control and direct such a powerful animal is a very exhilarating experience. The unique relationship formed with the horse provides such benefits as increased confidence, patience and self-esteem.
MTR serves from 80 to 100 riders each week, supported by our herd of 15 horses and some 200 volunteers. The volunteers support the riders in the saddle, lead the horses, and perform the endless amount of chores that are necessary to sustain a farm and its animals. MTR volunteers gave over 14,000 hours of their time last year. We operate year round, thanks to an indoor arena, although extremely hot and cold weather will cause us to curtail operations.
Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?
A: We are continually inspired by our riders. We have seen them say their first words while on horseback; some have taken their first steps. One wounded warrior dealing with post-traumatic stress told me that while riding Eli, he felt as close to being happy as he had in many years. One mother told me that as her special needs child was growing up, she could not picture him having an adult conversation. He now routinely does so, on a subject that he knows well: horseback riding!
Q: What is your biggest challenge?
A: As a non-profit organization, we subsidize 80% of the cost of providing the services we do to our riders. With an annual budget in excess of $1 million, this requires a significant amount of fund-raising. Through the generosity of individual, family, and corporate donations, together with grants through various foundations, we are able to pay our mortgage, feed the horses, and keep the lights on! But it requires constant effort and not a few cash flow challenges!
Q: Are there any upcoming events?
A: One of our major fund-raising events will happen on May 2. This is our annual Derby Day party on the farm. We transform our riding arena to celebrate the annual Running of the Roses at Churchill Downs. We bring in a big screen monitor to watch the Kentucky Derby while sipping mint juleps and modeling the “latest” fashions in Derby Day hats! Guests enjoy a wonderful catered meal and a bourbon tasting station and participate in live and silent auctions to support MTR programs. Information on the event and tickets are available at our web-site, www.horsesthatheal.org.
Q: How can people get involved with your organization?
A: There are many ways to get involved. We are always looking for volunteers who can commit to helping us with the riders or with farm chores. No experience is necessary with horses (but is welcome nonetheless!)—we’ll provide all the training and mentoring necessary. We offer quarterly orientation sessions for new volunteers. Information on how to volunteer may be found on our website, www.horsesthatheal.org. We are also always looking for horses for our program. Ideally they are between 8 and 18 years old, physically sound at the walk, trot, and canter, and have what we call a “bombproof” temperament. Finally, donations to support our mission are always appreciated (again, check out www.horsesthatheal.org if you are inspired to make a donation).