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Horsing around for a good cause

January 21, 2019

MICHIGAN CITY – If you’re someone who loves horses, or just enjoys helping a good cause, a local noon-profit that uses equines to help people for disabilities is looking for you.

“Reins of Life is a very special place that counts on its volunteers to keep things running smoothly in almost all areas of operation: facility maintenance, feeding and horse care, and programs,” according to Beth Cortelyou, coordinator for special programs. “Without volunteers, they would not be able to provide the services so helpful to the health and well-being of our community.”

Reins of Life, a non-profit with locations in Michigan City and South Bend, has served people with disabilities since 1978, she said.

“They are the only accredited organization in La Porte, Porter and St. Joseph counties that provides therapeutic equine-assisted activities endorsed by PATH International. Reins of Life uses horses, ponies and donkeys to offer mounted and unmounted lessons and activities. Participants can be as young as 2 years old, with no upper age limit. Between the two facilities, they serve over 200 participants per week and have over 400 volunteers.”

But more are needed, and on Tuesday, a training session for volunteers will be conducted from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Michigan City site at 9375 W. CR-300N. It’s a free, hands-on class that will introduce potential volunteers to the horses and techniques used in the various programs. No RSVP is needed to attend.

“The session is to teach new volunteers how to assist during programming like private, semi-private and group lessons, as well as other programming, such as the school program,” Cortelyou said.

“We partner with the Michigan City Area Schools and La Porte Community School Corporation to provide monthly lessons for more than 20 special education classes. All of the riders are children or adults with disabilities – whether physical, cognitive, or emotional.,” she said.

“Between our two facilities, we have over 400 volunteers and 200 riders. We can never have too many volunteers on our roster,”

Volunteers must be 13 years old and do not need previous horse experience, Cortelyou said.

“They will learn to groom, tack and lead horses. Most of our volunteers start out as sidewalkers, who provide immediate support for the rider. This support ranges from walking next to the horse while the rider independently rides, to maintaining various holds on the rider so they stay properly mounted. They are also trained how to handle emergencies.”

You can also volunteer in other ways, she said.

“People who would like to volunteer to feed the horses or help in other ways, such as maintenance can contact the office, and do not need to attend this particular training,” Cortelyou said. “We have two crews of feeders every day. It takes a crew of three about two hours to feed all our Michigan City horses.”

Reins offers group and private therapeutic riding lessons to teach participants how to ride a horse while incorporating a wide range of therapeutic goals, she said.

“The Nuzzles and Snuggles program was designed to help aging adults, particularly those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other diseases. The Miniature Horse Visitation Program takes a popular mini-horse, Rosie, into public facilities to visit people in the community. The newest programs, to launch in 2019, are interactive vaulting and a program that serves veterans.”

Reins of Life has a three-fold vision, Cortelyou said, “to promote the mental, physical, emotional, and social growth of all involved in the program; to educate the community regarding the benefits of riding as therapy and improve the abilities of children and adults with disabilities; and to improve the attitudes of society toward persons with disabilities.

For more information, visit reinsoflife.org or call (219) 874-7519.

—From staff reports

Annual Dinner/Auction fundraiser

Reins of Life will hosts its largest fundraiser of the year, the 21st Annual Kelsey Marie Meekhof Memorial Dinner & Auction, on Saturday, Feb. 9, at The Armory in South Bend. The event, held in memory of rider Kelsey Marie Meekhof, is sponsored by Tire Rack, Enbridge, Basney, The South Bend Clinic, and IOI Pay.

“The Greatest Evening” theme will feature a showmen atmosphere filled with table-side magic, caricature artist, circus photo booth, and live music; plus a silent and live auction with Las Vegas, Chicago, and Dayton Beach getaways among the offerings. The evening with begin at 4:30 p.m. (CST) with a cocktail hour and start of the silent auction.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit reinsoflife.org/events or call (574) 232-0853.

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