BROOKINGS, S.D. (AP) — For more than 15 years, Special Training And Riding Skills - aka STARS - has been around in the Brookings area with a simple mission for those who use its services: "To help them benefit from riding. The more rides that they have, the more helpful it is to them."

On a recent Thursday, a clear, warm and beautiful afternoon for being outdoors, riders and volunteer assistants who make the program possible, were enjoying their therapeutic time with the horses at Dick Halstead's Circle H Stables.

In simple layman's terms, Program Director Linda Bohlmann explained that STARS is a "therapy-based riding program that helps with muscle tone, relaxing of muscles. We have some riders who are wheelchair-bound; they benefit the most, because riding a horse is the closest they would get to actually walking and using their muscles.

"We can see it right in front of us. The muscles start to relax and the range of motion going down from real tight to riding more comfortably.

"So the more they can ride, the better physically they're going to be."

Bohlmann explained that STARS accommodates all types of disabilities: physical, emotional and social, as long as they have some sort of an identified program from their school, whatever that might be. The qualifications are in place, because STARS is partially funded through United Way donations.

She added, "We can go as far as if they're diabetic. We will stretch to that."

___

Over the years, riders have come from Volga, Estelline, White and Aurora, the Brookings Register (http://bit.ly/1nGYimz ) reported.

Volunteers have come from as far away as Arlington. In addition to all the workers, the horses are volunteered for the program. Horses presently in the program include Dolly, Duke, El Shade, Maxwell, Woody and Two Bits.

"Pretty much they find us," Bohlman said of those drawn to STARS. "We have a website and we have a Facebook page. We get a lot of young people from SDSU to come and volunteer."

As to the age range of STARS riders, she noted, "The youngest I had was three and my oldest was 67."

This was the second year of adding a fall session, with rides still scheduled for Oct. 1 and 8. Ride dates are driven by weather for the selected dates. Each rider is guaranteed seven rides.

"We're here for the kids; we're here for the people, the community," Bohlmann said.

___

One of the day's riders was Jennifer Groen's daughter, Sophie, 5, who has cerebral palsy. Her mother said STARS "has really helped with her balance somewhat. She loves it."

Dominic Knudson, 9, is in the second session of his first summer. His mother, Nikki Knudson, said, "It's a good way to get him to relax. When you ride a horse, you use over a 100 different muscles and bones that you usually don't use; so it's good therapy. We really like the program."

For Kacy Freesemann, her twin sons Talan and Hunter, 6, are in their second year in STARS. "They have a great time here, lots of fun," she said. "It really gets them around other kids and other people to help them socialize.

"They're non-verbal autistic, so any type of typical situations we can get them in is beneficial for them."

___

Information from: Brookings Register, http://www.brookingsregister.com/