NEWFANE >> At the Southern Vermont Therapeutic Riding Center, disabilities are being overcome everyday using a surprising technique, one whose foundation is grounded in a cooperative partnership between horse and instructor to aid the patient.

Harbored within the regal grounds of Winchester Stables, the work done here is only possible through the collaborative leadership of the instructors, the steadfast willingness of horses to interact with patients, and the nonstop dedication of volunteers who are the lifeblood of the organization. Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapies or "horse-assisted therapies" are relatively new "evidence-based" psychotherapy techniques whose origins are found in Europe in the late 1950s.

Lis Hartel, an award-winning dressage rider from Denmark won championships in 1943 and 1944 before contracting polio in late 1944. The affliction permanently paralyzed her from the knees down as well as affecting her arms and hands, all vital for her sport. Despite her severe disability, Hartel found victory through EAAT and triumphed to win a silver medal in 1952 and the gold in 1953, 1954, 1956 and 1959.

So profound were the results, that by 1969, the organization designed to promote safe and effective therapeutic riding throughout the United States and Canada was founded and less than a year after that, the first therapeutic riding center — Cheff Therapeutic Riding Center — was built especially for the purpose of serving those with special needs in North America. The inclusive nature of the therapy had been found to be helpful to individuals of all ages and variety of challenges in experiencing physical, emotional and cognitive rewards.


Lorna Young, former Cheff graduate and teacher and now SVTRC program director and instructor, said that education had been key in the evolution of the industry and even now, continues to play a large part in the success of the Southern Vermont Therapeutic Riding Center.

As a proud member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship Int'l, SVTRC provides educational opportunities throughout the year, each eight weeks long and with its own distinct focus, including therapeutic riding, horsemanship, and vocational education.

In the midst of the rewards, organization and providers must always be careful to protect the resources which make the interventions with patients a success. In human service domains, the threat of "burn out" for health providers is very real and for equine-assisted services, there is a responsibility to protect the long-term health of the horse and support their role in the therapy process. Recognizing the need to provide health and well-being for the horse as well, SVTRC created a support program for the animal's needs named Barn Buddies.

Volunteers are the driving force behind much of the change at the Southern Vermont Therapeutic Riding Center and by using the Barn Buddies Program, visitors and friends can help support the animals who are partners in providing lasting change for countless people.

With varying levels of participation, those interested can even pick a horse to help, choose how much help to provide (medicine, food, or board) and visit, groom and hug your sponsored horse.

For those who are interested in learning more about the Southern Vermont Therapeutic Riding Center, visit or

Southern Vermont Therapeutic Riding Center is hosting its Annual Holiday Party and Silent Auction Fundraiser on Dec. 12 at the Green Mountain Orchard in Putney, from 1 to 3 p.m. In addition to the silent auction, there will be a cookie swap and sleigh rides.

Sponsors and donors to our Silent Auction currently include: Dover Saddlery, Equine Organix, Weaver Leather, Montana Silversmiths, Pat Fay (Tickets to Hermitage Ski Club and Wine/Chocolate Gift Basket), Special-Tee Designs, Village Yoga, Mary Meyer Stuffed Toys, Jess Dickey (photography package), Cheshire Horse, West River Inn, Agway, Riverbend Farm Supplies, Amy Facto (Painting), Angela Watson (Handbag), Diane Bower (TBD), Lorna Young (maple syrup), Sam Schiela (antique saddle purse), Nancy Cain/Against the Grain Gourmet (Gift Certificate and case of pizzas), Ilene Wax (Healing Touch session and NY cheesecake), Julie Isaacs (riding breeches), Kathy and Dave Larsen (Apron), Jane Amaral (Indoor/Outdoor Herb Planter), and Amber Thibodeau (Jamberry gift basket), with more auction items being added all the time.

If you have an item or service that you'd like to donate to the silent auction, call 802-221-4409 or email Amber at

Jay Wicht can be contacted at