A local non-profit organization — dedicated to helping people with physical, social, and mental health needs — will soon be launching a new program for those who can't physically make it to their riding center.
The Naples Therapeutic Riding Center (NTRC) plans to take the therapeutic benefits of horses to worksites and organizations through its new miniature horse therapy program.
"You really cannot be around a miniature horse without smiling," said Missy Lamont, Executive Director, Naples Therapeutic Riding Center.
Thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, the Naples Therapeutic Riding Center was able to welcome two new miniature horses, Toulmin and Itty Bitty, into their horse therapy herd.
"One of the major reasons why I was interested in launching this program was when we were closed due to COVID and weren't able to bring people to our campus," said Lamont.
Lamont says NTRC had to close down for two months due to the pandemic, but after slowly reopening during the summer, they realized the need to become more mobile.
"Although we’re fully open now, the opportunity to take horses off-site to facilities, to homes, to hospitals, to rehabilitation centers, to schools, it opens the door to people who are not able to come to our center," said Lamont.
Lamont says the program intends to bring happiness to children and adults with emotional, social, and mental health needs by providing the connection that comes from being around horses.
"Having the opportunity to bring a smile to someone's face who may not be able to leave their bed, who may not be able to leave their home, who may be experiencing depression or anxiety is something we're very excited to be able to do," said Lamont.
While their other 14 therapy horses are used for therapeutic horseback riding, the minis will not be.
"They are going to be able to pet them, they're going to be able to be around these animals, they're going to be able to brush them," said Lamont.
The new miniature horse program's long-term goal is to develop multiple mental health and wellness remote visitation models targeted for people currently underserved in Collier County.
"They are so calm and relaxed; they love attention," said Rachel Vaa, Equine Resource Manager, Naples Therapeutic Riding Center.
The minis are still going through training but will soon be ready to hit the road.
"We've been getting them exposed to different people with bus carts, and wheelchairs, and different machines and sounds, so that way by the time we go to the hospitals and nursing homes, they're going to be used to all those different sounds and equipment," said Vaa.
The miniature therapy horse program is set to kick off in February officially, but NTRC is already taking applications for those interested.
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