Butterfly Dreams Farm Therapeutic Riding Program

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At a cheerful farm in Watkinsville, 14 horses with names like Pickle, Lilly and Kisses help children and adults gain mobility and social skills. Intelligent and patient, the gentle horses have worked with hundreds of riders since Butterfly Dreams Farm Therapeutic Riding Program opened in 2005.

“At Butterfly Dreams Farm, children who work so hard to navigate a world not made with them in mind have a chance to be free and joyful with their equine companions,” says Butterfly Dreams Board President Joey Bristol. “It’s good for children and adults with various mental and physical challenges as well as any suffering from stress or anxiety.”

In therapeutic riding or hippotherapy sessions, riders are matched with horses that leverage their gaits and empathic abilities to help riders develop balance, coordination and core strength which, in turn, strengthens brain muscles.

Hippotherapy targets children and adults with special needs like autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. A licensed therapist uses the horse’s movement to stimulate a rider’s sensory systems, helping riders with limited mobility or speech to develop coordination and strength. Therapeutic riding focuses on horse care and riding techniques as certified instructors monitor horse and rider interaction to boost communication and psychosocial skills. According to Bristol, studies show that a rider’s movement while on a horse provides neurological, psychosocial and emotional benefits while developing fine and gross motor skills, communication skills, sensory awareness and independence.

“Working with horses challenges riders to be patient and regulate their emotions while deepening empathy and increasing self-confidence,” says Bristol. “The positive environment at the farm allows riders to form strong connections with their two- and four-legged therapists.”

Butterfly Dreams client Lisa brings her two-year-old daughter Colbie to the farm weekly for hippotherapy. “She gets really excited when we pull up here,” says Lisa. “I see this helping her desire to communicate, and it’s helped her physically, too, with improved posture.”

Nikki brings her two-year-old son Nicholas. “It’s very interesting to see how his speech usage just opens up when he’s on a horse,” she says.

About 35 volunteers assist with the program, including University of Georgia students majoring in physical, occupational or speech therapy. “We’re a volunteer-led organization with a small budget and small staff that does big work,” says Bristol, expressing gratitude for a Jackson EMC Foundation grant that funded scholarships for riders who couldn’t afford to participate otherwise. “We try not to turn people away due to finances, and this helped us meet that goal.”

Butterfly Dreams Farm Founder Cat Thompson believes the farm is meeting its mission. “Our vision is for Butterfly Dreams Farm to be a place of healing and joy for every child and adult we serve,” she concludes.

Visit Butterfly Dreams Farm Website