Kim Gustley and Sue Miller, two equine and child development experts, walk on either side of the Shetland pony Joey comes to see each week. As a three-year-old with Downs Syndrome, the rides are important for Joey, teaching him balance and a sense of direction, while also strengthening his core muscles and communication skills.
This is the mission of Victory Gallop — to use the relationship between horses and humans to make a profound difference in children’s lives and well-being. And for both Gustley and Miller, it’s their dream job.
The pair met while working with the horses on Raymond Firestone’s estate.
“[He was] a great believer in horses helping humans,” Gustley says, recalling how the experience prompted her and Miller to dream about one day having their own horse therapy program.
In 1995, that dream came true, and next year, the Bath-based therapeutic center will celebrate 20 years of helping hundreds of children and their families.
“They get the opportunity to have their kids come out and be accepted for who they are, all the time,” Gustley says.
Miller adds that regular sports are difficult for the children they see, but that the equine therapy gives them the ability to learn and excel.
“Out here, they can succeed, they can be challenged, they can compete against each other,” she says. “And it’s OK if you’re having a bad day out here.”
Laurie Schueler, a parent of a student and Board member of Victory Gallop, brought her daughter to classes at the center when she realized that her then two-year-old wasn’t developing language skills. Schueler says her daughter, now in third grade, and is very talkative.
“Sometimes, we can’t get her to stop talking,” she says.
In addition to the therapeutic effects of the horses, children also learn basic educational foundations. While riding Rufus, Joey also learns how to count and recite the alphabet, which is in large letters on the walls of the indoor arena he rides in.
The program is enthusiastically supported by more than 40 volunteers who help prep the horses and give encouragement and praise to the children.
“A lot of time, [they] make a huge difference in the lives of the child they work with,” Miller says. “We could not run Victory Gallop [without them].”
To find out more about Victory Gallop, visit their Web site or contact them at (330) 666-0300.