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Chester County Press

Spotlight on Reins of Life

01/04/2015 08:08PM ● By Kerigan Butt

Courtesy photo Reins of Life is marking its 20th anniversary this year.

Q: Reins of Life is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary this year. What are your thoughts as the organization reaches this milestone?

A: It’s a miracle, a joy, and a gift in my life to have been involved for 20 years in the creation and development of this extraordinary organization. Reins of Life… makes a difference in the lives of so many special children in our community. Not to mention the difference it makes with our staff, volunteers and the extended families. Everyone is touched in some positive way when they are involved here. Let’s not forget our therapy horses, who now have a job in the world that contributes to the health and well-being of all involved with their kind and gentle spirit. The special riders benefit greatly from the physical three-dimensional movement the horse provides.

Courtesy photo This is one of Judy Hendrickson's favorite photos that she has collected during the last 20 years with Reins of Life.


Q: Can you explain the services that Reins of Life provides?

A: Reins of Life provides equine-assisted therapy on horseback and on the ground, where individuals with special needs come to ride a horse, and receive a physical therapy experience. The riders learn how to groom a horse, put on the horse’s tack and equipment, learn horsemanship skills, and the sport of horseback riding. While therapeutic horseback riding was once thought to be just for individuals who couldn’t walk, or talk, we are now seeing the benefits of riding a horse for people with social challenges. Disabilities served are varied and may include, Down syndrome, autism, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, Attention Deficit Disorder, emotional challenges in school and family, as well as those with learning disabilities, speech, hearing or visual impairments.

Q: What are some of the accomplishments of the organization that you're most proud of?

A: When we were able to move in to our “forever home”, it was a huge milestone for us that I never thought was possible.  In 2008, my husband John and I bought our nine-acre property in Landenberg and for the first time we could feel like this is home, and it really was our forever home for not only us, but for Reins of Life and for our therapy horses. We vowed to have them with us for the rest of their lives. Reaching 20 years with our organization is another huge milestone for us. When businesses were struggling in a down economy, and nonprofit organizations struggle to survive, Reins of Life kept going and thriving, and we had our biggest year in 2012 with our annual benefit fundraiser, “The Mane Event” at Oberod. This is our signature event.

Courtesy photo The riders benefit in a variety of ways from being able to care for and ride the horses.


Q: Tell us about the annual fundraiser that is set to take place on Nov. 2.

A: Reins of Life will hold our 13th annual signature event, “The Mane Event” at Oberod, on Nov. 2, from 7 p.m. to 11 pm in Centreville, Del.  The location of this gala event will be held in an old Dupont Estate, called Oberod, and will feel like you’ve stepped back in old time elegance. We will have a live and silent auction with upscale gift items, vacations, a beach home, estate jewelry, art, fine jewelry, golf outings and so much more. Catering is by Janssen’s of Greenville, Del. There will be live music, an auctioneer, and an open bar to include wines from South Africa, favorite wines and beer, and soft beverages.

Courtesy photo The horses' gentle nature helps the youngsters interact with them.


Q: Can you talk about the benefits of therapeutic riding? 

The benefits of therapeutic horseback riding are enormous. For those individuals with physical challenges, the horse becomes the medical intervention treatment method, by strengthening weak, underdeveloped muscles, improving balance and coordination, and using the horse as the rider’s legs for transport, when they cannot walk on their own. These individuals can ride a horse and go to places they would not ordinarily be able to go with a wheelchair—they can go for a ride in the woods and share a physical activity with siblings and family members. Riders with emotional or social challenges gain a feeling of self-confidence, self-esteem and motivation from being able to ride on such a large animal and feel the sense of control over something bigger than them. Learning to ride horseback a skill they had not thought they could master.

Courtesy photo There are plenty of smiles at Reins of Life. Volunteers are dedicated to helping those who take part in the program.


Q: What is the biggest challenge in your occupation?

A: Juggling the diversified tasks of running a successful business on your own, with no assistant, no intern, and keeping up. Fundraising is critical and essential for a non-profit organization and maintaining a large pool of dedicated volunteers on a weekly, monthly basis and making sure they love to be here. Maintaining the volunteer schedule is like a full-time job in and of itself, with 30 active volunteers. We need new volunteers all the time and invite anyone who likes the great outdoors, farm life, being around children and horses and who have warm open hearts to join us. Volunteers should be in somewhat good physical condition to be able to keep up with a trotting horse around the arena and act quickly on their feet. Experience is not required, but we love when we hear from people with horse experience, this is very helpful to our program.  Age requirements are 16 & above with no prior experience, and under 16 must have current sound experience with horses, or a parent must accompany the underage volunteer and join us as well. Contact Reins of Life at, or email direct to [email protected], or call 610-274-3300.

Courtesy photo Reins of Life has been providing equine-assisted therapy for 20 years.


Q: What about your job gives you the greatest satisfaction?

A: When the kids start singing while they’re riding, making up their own songs and really belting it out, we crack up from them, and the smiles melt us. The riders who really go for it when it’s a struggle for them to stay balanced on the horse and they try their hardest to keep up and stay up, and watching my staff go all the way with them, moves me to tears! We have one little boy who cannot walk on his own, so after he rides we put him in his walker to watch him take more steps week after week, improving the distance from the week before, walking toward his mother and his little brother calling his name and watching him strive for that very next step. It is a very moving experience to see how much the horse and the program have made this difference in his life.  It’s also exciting to get to have siblings riding together at Reins of Life. We are the only program of its kind that offers a “sibling riding” program.  This year we have six families of siblings riding together. One or both children are disabled, and the ones with a typical child in the pair are now not left out watching from the sidelines, and can finally do an activity together. They otherwise could not be able to do this because of the physical or emotional challenges present.

Courtesy photo The horses' gentle nature helps the youngsters interact with them.


Q: You mentioned that you like having Reins of Life based here. What is your favorite spot in Landenberg?

A: Our beautiful property of course, which dates back to 1833, and my husband and I do love our walks and our hikes at the White Clay Preserve with our dog, Colby. We have had the horses in the Preserve as well, enjoying the many horse trails available just a stone’s throw away from our home.