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Chester County Press

Reins of Life offers a world of opportunities to those facing challenges

05/03/2021 07:09PM ● By Steven Hoffman

The restrictions Covid-19 placed on the world were even more dramatic for those already suffering from the isolation of physical, emotional, or mental disabilities. As the world begins to return to normal activities, Reins of Life in Landenberg is again offering a world of opportunities with horses for riders facing challenges.

“We anticipate we’re going to start with our normal seasonal schedule in the spring,” said founding director Judy Freedman Hendrickson. “Families are reaching out, they’re anxious because they couldn’t do anything last year, and because we’re an outside activity, there’s a lot more freedom and it feels more safe because we’re not indoors.”

Precautionary guidelines are closely followed. The forehead temperature is taken for every person arriving at the farm. Everyone is required to wear a mask. Staff wear rubber gloves when working with riders in the arena. 

The mission statement of Reins of Life is to “enhance the physical, emotional, and cognitive abilities of children, young adults, and adults with special needs and life challenges through the experience of equestrian therapy in a pleasant and natural environment.”

Based in Landenberg, the non-profit organization has been active since 1993. Reins of Life is a well recognized and very successful therapeutic riding program for children and adults with special needs as well as life challenges. Over the years, the program has helped clients with diverse needs make tremendous strides in improving the quality of their lives through therapeutic horseback riding.

Interested families that meet criteria for the program visit the farm for a meet-and-greet. A limited number of scholarships are available.

“We see if the individual is suitable for the program,” Hendrickson explained. “They meet the horses, they pet them, they get a tour of the barn and see how it works. We’ll serve anybody who wants to be in the program provided they meet the criteria and they have a doctor’s note saying it is safe for them to ride a horse.”

With the help of a leader to direct the horse, and side walkers to help stabilize the rider, instructors take the physically challenged rider through a variety of fun exercises to improve their mobility and balance while they feel the warmth and the rhythmic motion of the horse beneath them. Benefits can include improvements to gross and fine motor skills, self-awareness, body strength, balance and coordination. Children feel a new sense of mobility as well as the psychological boost that comes from controlling a large animal. 

For the riders with mental or emotional challenges, the horses offer unconditional love and support. Looking at the world from the back of a horse gives confidence while the rider learns to build a relationship with their mount. Many times, riders experience increased feelings of independence, improved self-image, confidence, attention span, and motivation.

Therapeutic riding programs have been shown to benefit those will cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism, spina bifida, Angelman syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, learning disabilities, hearing impairments, visual impairments, depression, PTSD, ADHD, anxiety, behavioral issues, substance abuse, eating disorders, and more. 

The program also helps children facing life challenges, such as bullying at school, loss of a family member, pet or friend, divorce, or lack of social skills. 

“It could be a child at school who’s being bullied, now they have an issue because they’re faced with an emotional situation they don’t know how to deal with,” Hendrickson offered as an example.

Reins of Life also offers a unique sibling riding program where special equestrians share this unique experience with their siblings to create a greater nurturing experience together and promote family bonding. Now they have a chance to have something in common they can share and be proud of.

Reins of Life strives to achieve physical development, socialization and learning through fun equine activities and riding for participants. This will instill a great sense of success, confidence, and accomplishment in the riders. Every program is individually designed for the rider’s specific abilities and goals. Riding skills are taught in a safe, secure, caring environment. Reins of Life special equestrians never age-out of the riding program so they can continue to benefit even after reaching adulthood. 

Even though the pandemic limited access to the program for most riders, supporters looked toward the future and moved forward with improvements. Eagle Scout candidate Kai Sharp of Landenberg Troop 62 contributed materials and labor to build a run-in shed in the pasture so all of the horses have a place to shelter from the sun and rain while enjoying time outdoors. 

“That was super-exciting that we had that done and we were so grateful for it,” Hendrickson said.

Unfortunately, a bigger project, a long-planned addition to the barn that will provide a handicapped accessible restroom, tack room with laundry, and a wash stall, had to be put on hold because of the pandemic and the escalating costs for materials and construction. Hendrickson is hopeful the project can go forward.

“To properly run the kind of business we are doing effectively and efficiently, you need the resources,” Hendrickson said. “It has been a necessary project for many years. We’re praying it will finally happen.”

Funding is important to every non-profit organization, and so are volunteers. In the case of Reins for Life, volunteers working at the farm get to see the results of the program.

“People believe in the work because it works,” Hendrickson said. “They see it firsthand when they’re here volunteering with the kids. They see it from the testimonials, they see it from the photographs. They see the smiles and the connection. People leave here for the better, feeling like they made a difference for these kids by volunteering.”

There are never more than two students together in a class. Currently there are twelve lessons given each week, with riders at the farm 36 to 39 weeks of the year. Reins of Life has three lesson horses in residence with a fourth being added to the barn this spring. Hendrickson also hopes to expand to provide sessions four days a week.

“We always are looking to have growth with our program,” Hendrickson said. 

For more information, find Reins of Life on Face Book or visit the website at