BENNINGTON >> People walking down Main Street Friday afternoon were greeted by an unusual sight — an eight year old miniature horse named Spice.
Spice was downtown with some of his friends, Mary Gerisch and Joey Moore, to promote Spirit Riders Equine Center, a non-profit that was registered this April. "We are a program for at-risk children and adults, those who have particular physical needs and those have individual learning styles," said Gerisch, who serves as the president of their board of directors, "Therapeutic riding programs have been particularly useful for those with Autism, PTSD, physical limitations, and many other psychological conditions."
The organization will be hosting a fundraiser at McDonalds on Northside Drive in Bennington next Wednesday, June 22, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. A portion of the proceeds of all sales during that time will be donated to the group. Members, including Spice, will also be on hand to accept donations. There will be a raffle for various gifts, including a free lesson.
Almost everyone who was exploring downtown on Friday afternoon stopped to pet Spice, take pictures, and chat with Gerisch and Moore about their organization.
Moore works as the organization's executive director. She has an educational background in equine therapy and equine-assisted learning, and previously the Ride N Shine therapeutic riding program in Shaftsbury, which closed when its founder, Jane Norrie, retired.
"The program itself attempts to provide individual learning, not only about horses, but about relationship and communications skills," said Gerisch, "We attempt to foster independence tempered with caring, and self-sufficiency and confidence in all of our riders. The lesson plans are built around whatever the individual's particular needs happen to be. We have had particular success with people who have autism. There are students who were non-verbal or limited in verbal interaction who have already improved their confidence and communication skills. It is truly amazing to see the gift these horses bring when they help heal humans."
Spirit Riders is operated out of Higher Ground Farm in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., which has an indoor arena for riding, as well as an outdoor ring. They have eight horses, said Gerisch, most of whom are rescues. Besides Spice, the horses are Petra, a Norwegian Fjord, Dinky, a Shetland Pony, Star, a thoroughbred, Bugsy, an American Paint, Fire, a thoroughbred, Thunder a Chincoteague Pony, and Kaianne, an Arab/quarter horse cross. "They have overcome trauma in their own lives to become kind, loving gentle spirits, and they can help humans to do the same," said Gerisch.
Spirit Riders offers private, semi-private, and group lessons for people ages 3 and up. They will also be hosted a summer intensive lesson series, which is one week long, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., and which will include horse related games, crafts, and education about horses and relationships. To learn more, you can email them at email@example.com, or visit their Facebook page, as their website is still under construction.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.