Newport Beach is not known for its equestrian activities, but we do indeed have a plethora of horses in our city. Most are recreational animals, but a handful belong to one of the best kept secrets in Newport Beach: Back Bay Therapeutic Riding Club.
The Back Bay Therapeutic Riding Club is dedicated to providing an avenue for improving the quality of life of children, youth, and adults with physical and developmental disabilities through recreational and structured horseback riding and other unique therapeutic activities.
The non-profit organization is a member of PATH, Intl., the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship. The small staff includes certified Therapeutic Riding Instructors and Equine Specialists in Mental Health & Learning, as well as volunteers who assist with everything from lessons to grooming to cleaning stalls.
For those who need lesson, therapeutic riding provides physical, cognitive and psychological benefits that help to improve balance, joint mobility, coordination, muscle tone, posture, socialization and communication.
Back Bay Therapeutic Riding Club charges modest fees for its lessons, which go to supporting feed and care of the animals, but much of its operating funding comes from the annual “Rocking for their Riders” fundraiser to be held on May 19, from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Merrell Estates in the Newport Back Bay.
This outdoor fundraising affair includes silent and live auctions, country music entertainment, delicious food and lively libations.
The goal of this spectacular sunset event is to bring needed awareness and support for the merits of therapeutic riding.
Alice Krezymon is a PATH certified instructor at Back Bay Therapeutic Riding Club who invited me to visit their facility, which is tucked away in a small housing tract near Newport’s back bay.
She is also the secretary, and is helping to organize the fundraiser.
“The proceeds all go to this facility,” she said. “Horses are expensive. There are medical bills, shoeing, food, vitamins, and we’re rebuilding the stalls. Just the frames for the stalls are $9,000.”
Student fees do help cover some expenses, she added, but the facility needs to hire an administrative person, which means more donations are needed.
“The riders learn how to behave around animals and care for them, feed them, being safe and respectful,” said Krezymon.
And of course they ride horses. Lessons are usually provided in the small arena adjacent to the stables. For each rider there are three people—one leading the horse, and one on each side of the horse.
So what is the benefit of therapeutic riding?
It can improve balance, joint mobility, coordination, muscle tone and posture. When mounted astride a walking horse, the rider’s body experiences an almost exact replication of human walking. The horse’s movement is three-dimensional, up and down, side to side and back and forth. All three of these dimensions are synchronized in a precise and repetitive pattern which is much the same as the human gait.
The rider, when sitting atop the walking horse, responds to the motions with improved body symmetry, improved muscle tone, increased head and neck control and improved balance. The horse’s movement also provides the rider with the strong sensory input to the areas of the brain that register touch and motion.
Games are often incorporated into the program to challenge and improve fine motor skills and because riding is an aerobic activity it increases oxygen input and cardiovascular efficiency.
Riders at Back Bay Therapeutic Riding Club range in age from 3 to 80. Currently, 32 people are signed up to take lessons on a weekly basis.
“The horses are trained to be gentle, mellow and very sweet, so they are good for any lessons,” said Krezymon, although the movements will be different depending on the size of the horse. “The little pony is bumpy and it’s harder to keep balance, while the big horses are large and have slow movements. A kid who needs more time to process, we put them on a big horse. Someone who needs a lot of attention and needs to be challenged we put them on a pony.”
According to Krezymon, half of the horses are rescued, the rest are unwanted due to various issues, but they’re perfect for the Back Bay Therapeutic Riding Club.
“These horses are wise and mellow, really calm. We pick the rescued horses carefully. The donkeys are sweet and gentle, anyone can learn how to groom them, they love kids.”
Tickets to the “Rocking for their Riders” fundraiser on May 19 are $150 per person. Learn more about the Back Bay Therapeutic Riding Club, make donations and purchase tickets to the event at backbaytrc.org or call (949) 474-7329.