Therapeutic Riding Center eyes permanent home

Nov. 09, 2013 @ 09:14 PM

After bouncing around to a dozen different farms in its 36-year history, the N.C. Therapeutic Riding Center is looking to make a farm in western Orange County its permanent home.

The nonprofit offers horse-and-pony-assisted therapy for children and adults with physical, emotional mental or social disabilities.
Since 2008, it’s leased a 28-acre farm on Nicks Road. It’s now looking to buy the property.
“Over the years, (the center) hop-scotched to where there was an interested and sympathetic and helpful farm owner,” said Robin Barefoot, the former chair of the center’s board and a volunteer who helps the center with legal and policy issues. “That has in some ways enabled us to keep growing. As you can imagine, it is also a limiting factor.”
Barefoot said the group is early in the process of trying to buy the farm. As part of that effort, the center has applied to Orange County for a special-use permit that would allow for the operation of a riding center on the property, which is zoned for agricultural residential use.
The Orange County Board of Adjustment is holding a public hearing regarding the request Nov. 11.
Barefoot said center officials want to get approval of the special-use permit before making a purchase to make sure they’re able to continue using the farm as a riding center.
“It’s one thing to lease a property and to use it, and to be told by the county that you can use it that way, because then you can stop,” she said. “It would make no sense to buy a property that we’re not 100 percent certain that we would be able to conduct our operations on,” she also said.
The nonprofit offers private and group riding lessons with eight horses and ponies, said Annie Baggett, the center’s executive director, and also operates a summer camp. For its current fall session, she said the center has about 60 riders.
The center works with children and adults with cerebral palsy, autism, chronic illness, anxiety, or with other physical, emotional, mental or social challenges, she said.
It has four part-time staffers therapeutic riding instructors who work on a contract basis, and an all-volunteer board, she said.
“Oftentimes, the people who come to us are families whose children or the loved ones they care for have perhaps hit a threshold when it comes to clinical therapy,” she said.
Riding mimics the natural human walking gait, she said, and can help a rider to stretch, to improve his or her balance, and to build muscle. She also said the interaction with horses can also help with confidence and focus, particularly for children with autism.
“There is something intuitive about a horse that really dials in on that individual, and oftentimes, children with autism that may not talk to individuals, they may not talk to another human being, but they will talk to their horse,” she said. “They see that engagement, if it will happen with a horse, eventually the aim is that it will happen with their family members and the broader community.”
The center wants to be able to grow its services, she said, and sees the purchase as a way to do that.
“When you are an organization that has bounced around to a dozen different farms, you reach a certain level of growth for the number of riders at a barn that is hosting you, what would happen is, we would push the envelop on our capacity at a particular barn, and be asked to find another location,” Baggett said.
Barefoot said the center is at the “beginning of the journey” to buy the property. She also said the details of the property owners’ offer to sell the property are not public. “If and when” the center acquires the property, she said it would consider a campaign to raise money.
“To purchase the farm has been kind of a very long process, and very much a dream that we are aiming to realize in a very near future, but there’s an awful lot that has to happen,” Baggett said. “And funding the commercial use permitting, that’s just a step in the process,” she added.