By Stephanie Bernaba
At first glance, Smithbridge Stables in Wakefield looks like any other horse farm in the state. Horses mill about, eating grass. It’s quite unassuming. But upon further inspection, the stables truly become something special.
Inside the Smithbridge Stables lies Horses Bring Hope, a non-profit organization, which supports the healing, growth, and quality of life for children with physical, emotional, neurological, and psychiatric issues. Horses Bring Hope provides riders of all skills and levels the chance to aspire to, advance, and participate in every aspect of horsemanship and riding.
Dina Mancini Godinez, President and Head Instructor of Horses Bring Hope, who has worked with horses her entire life, has seen it all. She’s seen children with abuse issues blossom to life while learning to ride. She’s seen kids with autism and ADD break out of their shells. She’s seen foster and adoptive kids learn to trust again – all through their relationships with horses. ________________________________________________________________________
Horses Bring Hope’s mission: Through the powerful, healing connection between horses and humans, HBH aims to educate and enrich the lives and spirits of individuals of all abilities. Utilizing an inclusive model, HBH strives to improve and rehabilitate the emotional and physical well-being of both humans and equines in a safe, caring, and professional environment.
When asked what she feels the main purpose of her organization is, Linda Mancini, Godinez’s mother said, “We just want to save kids before they get too old and fall through the cracks.” She said the program, which provides therapeutic riding as well as horsemanship (including grooming and cleaning paddocks), creates responsibility to another creature that forces troubled children to “put all issues on the back shelf.”
How horses have helped
I spoke with Tammy Stahlbush, of Warwick, parent of twenty-year-old Alex, who said that Horses Bring Hope was there when she had nowhere else to turn. Alex, who, after a family tragedy, had been through the state’s mental health system and schooled at her home due to her depression and anxiety, became an entirely new person as she moved through the program at Horses Bring Hope.
Stahlbush said that once her daughter began to build a bond with the horses, Alex’s life started to change. Alex matured when given responsibilities around the stable. This child, whom mental health providers determined should apply for Social Security Disability due to the acuity of her symptoms, has since graduated the program. She is now driving a car, working part-time, and volunteering with current riders. The family credits her new life to her involvement with the program.
“Horses Bring Hope gave my family our lives back,” said Stahlbush.
How Horses Bring Hope works
The program currently provides more than 30 lessons per week, and is in the middle of a busy riding season including weekly camps for kids. The caring staff is most interested in the quality of interaction between people and horses and are keenly aware that in order to conduct successful lessons, they need happy horses. The organization has tremendous respect for the care of their horses. “If the animals are taken care of, the kids are happy as can be,” said Mancini.
The program not only provides therapeutic riding lessons, but teaches the children how to talk to horses, learn their needs, and work together to meet their goals. Horses Bring Hope is a safe place for kids to learn, be nurtured, and spend time in nature. The family at Horses Bring Hope insisted that being out in nature, in and of itself, is one of its greatest features, allowing kids time, freedom, and space to heal, evolve, and grow.
“These horses don’t judge the kids and we don’t, either,” said head instructor Godinez.
Horses Bring Hope follows PATH International’s (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) standards for therapeutic riding, and is provided funding for qualified children by the Shriners. The organization’s volunteer staff also offers events and fundraisers to help meet expenses.
Volunteers include working students (students interested in physical or occupational therapy, veterinary medicine, or related fields) and individuals who donate their time and talents to both the horses and riders.
The program provides therapeutic (and private) lessons to children from all backgrounds and socioeconomic categories. “If a child would benefit from therapeutic riding, we help to find a way,” Godinez said.
Horse Bring Hope can help
If your child is struggling personally, medically, or academically, and traditional treatments have failed, contact Horses Bring Hope. Therapeutic riding may be the missing piece to your family’s puzzle.
If you are interested in sponsoring a horse or rider, enrolling your child, or inquiring about riding camps, contact Horses Bring Hope at (401) 265-1341 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Horses Bring Hope is located at 1081 Curtis Corner Road in Wakefield. Horsesbringhoperi.org.
Stephanie Bernaba, of Richmond, is an independent journalist specializing in life in the digital age and entertainment. View her recent work and digital portfolio at www.whiteorchidmedia.com.