An organization in Knox County is taking an outside-of-the-box approach to helping those with special needs.
The Shane Center for Therapeutic Horsemanship is the oldest therapeutic horse riding program in central Ohio, serving people ages 4 and up. This year, the facility is celebrating 25 years of helping people live their lives to the fullest.
The Shane Center — located at the Willow Farm in Centerburg, Ohio — has certainly grown over the years in size and in reputation.
“We started with a handful of students with a little pilot program and quickly outgrew that,” Karen Sanchez, executive director, founder, and instructor at the Shane Center, said. “[We] purchased this property in 1993.”
Now, the Shane Center is up to 70 volunteers who help people with special needs through horse therapy.
“[We work on] physical fitness, balance, coordination, fun, friendship …” Sanchez said. “We include a lot of cognitive goals, math, anything you can think of.”
The center gets its name from one of their best workers: a very special horse named Shane.
“He was the horse that really inspired me,” Sanchez said. “He was this backyard horse with no training that became a very special horse.”
Shane lived with a purpose for 37 years.
“When you think you know it all, he was that one horse that would just push the button that needs to be pushed,” Sanchez explained.
Colleen Shovelton is one of the clients whose life was changed by the Shane Center. She has been coming to the center for the last 20 years.
“She was very nonverbal,” said Colleen’s dad, Tom Shovelton. “We brought her out here. She really to to the horses and we believe it has been beneficial for her as far as development, but she also enjoys riding the horses and being a part of the program.”
Colleen, like all riders at the center, is paired with specially trained volunteers to make sure she gets the most out of her visits.
“It’s very personally rewarding as a dad to see your daughter benefit from a program,” Tom Shovelton said.
But what is it about horses that helps people with special needs?
“I think that they can read our energy and they often respond differently to those challenges,” Sanchez explained.
The horses also offer clients a perspective of them may never have otherwise.
“If they have difficulty walking — if they can’t walk even — then they can get up on a horse and have the freedom of walking,” said Ronda Seligman, a volunteer at the Shane Center.
It’s a simple freedom that was built on 25 years of hard work, but the payout far outweighs the cost.
“This is the best job in the world,” Sanchez said.
The Shane Center is always looking for volunteers. For more information about how to become a volunteer, visit their website. If you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation to the center, click here.