As a 5-year-old, Kelly Arbaut was like many young girls – she loved horses. By 13, she owned one, and in 2004, she was using horses to therapeutically help special needs kids.
Today, with two other volunteers, Path International-certified riding instructors, Arbaut operates Kelly Therapeutic Riders (KT Riders), offering mounted and unmounted riding lessons on one of five horses mostly to children with special needs. Although they also serve some children without special needs, most children she works with have autism, Downs Syndrome, spina bifida, brain injury, Attention Deficit Disorder, or another mental health diagnosis.
Instructors offer lessons three times a week, teaching students how to ride, maintain their balance, improve their social skills, and augment their cognitive abilities. Group or private lessons are available with parents mostly choosing group lessons to strengthen their children’s social capabilities. In addition to weekly lessons, KT Riders offers spring and summer camps, as well as participation in horse shows.
Since its 2004 launch, Arbaut says, her program has impacted more than 100 children, and currently it serves upwards of 20 children each week. Even though most parents pay for the program, Arbaut says, she does give away lessons to less fortunate children she believes will benefit from participating.
“I do believe a horse can save a child or a family. I believe it with all my heart,” she says. “It’s not something you can really say with words. It’s something people must experience and feel. And, I just know when I see these kids out there with the smiles on their faces, it’s amazing for them. I can’t imagine it not existing.”
Within the next 10 years, Arbaut says she hopes to secure enough support and funding to begin paying her volunteer instructors a salary and covering all lesson costs, allowing children to participate in the program for free.