Through the Eyes of Love
by NancyLee Honey Marsh Photography by Christian Lee
Through the Eyes of Love
“There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse.” —Ronald Reagan
Blue eyes glistened with unshed tears. Conversation momentarily halted, as Laura Kinsey struggled to express the emotions surrounding her packed daily schedule with Heroes on Horseback. She glanced down and then with renewed enthusiasm, “With all my years of riding and training horses, I never did therapeutic work before 2007 when I started with Heroes on Horseback. I am blown away by what it does!”
Heroes on Horseback is non-profit organization and a premier-accredited center of Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH), focused on providing safe, professional and ethical equine-assisted therapeutic activities for individuals in the Lowcountry with physical, mental or emotional disabilities. The program helps children and adults with disabilities, such as Autism, ADHD, Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Muscular Dystrophy, MS, and more, overcome barriers that challenge their everyday lives.
Having grown up on Frampton Plantation in the Lowcountry, Laura, who began riding at age 3, spent hours riding, training, and grooming. A natural for many positions, she enjoyed her work early on as an equestrian tech and instructor for equestrian programs at an exclusive residential development in South Carolina.
And then Heroes on Horseback found her. “She is a tremendous person. Compassionate, yet forceful in her teaching,” offered eight-year Executive Director Robert Lee. “Because she is such an excellent teacher, I don’t think the students even realize how hard they are working and how much they are learning.”
Horses have been utilized as therapeutic aids since the ancient Greeks used them for people who had incurable illnesses. Its earliest recorded mention is in the writings of Hippocrates, who discussed the therapeutic value of riding. Psychological benefits include increased independence, motivation and self-control. And so today, considerate horses and compassionate instructors blend their knowledge, patience and talents and help students not only achieve confidence, balance, relaxation, but also a new lease on life.
As Equestrian/Program Director, and Certified PATH International Instructor, Laura continuously witnesses amazing interactions between horse and human. “From age 6 to adults, indescribable miracles occur with our students,” she smiled. “Our horses are gentle, quiet, well-trained souls and so very intuitive. The six horses we have working with the students must tolerate lots of noise, people and confusion, and even toys being thrown around them, yet remain calm. They sense what they have to do, and do so with much patience and affection.”
Laura proudly related an example, “Recently, our now 24-year-old Lacy, a handsome Haflinger, decided it was time for her student, a 10-year-old who arrived in a wheelchair, to get started. After proper introduction, Lacy eased up to the wheelchair and gently removed the blanket situated over the child’s knees. We all looked at each other, thinking it was an accidental incident, so we replaced the blanket. With gentle persistence, Lacy once again tugged the blanket off as if to emphasize, ‘It’s time for us to go, little one.’”
It’s not only hours of classes requiring 60 to70 volunteers per session that Laura oversees. “There are so many important aspects of our programs, and of course, our number one priority is safety,” Laura, who holds a BA Degree in Sociology from Stetson University, pointed out. “We meet with teachers, students and parents, and handle mounds of paper work, including progress reports on every student. We also like to spend time to closely match our students with the horses that best meet their needs.”
As we talked, a young athlete suddenly ran to our table and threw his arms around Laura. She introduced Roshawn Young and touted that he participated in the Special Olympic Games in Greece and how he brought home both gold and bronze metals for the U.S. Beaming from ear to ear when I congratulated him on his accomplishments, he hugged Laura tighter and exclaimed, “Thanks to my trainer!”
Experience counts: Laura has served as assistant cross country fence judge for Rolex International 4-Star, three day event in Lexington, KY the last 18 years.
Proud Moment: Became a Certified Special Olympic Coach
Top Reward: Those smiles of appreciation from the students and hearing the joyous statement, “I did it!”
For further information: HeroesOnHorseback.org