by Rachel Scott McDaniel
Bill and Priscilla Darling were called to create a therapeutic riding center with the mission to help children and adults with disabilities move beyond their boundaries through the healing power of the horse and the dedication of a professional and caring community.
Founded in November 2007, ManeGait is a member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH), a network of 850 equine therapy centers worldwide with the mission of promoting safe and effective therapeutic riding practices. ManeGait has achieved the highest designation as a PATH Premier Accredited Equine Center.
Therapeutic riding provides a multidimensional movement pattern similar to the human gait. This motion influences the rider’s body, leading to increased flexibility, core strength, fine motor skills and intellectual functioning. Susan Hansen, chief development officer at ManeGait, says, “What makes equine therapy unique is that it does not feel like traditional therapy to our riders. It is a rewarding sport, and ManeGait provides a supportive environment for our riders to reach their potential.”
ManeGait provides weekly therapeutic horsemanship programs to 140 adults and children with physical, emotional, cognitive, sensory and behavioral disabilities. Certified instructors lead the programs with the assistance of 20 skilled therapy horses and a team of more than 275 volunteers that participate as horse-leaders or side-walkers for the riders. Some enjoy caring for the therapy horses and maintaining stables, while others help with administrative tasks. Continuing relationships among the staff, volunteers, riders and their families have also created a community of friendship and support.
Therapeutic Horseback Riding is ManeGait’s core riding program. It comprises weekly private or small group riding lessons tailored to the needs of each rider. Other programs include Therapeutic Carriage Driving and the ManeGait to Freedom veterans program. The Innovative GaitWay to the Brain program incorporates cognitive exercises into the framework of equine therapy.
ManeGait strikes an important balance of providing a professional level of service, while also ensuring a personal experience for the riders. Class size is limited to no more than five riders per lesson. Recognizing that rider families spend a significant proportion of their income caring for a child with disabilities, they are committed to offsetting the true cost of therapy with a reduced fee structure. Less than 16 percent of ManeGait’s operating budget is funded through rider fees. Individual donors, corporate sponsorships, foundation grants and community events generate the remaining revenue.
“Through our therapy programs, we have witnessed riders take their first steps, speak their first words and achieve milestones once thought impossible,” Hansen notes. Looking to the future, ManeGait has a vision to humbly answer the call to expand their reach and serve more people. They plan to grow their core programs, increase the number of riders served by the center and support the growth of the therapeutic riding industry.
ManeGait is located at 3160 N. Custer Rd, in McKinney. For more information, visit ManeGait.org.