REDDINGTON — From the time Connor Hartsook started the therapeutic riding program at Reins to Recovery Inc. Therapeutic Riding Center to now, his mother said he is leaps and bounds better.
Throughout the past four years, Connor has ridden on every horse, from large breed to miniature.
At most weekly sessions, he does fine either riding on a horse or interacting with them on the ground. Sometimes, though, it takes a little bit of coaxing from the instructors and volunteers to get him near a horse.
“He has always been terrified of animals. We went to the fair and he wouldn’t do the pony ride when he was little bitty, so I’m the type of mom where if my kid doesn’t want to do something, it makes me want to do it even more,” his mom, Tawny Hartsook of Columbus, said. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to have him live his life afraid of something, so we’re going to face it head-on.’”
In the beginning, she said it would take two or three people to hoist him up on a large breed horse.
“I think he has ridden ever horse here, and finally, Ginger was the fit, and he does really well with Ginger on her. He does all of the steering her,” Tawny said. “But he still would never come near her.”
A couple of months ago, he switched to Gordon, a miniature therapy horse.
“Last week was awesome. He did great last week. He went up to Gordon. He was touching him. He was putting stickers on him,” Tawny said. “Riding, he has just progressed as a rider, but interaction-wise, last week was a good week. This week was a bad week.”
Being an animal lover herself, Tawny continues to have her son go to Reins to Recovery to get over the fear. She said it’s a great local resource to help people with special needs, victims of violence and abuse and at-risk youth.
“It’s huge,” she said. “I tell everybody about it. One of his little friends that we go to church with who is just three weeks older than him just started recently, and I’ve been telling her mom about it for a year. I think it’s amazing to have this resource here locally. The volunteers and the staff are amazing, too. Super ladies.”
To continue to have this local resource, Reins to Recovery conducts its largest annual fundraiser, The Mane Event, each year in August.
This year, it’s set for 4 to 8 p.m. Aug. 27 in the pavilion building at the Bartholomew County Fairgrounds, 750 W. County Road 200S, Columbus. The event, open to the public, will include a barbecue dinner, a live auction, a silent auction and face painting.
Admission to the 13th annual event is free, but freewill donations will be accepted for the dinner featuring pork barbecue sandwiches, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, dessert and drinks.
Easterling Entertainment will offer face painting from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., and the auctions will include items such as airline tickets, college football tickets, family fun packs, casino stays, overnight stays, tools and gift cards and gift baskets from local businesses and activities.
Items are posted on The Mane Event event page on Facebook under the discussion tab.
“We’re going to have some cool stuff coming, a pretty wide variety,” Executive Director Calli Johnson said.
Proceeds benefit the nonprofit organization’s general fund to support all of the programs and horse expenses.
“Pretty much, this is our one and done for a year’s worth of overhead,” Johnson said. “Last year, our goal was $15,000. This year, we’re aiming for $20,000.”
Reins to Recovery opened its doors in 2008 near Seymour and moved to property along U.S. 31 just north of Reddington in 2016. It offers therapeutic riding for children and adults with special needs, equine-assisted psychotherapy for ages 5 and up who are victims of violence and abuse and equine-assisted learning for at-risk youth with emotional disabilities and behavior issues.
After the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the annual fundraiser and halted some of the programming in 2020, Johnson said it’s a good feeling to bounce back and sustain the programs.
Therapeutic riding is building up, and Jenna Carlton is the new leader of that program. It mostly runs on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“That program is doing really well,” Johnson said. “We’re still always looking for those daytime volunteers. That’s kind of our everlasting obstacle.”
Since the pandemic started, Reins to Recovery has seen an increase in demand for the equine-assisted psychotherapy program.
“There is such a need still, and I don’t know if that will ever end, so we still have a wait list currently,” Johnson said. “Right now, we honestly could use another part-time licensed therapist to join our team to help with that wait list, so that’s something we’re looking into as that program grows.”
Reins to Recovery restarted its equine-assisted learning program in the fall of 2021 working with Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. students.
“They get bused out weekly, and we work on character skills, life skills with them that they can then transition from barn back into home or school,” Johnson said. “We would love to service more of our schools, even Jackson County schools, if we could ever get to that point where they are able to bus.”
A new feature of that program starting soon is a partnership with Columbus Regional Health’s Treatment and Support Center, a voluntary outpatient treatment program for adults with substance use disorders.
“We’re going to be working with addiction and recovery, so we’ll be traveling there, and that will start up here in about a month,” Johnson said. “They came to us saying there’s a need for resources, so we brainstormed and talked about how can we make this fit. We’re excited about that new opportunity.”
At the Reins to Recovery facility, Johnson said she recently received a grant from the Columbus Regional Health Foundation to turn the two-car garage into a classroom setting and large group meeting area.
“Which will be so beneficial for our school groups or some of these larger groups that we’re servicing to have a meeting space,” she said. “That will be really nice to have that going.”
The center’s horses — seven large breed and three miniatures — are doing well, too, and continue to be a crucial part of the organization along with the clients.
“It’s the success stories and the clients where all of the cool stuff is happening,” Johnson said.
If you go
What: Reins to Recovery Inc. Therapeutic Riding Center’s 13th annual fundraiser, The Mane Event, consisting of a dinner, live and silent auctions and face painting
When: 4 to 8 p.m. Aug. 27
Where: Bartholomew County Fairgrounds, 750 W. County Road 200S, Columbus
Cost: Dinner is a freewill offering
At a glance
Reins to Recovery Inc. Therapeutic Riding Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that offers therapeutic riding, equine-assisted psychotherapy and equine-assisted learning to children and adults with disabilities, victims of violence and abuse and at-risk youth.
The center is at 10861 N. U.S. 31 north of Reddington.
For information or to find out about volunteer opportunities, call 812-350-4864, visit reinstorecovery.org, email [email protected] or find the organization on Facebook.