Rising Tide Expands Equestrian Programs
On a recent afternoon, five people tended to Noble, a 27-year-old, large gray Percheron cross horse, in the barn at Rising Tide Therapeutic Equestrian Center in West Tisbury. While 10 hands weren’t necessary to prepare Noble for an upcoming riding lesson, his pull drew everyone in the barn.
Volunteer Ashley Loehn brushed his coat.
“You get the benefit of the connection while you’re doing it,” she said. “You can’t take your hands off of them once you’ve started, you know, and that’s their magic.”
Rising Tide’s mission is rooted in the idea that everyone can benefit from this ineffable connection between humans and horses. In keeping with this belief, the center recently expanded their programming.
Founded in 2007 by Vicky Thurber as a therapeutic barn, Rising Tide’s operations previously catered primarily to riders with disabilities. Now they have a wide variety of offerings for riders of all experience levels and abilities.
Hot to Trot is a recent addition for riders aged 55 and over. A Hatha yoga program will incorporate horses in both mounted and un-mounted poses. Trail rides and private and semi-private lessons are available to all.
“It’s not just for people who need special solutions in their lives . . . it’s for everyone, and our horses are able to give to everyone, which is what makes them remarkable,” said program director Linda Wanamaker.
Ms. Wanamaker is certified as a therapeutic riding instructor. She said horses have the ability to mirror the energy of those around them. To approach and interact with horses, riders have to settle themselves first. “So it helps you to center yourself, to calm yourself,” she said.
Lucy Menton said Rising Tide is a unique light in her son John’s life. John is 34 and has schizophrenia.
“He shuffled around to different group homes and day programs and never really fit in,” Ms. Menton said. She found Rising Tide in 2015 and John got involved shortly after. He volunteers twice a week.
“For 34 years he’s had nothing. But this program, just him going a couple days a week and volunteering with these gentle horses . . . has totally changed his life,” Ms. Menton said.
Frances Pizzella feels similarly. Ms. Pizzella started volunteering at Rising Tide in January 2016 because she rode horses as a child and wanted to reintroduce them to her life.
“I go out there, I’m scooping poop, it’s happy, I’m happy to do it,” she said.
In August, she began taking riding lessons with Ms. Wanamaker.
“I started to feel what the riders were feeling, just like a sense of accomplishment, and really just becoming close to the animals,” she said.
She added that riding and volunteering at Rising Tide helped with her winter blues. “In riding them, they’re protecting and helping you out. I just started feeling such a sense of trust with the animals, and I just wanted to be over there more and more, helping with the animals.” It’s hard to explain, she added, but the animals have a calming, non-judgmental presence that she finds incredibly relaxing.
Staff and volunteers at Rising Tide have countless stories about the healing powers of the five equines in their stables: a nonverbal autistic child spoke her first words on horseback, riding helped a grieving woman through her loss.
For those with physical disabilities, Ms. Wanamaker says the movement of horses is most similar to walking. She pairs riders with horses based on their unique physical needs. Camp Jabberwocky sends groups to the barn each summer. Rising Tide also works with groups from Windemere and the Center for Living.
To keep up with the center’s expanding programming, they have begun a series of fundraising events this summer. On Saturday, July 15 a Rock Your Boots event held at the Sailing Camp Park in Oak Bluffs from 6 to 9 p.m. There will be live music, dancing, auctions, food and drink. Tickets are $70.
“We can’t offer what we want to offer without outside funding,” said board president Susan Fieldsmith, looking out at the arena.
Noble was in the ring with 10-year-old Emily Gilley on his back. Emily was just starting to get the hang of trotting — a big accomplishment for her. All eyes followed the pair as they kicked up dusty circles together.
For more information, visit risingtidetec.org.