Southern Reins was founded in July of 2015 to serve people with disabilities in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas. Their mission is to serve individuals with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities and hardship by providing equine activities and therapeutic riding to empower, inspire, nurture and succeed. We recently invited Executive Director, Jill Haag, to tell us more about this unique Mid-South organization.
Orion: We would love for you to tell us a story that will help our readers understand the impact Southern Reins has in our community. Could you share with us one of your most memorable experiences that would be an example of this?
Jill Haag: We received the email below from a mom after her son’s first lesson at Southern Reins. Their story is one among many that shows the positive impact of therapeutic riding . . . and how horses can touch the lives of people with disabilities in dramatic and positive ways:
“We have always wanted Parker to be involved with a therapeutic riding program. Parker can sometime have a hard time connecting with others, but the first time he came to Southern Reins he had an immediate bond – with his horse ‘Chief.’ On the way home he said, ‘Me and Chief are bro’s. We tell each other our secrets and chill out together.’ This translates to: ‘I have a friend.’
“At bedtime, Parker asked if Chief was in bed yet, then asked how many moons until he until he gets to go back and ride. It is an invaluable service y’all are providing and will touch every rider in a different way, and we are thrilled Parker has found a friend at Southern Reins.”
– Carolyn, Parker’s mom
Orion: Tell us how you first got involved with – or about someone who influenced your decision to establish – Southern Reins.
Jill Haag: There has been a great need for a therapeutic riding program to provide service to people with disabilities in this area. Our Board of Directors has been working diligently to start a program for more than a year, and it is a dream come true for all that Southern Reins has transitioned from concept to reality.
I joined the Southern Reins team as Executive Director in July of this year. I had previously been the Executive Director of a large premier accredited therapeutic riding program in Virginia, and when I met the great people who comprise the Board and staff of Southern Reins, it all clicked.
To have the opportunity to start a new program from the ground up is a challenge, but it is well worth the effort. We are all dedicated and driven to see the program grow to serve as many people as possible who can benefit from therapeutic riding and equine assisted activities.
Orion: What’s the best thing to happen since you started working with the organization?
Jill Haag: The support of the community has been tremendous. From the parents who are often just as excited as their children to participate in therapeutic riding, to the dedicated corp of volunteers who make our program possible, residents throughout the Mid South have shown an outpouring of support, and it has greatly contributed to the momentum and energy of our mission.
Of course, the best part is what happens in the ring with our riders and their horses. Not only are we teaching them how to ride, we are helping them physically, socially and mentally, and their contagious smiles as they sit tall in the saddle and ask their horse to ‘Walk On’ is nothing short of magical.
Orion: What do you wish other people knew about Southern Reins?
Jill Haag: Some may consider programs such as ours as just a ‘pony ride.’ Actually, it is much more. Therapeutic riding is a one-of-a-kind experience where riders become more confident, communicative, capable and emotionally re-connected. Oftentimes it is the only therapy that works to improve quality of life, enhance life skills, and improve the physical well being of a person with a disability.
Also, our facility is closer than you think! Located in Nesbit, Mississippi, we are less than 30 minutes from downtown Memphis and 35-45 minutes from Germantown and Collierville.
Orion: What would you tell someone who is thinking about donating or volunteering to your organization?
Jill Haag: As a start-up non-profit, we are focused on operational funding to sustain our program and grow to increase the number of riders we can serve. Southern Reins does not receive any state or government funding or subsidies, so we must rely on the generosity of donors to underwrite the cost to provide our lessons (our cost for one group lesson is $175). We charge $50 per lesson, so we must make up the funding gap of $125 per lesson per rider. Donors can also designate full scholarships for prospective participants.
Over the next few months we would like to add lights to our outdoor arena, purchase additional tack and adaptive equipment, and construct a family viewing area.
Volunteers are also needed to assist with lessons and care of the horses. For every rider we need three volunteers (one horse leader and two sidewalkers). Volunteers are hands-on and are critical to the safety and success of our program. Southern Reins offers training sessions throughout the year, and the time and talent volunteers provide is immeasurable. For volunteer information, contact Ginna Rauls, Program and Volunteer Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Southern Reins and the ways you can help, visit http://www.southernreins.org/.