A dream will become a reality with the grand opening of the Riley Equine Center on Sunday, April 7 from 12-5 p.m. Showcased during the event will include meeting the instructors, horses and seeing the new arena. Food will be provided by the area Masonic Lodges. Craft vendors will be selling homemade crafts along with artists providing face painting. The event will also include the Shriner Clowns, horse riding, horse painting, prize drawings and live music provided by Tanner Bechtel. The center is located a mile south of I-70 just off Route B.
Boonville Psychologist Bonnie Riley offers Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) to those who want to experience therapy through hands-on therapies rather than office based therapy. According to rileyequinecenter.com, accomplishing a task with a 1,200 pound horse requires utilizing leadership skills and confidence and therefore provides wonderful metaphors when dealing with other intimidating and challenging situations in life. Furthermore it states horses have the ability to mirror exactly what human body language is telling them. Horses are very much like humans in that they are social animals. They have defined roles within their herds. They have distinct personalities, attitudes and moods. Horses provide vast opportunities for learning about ones self. Interacting with horses in a therapeutic environment is effective with even the most challenging individuals or groups.
Riley's love for horses started long ago.
"I've always been a horse enthusiast and have ridden and shown horses in competition for most of my life. Then in 1992, my son Bart Riley had a very serious accident, a plane crash, which left him totally disabled. This definitely changed all of our lives. When Bart came home after being unconscious for seven months, showing horses in competition lost it's glamor, and I certainly didn't have time to go to horse shows," Riley said.
She said being involved in Bart's recovery put her in touch with many more people with disabilities as well as wonderful organizations who serve them.
"Being a Licensed Psychologist, I had seen some challenged people in therapy and had already developed a love and respect for horses. Helping Bart in his recovery only served to strengthen my love and respect," Riley said.
Furthermore she had always wished for a way to combine her passions and love for horses, love of people and facilitating emotional wellness.
"Some friendly conversation at a neighborhood ice cream social challenged me to explore my dream. After much prayer, and some outside help to get my non-profit 501©3 status, I was on my way. I had a barn lot, and I had plenty of horses, and I had Bart's friends. It seemed that's all I needed," she said.
Furthermore, she enlisted the help of an occupational therapist, Mandie Davis Goedrich, to oversee the therapy. They then expanded to offer equine assisted exercises and taught riding lessons for most of the year in 2011.
Page 2 of 3 - "My studies, my experience and my new training in therapeutic riding has given me a pretty good idea that this therapy is effective. However, I had no idea just how effective it was. What I witnessed was amazing." she said.
"I saw stroke victims gain strength in their affected sides, regain their balance and become able to walk. I saw autistic children become calmed by the rhythmic beat of the horse's movement and begin to communicate. I saw ADHD children become focused and able to concentrate as they navigated a horse around obstacles. I saw inhibited and withdrawn children demonstrate a sense of mastery and be able to socialize with friends and even stand in front of the class and talk about their special horse experiences."
Riley then began offering Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.
"I watched people using the horse as one of their therapists. I saw people connect with a horse when they hadn't been able to connect with people for years. Then I saw these skills carry over so that they could better relate to people. I saw depressed people gain new life and energy from the horse and conquer their depression. The power of the horse is amazing. Our motto is, "Listen to the horse. The horse knows," she said.
She said the number of clients grew and soon became clear that if they were going to continue they needed better facilities than a barn lot. Furthermore, the heat was hard on their students and volunteers. Rain, mud and snow also caused some difficulties.
On July 4 the dream of a true equine center began.
"I wanted a place where everyone could be comfortable and just enjoy the horses without worrying about the weather, so I took the plunge, said some more prayers and borrowed a bunch of money to build our dream. It has been a labor of love, and it's projected completion date is April 6," She said.
She felt it was appropriate to hold the grand opening at the time of completion.
"Building the Riley Equine Center has been an amazing experience for me. I'm able to watch little miracles happen every day that I'm there. It has far surpassed my wildest dreams. And if I need a stress reliever, I can always climb on a horse, join the students and feel my stress melt away," She said.
The staff consists of only one paid employee, instructor Dave Grayson.
"Dave is a lifelong horseman and a tremendous instructor. The other staff, consisting of around 75 people including myself, are volunteers. High school students in the A+ program are allowed to earn volunteer hours by helping our students. We also have Boy Scouts working on their badges, college students doing internships, and a large group of very kind and loving people from our community who just want to help. Our volunteers are the heart and soul of our organization, and we couldn't do what we do without them," she said.
Page 3 of 3 - The mission of the center is to provide an educational and therapeutic experience for children and adults through horsemanship to strengthen body and mind in order to improve quality of life.