CLOVER — Wendy Schonfeld has seen children with disabilities sit up straight and become stronger after riding on a horse. She has seen an autistic child form a bond with the animals.
Schonfeld, a chiropractor for more than 23 years who has treated both people and animals, is a believer in the therapeutic power of horses. She and her chiropractor husband, Michael Schonfeld, have brought their passion for healing and horses to Clover, where they will operate a therapeutic riding center.
The couple, who have relocated from Long Island, N.Y., recently opened the nonprofit RideAbility Therapeutic Riding Center, which will offer riding lessons to children and adults with physical and mental disabilities. The center is at Cherokee Farms, off Jim McCarter Road.
Wendy Schonfeld who has been riding since she was 9 and is a certified therapeutic horsemanship instructor said she enjoys watching the magic of horses helping people.
To see them respond and improve, from someone who cant sit up straight to sitting up straight, she said, describing the benefit. For children and adults to be independent and have a lot more freedom. Theyre able to use their body when they havent on the horse.
Schonfeld, 47, said the centers lessons and exercises will focus on skills such as right-left discrimination, sequencing, language development, listening skills and cooperation. The program also aims to help improve confidence, self esteem and cooperation, she said.
Parents are always seeking something for their children to help them, said Michael Schonfeld, 60, who also is working at the center. Especially if the children love animals, its a great way for them to bond.
The center is launching a volunteer program for ages 14 and older, Wendy Schonfeld said. Volunteers, who can earn community service hours, will assist with leading lessons, horse and stable care, peer mentoring and fundraising. Experience with horses is not required, she said.
Schonfeld, who grew up in New York Citys Bronx borough, said she began riding horses at 9; she took three different buses to get from the city to a riding center. I needed to be around horses, she said.
She became a chiropractor in 1989, after graduating from New York Chiropractic College. She and Michael Schonfeld operated a chiropractic and physical therapy rehabilitation practice in New York.
Her interest in horses continued, and she began competing as a hunter jumper. She graduated from Options for Animals Chiropractic College in Kansas, where she became a certified equine chiropractor, mostly focusing on back and leg issues for horses.
Wendy Schonfeld has worked as an instructor at another therapeutic riding center, called HorseAbility, in Melville, N.Y., where she coached Special Olympians.
Kelly Hart, a special education teacher at the Blue Eagle Academy in Clover, has already signed on as a volunteer at the Clover center. Hart, a district Teacher of the Year who is in charge of the Clover Teacher Forum, said she has chosen RideAbility as the forums service project.
Ive worked with kids that have been deaf and had autism, said Hart. And the magic they show when theyre on the horses, its more than I could ever get from the classroom.
Hart said she has worked with a similar program at the Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill. I see a difference in their confidence, she said. Its hard to explain, but its something you can see.
She said the teacher forum will discuss ways it can help with RideAbility. We have lots of teacher volunteers that are working there, both horse people and non-horse people.
Wendy Schonfeld said the center has five horses, which are screened to make sure theyre suited for the program. They have to be a very unique, special horse to work therapeutically, she said.
The riding and horse care lessons offered vary depending on the child or adults needs and abilities. She said they might begin with grooming and bathing a horse and progress to sitting on the animal.
The riding portion is in a very safe environment, she said, adding that there are three volunteers and an instructor for each student. The goal is for the student to be able to ride independently, depending on his or her ability.
Schonfeld said therapeutic riding is not covered by insurance, but fees are on a sliding scale. Private classes are $45 for a 30-minute session. Group sessions, with two to five people, are $40 for a 45- to 50-minute class. Most students attend once or twice a week.
Schonfeld said the program can help children and adults with a variety of conditions, from Down syndrome to multiple sclerosis. The program is wheelchair accessible.
Its an exercise program, she said, adding it can strengthen major muscles. And it can help kids with fine motor skills. And theres a big socialization aspect of it with an entire group.