Rising Tide: Therapeutic riding
From our first meeting it was evident that the reputation of Vickie Thurber, founder and executive director of Rising Tide Therapeutic Equestrian program, as an amazing woman is well founded. Her passion is evident as she speaks of Rising Tide's mission to help physically, emotionally, and learning disabled children and adults improve their quality of life through interactions with horses.
Only slightly more than three years old, the organization has been able to touch countless people on the Island.
"These horses are a gift to everyone," says JoAnn Eccher, whose eight-and-a-half year old son Jacob, was the first child to participate in the program. As the mother of an autistic child, Ms. Eccher is aware of the challenges autistic children have with forming relationships. According to what she's observed at Rising Tide, she says, "The children have the ability to form these amazing relationships, not only with the horse but with the instructors and volunteers and once they learn how to do that they can form relationships with other people."
Kate DeVane has five-year-old twins with some developmental issues in the program. Her son Mark is nonverbal, and daughter Maggie is working to improve her range of movement. "For children who have a hard time connecting, this program is amazing," she says. "My son will ride around on the horse backwards and he just lays there and smiles... My daughter is practically posting when she is riding."
The benefits of therapeutic horsemanship are endless, Ms. Thurber explains. "We see improvements in physical strength, increasing flexibility and stamina, and so many improvements in social interactions - especially with communication and cooperation."
Rising Tide provides services to both children and adults. Using a team approach, the program relies on input from therapists, teachers, physicians, and parents to construct individualized programs complete with goals and objectives. The children and adults from Camp Jabberwocky and Project Headway participate in the program.
Gaynell Downs, a substitute teacher at the Oak Bluffs School, describes a visually impaired child she brought to ride: "He was up on the horse, smiling and shouting, 'look at me, Mrs. Downs, look at me.'"
Barbara Linley, an occupational therapist for 30 years with the Island school system, says the program is "supremely motivating and appealing on so many levels. You are able to integrate therapy in such a motivating environment; it feels incredible being up there above everybody else."
Ms. Linley is such a fan of the organization she plans to help Rising Tide with the funding challenges that all small nonprofits face.
Ms. Thurber discusses the needs for funding and the priority of housing. She explains that during the summer months Rising Tide is fortunate to be able to rent space at Fieldsmith Farm. However, as the weather turns colder, both the horses and the students need to move indoors. Its winter home is right down the road at Red Pony Farm. "Our new home with indoor facilities means [we need] more money," she says.
Rising Tide is waiting on a grant proposal that will determine the length of the winter program, and everyone is crossing their fingers that there will not be a lapse in services. "A year-round home with indoor facilities is our ultimate goal," Ms. Thurber says. "The continuity is extremely important."
Ms. Eccher concurs. "I think it is every family's dream for Rising Tide to have a permanent home where the children can ride all year. As parents, we would go to the ends of the earth for our children and we often do. We go off-Island often and travel to Boston and New York for occupational therapy, music therapy, and all types of services. The nice thing about having Rising Tide on the Island is we do not have to go far. It is home."
Rising Tide will hold a silent auction from Saturday, Dec. 5 through Sunday, Dec. 13, 10 am-6 pm, at the Farm Stand behind Alley's General Store in West Tisbury. Visit risingtidetec.org
Marci Moreau is a freelance writer who divides her time between Oak Bluffs and West Hartford, Conn.