Unless you’ve experienced the benefits of therapeutic riding first-hand, it’s almost impossible to explain the sheer power of the connection between horse and rider.

“It’s so multifaceted,” said Jackson Hole Therapeutic Riding Association Executive Director Tori Fancher. “They are such large creatures but also so incredibly intuitive and understanding and you can see the kindness in their eyes. They connect with the riders on levels that truly defy words.”

All pets provide some level of satisfaction from their attention and unconditional love, there’s just something about a horse that makes this connection all the richer, Fancher said. She recalled watching a young boy who has lived his life in a wheelchair get on top of the horse for the first time and how the change in perspective altered his point of view.

“Imagine how his perspective just changed from being on the ground to suddenly being on top of this large, powerful animal looking down from high above,” Fancher said. “For the first time in their lives, they are able to look down at the world.”

Fancher said that along with the psychological benefits there are also motor-skill benefits because the horses’ walking movements simulate human steps and help the young riders develop their own muscles.

This is just one benefit of therapeutic riding, according to Fancher, who sees riders from age 2 to upwards of 80 experience their own benefits. It’s wide-ranging and completely personal, but there’s a clear connection.

Therapeutic riders come from a wide range of backgrounds and have a variety of intellectual and physical disabilities. From autistic nonverbal children to those who are higher functioning, the staff and dozens of volunteers work with riders of all ages who have a variety of disabilities.

“We see people across the entire spectrum,” Fancher said. “Regardless of their particular need, the staff works with that individual one-on-one to figure out what that rider needs.”

Fancher and her crew work with about 215 riders each year, many of whom come once a week or sometimes every day to work with the horses. It’s a lot of work and expenses for a nonprofit. That’s where the annual Stomping the Divots comes in: Without it Therapeutic Riding would not be able to serve the needs of this community.

“It’s out most significant fundraiser of the year,” Fancher said.

The fundraiser raises over half of the annual budget, making it possible for Therapeutic Riding to provide activities to about 65 percent of its clientele.

The event is the result of a long-standing partnership between Therapeutic Riding and Melody Ranch Polo Field, which provides the venue as well as the teams for the popular polo match.

The event takes place Saturday beginning at 5 p.m. at the polo fields.

A demonstration of therapeutic riding by Therapeutic Riding’s student riders will follow the match. Along with a silent auction, cocktails and appetizers will be served during both events, followed by a seated dinner catered by Bistro Catering. The night continues with music and dancing by Richard Brown Orchestra as well as live auction.

For the third year a live auction will be emceed by local auctioneer Letitia Frye, with several big-ticket items, including a six-night South African photo safari trip for two, packages to destinations such as London, Costa Rica and a private island in Belize with a private chef, and a rare CA super scroll combo set shotgun. Other live auction items include an Azadi rug and original oil paintings by local artists Amy Lay and Amy Ringholz.

To celebrate Stomping the Divots’ 15th anniversary this year participants will receive a custom wine bottle that commemorates the event, and Fancher says other changes include a more interactive silent auction as well as a record number of live auction items.

Tickets are $300 a person or $2,400 for table of eight, and can be purchased online at JHTRA.org or by contacting the office at 733-1374.

The fundraiser is about providing hope and changing lives, Fancher said.

“Most of our riders either feel or have been told they can’t do certain things,” she said. “But suddenly they are sitting on top and in control of this huge, powerful creature, so what’s to stop them from going on to do other things they’ve been told they cannot do.”

Contact Jen Kocher via entertainment@jhnewsandguide.com.

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