PURVIS, MS (WDAM) - Purposeful Refuge provides hope and healing to children and adults with special needs in a unique way.
Therapeutic horseback riding is exactly what it sounds like. And it allows those with disabilities to connect with the world around them like never before.
"Physically, it strengthens their core muscles and it also works on flexibility and coordination," said Gina Archer, director of Purposeful Refuge. "Emotionally, they bond with the horse and it's so beautiful to watch."
It certainly is. Even the most timid and withdrawn riders often blossom during their first session.
"There's a huge difference in his confidence," said Stephanie Ewert, one rider's mother. "It's been a wonderful experience."
She explained that for kids with autism like her son, Jaden, therapeutic horseback riding is especially beneficial. Because these children typically struggle with sensory awareness, the exercises and activities engage their muscles and help them explore their environment. Riders wiggle their fingers above their heads, toss balls into baskets, and do other exercises specifically designed to strengthen their bodies and minds.
Gina Archer, the facility's director, discovered a passion for therapeutic horseback riding nearly 20 years ago as a junior college student and she's been changing lives ever since. Her passion eventually bloomed into a rewarding career. She established her facility, originally known as Purposeful Pony, in Purvis in 2008. Archer hopes to expand her property in order to incorporate more extensive therapy for children and teenagers who have been exposed to abuse. To donate toward purchasing more land, click here.
Not only do riders benefit at Purposeful Refuge, but volunteers leave changed as well. Students from the occupational therapy program at Pearl River Community College learned how to work with the horses and the riders Friday. They saw the real life application of their coursework and the smiles on the kids' faces were validation that it was all worth it.
To learn more about riding or volunteer opportunities at Purposeful Refuge, "like" their Facebook page here.