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Bellasana Stables offers therapeutic lessons for children

By Staff | Aug 20, 2010

Kenya Dozier, 15, of Jefferson County, participates in a summer camp offered this year at Bellasana Stables. (Photo by Misty Higgins)

SHEPHERDSTOWN – Bellasana Stables has a mission: To help children and horses.

It accomplishes that mission by rescuing endangered horses, retraining them and offering therapeutic riding for disabled children.

A volunteer organization, Bellasana Stables is located on Gardner’s Lane near Morgan’s Grove Park. It offers public English and Western riding lessons as well.

Volunteer Jason Michaels has been with Bellasana for several years and said the organization has kept its about 20 rescued horses at the stable outside downtown Shepherdstown for the last two years.

The stable offers facilitated therapeutic lessons to serve a variety of people. Each 45-minute lesson costs $30.

The instructor holds a four-year degree in Equine Facilitated Therapeutics and has experience working with adults with developmental disabilities, at-risk youth, special education and those suffering from addiction.

Michaels said that each horse at Bellasana has its own story.

One was rescued at the last minute from a slaughter house. Another is an ex-race horse with a broken leg. There are older trail horses and others that have been abused or neglected, he said.

The stable also offers boarding services and currently has four boarders.

Bellasana intends to obtain 501(c)3 nonprofit status when the organization can afford the fee, Michaels said.

“We want to go nonprofit,” he said.

Bellasana was located in Smithsburg, Md., and rents the 20 acres the organization uses now. Founded five years ago, it operates with the help of 20 to 30 volunteers, many of whom, including Michaels, have full-time day jobs and devote many additional hours at Bellasana.

“I enjoy it,” Michaels said. “Especially once you get a horse that somebody wanted to give up on. Then we retrain it and then you see it being used to help the kids.”

Part of the training process for the horses involves exposing them to wheelchairs and equipment they will encounter during lessons. They are trained to be calm and not react or get spooked by noises, actions or equipment.

“The horses need to be calm and ready for anything that might happen,” Michaels said.

Bellasana takes a team approach to the lessons. The rider, instructor, leader, side-aides, parents, doctors and teachers are all invited to take part in the planning and evaluating of goals for the rider. Therapeutic riding can help with muscle memory, muscle weakness and balance.

Instructors at Bellasana have worked with riders who have disabilities who are anywhere from 2 years old up to those in their 50s or 60s, Michaels said.

Bellasana offers lessons for ambulatory riders, who can mount the horse without a ramp. The stable will begin offering lessons for non-ambulatory riders upon completion of a ramp/mounting area that is being completed as an Eagle Scout project.

Group, semi-private and private lessons also are offered to the public in general at varying rates. Two summer camps are held each year for children ages 6 to 16, when kids spend their days at the camp taking care of a horse assigned to them for the week.

For more information, to donate, volunteer or schedule lessons visit www.bellasanastables.com, or call 304-820-5189 or 304-820-5424.