As nine-year-old Deborah Busch – with her twinkling eyes and sweet, shy smile – sits at her kitchen table and chats about why she loves all things horse-related, you would never imagine the challenges she has overcome.
Her mom, Jessica, adopted her out of foster care three years ago. “Deborah suffered from extreme abuse and neglect,” she explained. “When I got her, she was six but she could barely talk and she had no core strength. It was hard just to lift her into the car. She was that floppy.”
On her way to work each day, Jessica would drive past the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program (NVTRP), located in Clifton, VA. Having ridden horses as a child, Jessica knew a connection with animals would play an important role in helping Deborah heal.
For over thirty-five years NVTRP has helped riders to recognize the unexpected potential in their lives by providing equine-assisted activities to children and adults with disabilities, youth-at-risk, military service personnel and their families.
Students improve fitness level and mobility through horseback riding by gaining core strength, muscle control and balance. Working closely with horses and volunteers inspires them to build self-esteem and further socialization, and also helps to provide a sense of community and belonging.
“Deborah has so many diagnoses: fetal alcohol syndrome, ADHD, significant learning disabilities, it was really hard for her to connect emotionally to anything when she came to me,” said Jessica. A connection with animals is a great way for people to develop empathy. That’s absolutely been the case for Deborah.
Learning to ride and care for a horse not only improves the physical health of a rider, but also generates a critically important sense of achievement.
“Riding helps me do my work a lot. Some things are hard for me, like math and reading, and when I get frustrated, I think about the horses. That makes me feel better.” added Deborah.
Lessons at NVTRP are diverse and include instruction in riding skills, exercises, and games, while also focusing on grooming and horse care. Under the guidance of certified riding instructors, each year over 250 volunteers come together to help more than 350 students achieve an enriched quality of life while overcoming physical, mental, and emotional obstacles.
Deborah began riding at NVTRP in the Spring of 2014 and her mom delights in the success she has found.
“I can’t tell you how great it is to see Deborah do something independently,” Jessica said. “She needs so much support in everything else she does, but it’s like she’s a different kid on the horse. Listening and paying attention are so hard for her every place else. Riding just flows out of her. Riding is what’s fun for Deborah, and it’s so important that she has something fun in her life.”
NVTRP is accredited and nationally recognized by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Int’l). Lessons are taught by PATH Intl. Certified Riding Instructors who are assisted by up to three volunteers per rider. This type of structure and supervision enables riders to participate in a challenging, physically active sport that gives them confidence and a sense of accomplishment.
To learn how you can help riders like Deborah live life to their fullest potential, please visit www.nvtrp.org or call (703) 764-0269.