Building Community: Equestrian Therapy

WRITER | NICOLETTE CHAMBERY
PHOTOS | BANBURY CROSS EQUESTRIAN CENTER
Curing Hearts, Bodies, and Minds

Twenty-eight years ago, Ralph and Carol Curtis opened up their farm to form Banbury Cross Therapeutic Equestrian Center (TEC) and invited community members with special needs to visit providing them opportunity for growth. The Curtises accomplish this work with the help of more than 80 volunteers and 12 highly trained horses. Each horse has an individual personality that requires their clients to channel their strengths in a different way.

Led by executive director Jessica Moore, Banbury Cross is fully accredited by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH), an organization with more than 4,800 certified instructors working internationally. These specialists assist more than 66,000 individuals, including 6,200 veterans and active duty personnel with emotional, physical, and cognitive development.

In 2007, Moore became a registered instructor with NARHA, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, Inc., and decided to make a full-time career in the field of therapeutic riding. She is now the program director and head instructor at Banbury Cross.

Moore has been with the organization for nearly 20 years, first as a volunteer for 12 years and now as director. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology with an emphasis in pediatric and geriatric psychology. Her long-standing interest in equestrian therapy led her to abandon her initial career path and pursue work in the field for which she felt most passionate.

Equestrian therapy is predicated on a horse’s remarkable ability to accurately read its surroundings. As a prey animal, horses can read the emotions and anxieties of beings in their proximity and respond accordingly. Horses are extraordinary in many ways, but one unique attribute is their gait, which is a perfect simulation of that of a human being. This is especially helpful to individuals looking to bolster various aspects of their physical capacities.

Banbury clients range from 3- to 60-year-olds who are working to overcome challenges related to anything from autism to cerebral palsy to PTSD to brain damage.

Of the several success stories that have resulted from Banbury’s programming, one stands out.

“The second year I was teaching, I had a student who was four or five years old and completely nonverbal. Week after week, he would come in and bump his hand on the saddle instead of using his voice to command the horse. One day, out of the blue, he spoke and commanded the horse to ‘Walk.’ To watch him continue this development in the coming years was an extraordinary gift.”

Moore shared several other poignant stories of how individuals suffering from some challenge were able to overcome obstacles in ways that deeply enhanced their quality of life thanks to an increased ability to engage with the world around them.

“We’re offering our students the opportunity to become more independent and to function in society in a more meaningful manner. Volunteers at Banbury better understand those with special needs, and their own lives are enhanced by their efforts here as well,” said Moore.

In the coming years, Moore and Banbury’s dedicated board and staff hope to increase the capacity of the organization to be as effective as possible.

They have relocated to a larger farm down the road from the Curtises founding farm. They are open six days a week and offer various forms of therapeutic riding and equine-assisted psychotherapy. Banbury also offers an annual summer camp that teaches attendees various life skills promoting self-care.

Banbury Cross Therapeutic Equestrian Center 1223 Brauer Road, Oxford, MI 48371 / 248-628-7433 l BanburyCrossTEC.org