By Avra Sullivan
Winston Churchill is quoted as saying “there is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of man.” This sentiment is played out daily at Talisman Therapeutic Riding, Inc. in Grasonville. Talisman, which means “something magical or mystical taking place,” is home to an incredible therapeutic riding program for children and adults with mental and physical disabilities.
Talisman offers a number of different riding programs. TheraPony is designed for children as young as three with conditions such as autism, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy and other cognitive and physical disorders. The Adult Riding and Young Talisman Programs are dedicated to adults and young adults with such issues as stroke, diabetes or brain trauma. Heroes on Horses is a special program designed for injured veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. The Hippotherapy combines the use of the horse with a certified physical, occupational or speech therapist. Talisman Therapeutic Farms also offers a Talisman Teens Program for teenagers referred by courts and social services.
Executive Director Anne Joyner grew up an avid equestrienne. She began her fundraising career at the age of 12 when she set up a lemonade stand where all proceeds were donated for cerebral palsy. Anne always had an affinity for helping others and combined that love with her passion and knowledge of horses by working for other therapeutic riding programs, but often dreamed of opening her own farm. Talisman Farms, which sits on 1,000 acres of lush pastures, waterfront, wetlands and woods, was the perfect setting.
Talisman Therapeutic Riding has a 21-member board of directors. The farm relies heavily on outside donations and grants, which pay for the feed, farrier, veterinary care, training of their horses and upkeep of the farm and all tack and equipment. Fees are charged for the lessons, but Anne keeps the fees as low as possible and also provides scholarships and financial aid for those in need. Her vision is to have enough funding so that no rider would be turned away due to lack of funds.
All instructors are PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) certified, a lengthy and detailed process insuring they have advanced skills in riding and horse care as well as training in working with people with special needs. Each lesson at Talisman requires the involvement of up to four people: an instructor, a walker who leads the horse and two side walkers who walk on either side of the rider. There are over 100 people who volunteer at Talisman, and all volunteers must attend introductory training as well as any on-going training to maintain skills.
In their first year, Talisman served over 600 riders, and the results are amazing. A young boy who had never spoken and communicated only through sounds, began to speak the words “walk” and “whoa” when working with his horse. He began this journey by adding a new “sound” to his vocabulary…the sneeze of a horse. A woman with brain cancer was overheard quietly whispering to her horse “I have seen God.”
For detailed information on Talisman Therapeutic Riding, Inc. and the programs they offer visit their website at www.talismantherapeuticriding.org. If you are interested in volunteering and would like to schedule an appointment you can call Anne at 443-239-9400.