Horseback riding is one of the therapeutic activities offered at Peppermint Ridge.

“Smokey!”

Raymond’s voice rang out across the No Drama Ranch in Norco, Calif. For most passersby on that clear Saturday morning, the moment might not have seemed like much. But for Raymond and the staff of the United Church of Christ’s Peppermint Ridge arriving for his therapeutic riding session, it was a profound and proud moment.

Raymond is nonverbal, due to disabilities. He is one of the 100 residents Peppermint Ridge serves in its 11 homes throughout Corona, Calif. With the help of the riding program, Raymond has begun to break through verbally.

“This is just one of the many amazing outcomes [of] Therapeutic Horseback Riding,” says Isabel Tejada, communications and marketing specialist for Peppermint Ridge.

Therapeutic riding was added to the stable of arts and social activities at Peppermint Ridge in 2010, thanks to the agency’s partnership with the ranch and its owner, Donna Hyde. Hyde was so taken by the idea of riding therapy that she immediately began the therapy certification process, enabling the ranch to help develop the program.

As with all of the programs at Peppermint Ridge, riding therapy “focuses on healing and the well-being of our Ridgers,” says Tejada. Through riding therapy, she says, “they learn balance by strengthening their core, coordination, decision making, and communication [skills].”

Peppermint Ridge is a CHHSM-member ministry whose mission is to provide a community of loving homes and empowering support services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “Our goal for our Ridgers is for them to be established and live full lives,” says Tejada. Residents “partake in various activities that bring happiness, safety and health into their lives.”

In addition to therapeutic riding, Peppermint Ridge activities include art and music, swimming, therapy dog sessions, yoga, meditation, journaling, exercise and strength training, and much more. The Ridge also partners with a local senior center for twice-monthly parties that include dancing and other activities.

“We embrace community inclusion and participation,” says Tejada.

With their eyes on the future, Peppermint Ridge and No Drama Ranch continue to grow their horseback riding therapy partnership. “Therapeutic Horseback Riding is very beneficial for our Ridgers, and is something they love to do,” Tejada says.

Cost, however, is an obstacle to growth. While Peppermint Ridge does offer scholarships to some of the participants, a few have to pay out of pocket. “Our goal is to be able to provide more scholarships for our Ridgers to be part of not only horseback riding, but other activities that are so beneficial for them,” says Tejada. To that end, The Ridge has several ways community members can give.

For Raymond and his co-residents, the benefits of both the caring environment of Peppermint Ridge and riding therapy are clear.

“Raymond has truly grown and improved his skills by riding,” says Tejada. “Being nonverbal does have its challenges, but Raymond –– with the help of [ranch owner] Donna –– has surprised us! Raymond continues to impress us all.”