April 17, 2009
UpReach to Use Horses for Workshops, Classes

GOFFSTOWN - The UpReach Therapeutic Riding Center is not changing its name or mission, but it is doing something with its horses that does not involve therapeutic riding. 

A new program will use the horses at UpReach to teach lessons about trust, teamwork, punctuality, communication, and other life skills to students and employees of businesses and other organizations. The program is known as HOPE—Horses as Our Partners in Education. 

Kristen McGraw, the UpReach program director, said the educational side of HOPE is geared toward students in grades six through nine who are at risk of dropping out from school. 

She said HOPE will reduce those dropout rates and motivate kids to learn. “This program is to help better educate the students at the school who are having difficulty—the kids who need to learn outside of the classroom,” McGraw said. 

Using curricula developed by Strides to Success, an Indiana company, UpReach combines American history, activities with horses, and a remote classroom to drive home important lessons to the students. Each lesson is an hour and a half or longer, at least once a week for about three to eight months. Lessons begin and end in a classroom at UpReach with a horse-related activity in the indoor arena in between. 

In one lesson—part of the “Cowboy Poetry” curriculum—students must work as a team in a simulation of a Western cattle drive. But instead of a thousand steer, they have one horse. And instead of a distance of hundreds of miles, they have an indoor arena with five stations of posters and memorabilia from each of the five states on the route from Texas to Illinois. 

Their challenge: move the horse through all five stations without talking to each other or touching the horse. In one dress rehearsal of the activity, students from the Robert B. Jolicoeur School in Manchester were able to get the first horse moving simply by walking alongside it. But the second horse was not as cooperative—testing the communication and problem-solving skills of the students. 

Such an activity, according to McGraw, teaches students about the importance of body language. Most communication with others, she said, is nonverbal. The horses make good teaching partners because they are intuitive animals that sense underlying emotions. “If there is something eating at us, is bothering us—fear, hesitation—they sense that,” McGraw said. 

Working with the horses encourages students to reflect on how their own behavior affects their lives and circumstances. “If you can change your behavior, then you can change and influence things around you,” she said. 

A similar series of workshops has been developed for businesses and other organizations. In one workshop, McGraw said a blindfolded employee leads a horse through an indoor obstacle course. His coworkers are at each obstacle, telling him exactly where to walk. It is a classic trust-building exercise and one that, unlike the school lesson, hones in on verbal communication skills. 

The new program is an opportunity for local schools and businesses, according to McGraw. It also is an attempt by UpReach to generate new revenue. Because of the recession, McGraw said donations have declined, forcing UpReach to lay off five employees and trim its therapeutic riding clients from as many as 85 to little more than 60. 

“We need to develop a new program outside of our therapeutic riding program and that is what this is,” McGraw said. “We’re going to remain a therapeutic riding center but we need to bring in other components of our program.” 

A public workshop demonstration has been scheduled for June 30 from 3 to 5 p.m. UpReach Therapeutic Riding Center is located at 153 Paige Hill Road in Goffstown. For more information call 497-2343 or visit www.upreachtrc.org.


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