Good Cause of the Month: Back In The Saddle Equine Therapy Center

This nonprofit therapeutic riding center provides services to those with disabilities from the ages of 2 to 92. With the help of a few equine partners, they create a healthy, happy sanctuary

It was a song and her daughter that inspired Pauline Meriden, owner and executive director of Back In The Saddle Equine Therapy Center, to found the center back in 2003. When her daughter finished her last internship to complete her UNH degree in occupational therapy, the idea was hatched.

“She [Meriden’s daughter] said that we should start a therapeutic riding center, like the one she had worked at for three months just outside of San Francisco,” says Meriden. “She said it would be fun. She said we should name it after the song she and I used to sing while riding our horses in the woods when she was growing up in Henniker. Then, she made me guess which song she was referring to. You have to be careful what you wish for in this life, it might just come true! And it has been fun – helping people get ‘back in the saddle.’” The song that the mom-daughter pair used to sing was a version by Gene Autry, circa 1941: “I’m back in the saddle again, out where a friend is a friend. Where the longhorn cattle feed, on the lowly gypsum weed. Back in the saddle again.”

What They Do

The center’s mission is to provide therapeutic riding and equine assisted activities to people of all ages who live with disabilities in central New Hampshire. They strive to provide safe and effective interventions for their clients, a healthy and comfortable home for their equine family members, and a great experience for all of the volunteers who make it happen everyday.

Although many of the volunteers have the horses’ routine down to a science, Meriden admits there is no typical day at the center. “We never know who is coming up the driveway,” says Meriden. “Our clients are as varied as people from 2 to 92 can be. Volunteers arrive at the barn first thing in the morning to help with feeding, grooming and getting horses ready for the day’s work. Instructors decide where the horses will be pastured, or placed for lessons to begin.”

Clients can ride Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., year round. In addition to client work, the center also has a vocational program for at-risk students, and people over 55 who are enrolled in the National ABLE Network. Their RideUP program for uniformed professionals (fire, police, veterans, and EMTs) is open to area professionals free of charge. The center also works with the Veteran’s Administration, Red White and Blue, Wounded Warriors and Northeast Passage, as well as other veteran support groups.

When the lessons are done, volunteers feed and gather the horses in the barn for the night in winter, or back into the pasture in summer. At the end of the night, the quiet munching of the horses is the welcome sound that sends them all home.

When asked what inspired Meriden to start this organization, she expresses her admiration for service and, of course, horses. As her daughter grew up, Meriden saw first-hand the positive impact of both the responsibility of owning a horse and of the simple interaction between human and horse. This, she says, was why she started volunteering at the UpReach Therapeutic Riding Center.

Another inspiration? “Seeing what this interaction can do for people with disabilities, and what they can do,” she says.

The center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a volunteer board of directors, two paid staff and, last year, a crew of 118 volunteers that donated over 5,000 hours of their time.

Meriden also mentions that there is a wide range of issues that can be positively impacted by horse riding, including autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, ADD, traumatic brain injury, stroke, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, ODD, spina bifida and many more.

What’s next for BITS ETC? Efforts to form a “Veterans’ Collaborative.” Meriden is currently working with UpReach in Goffstown and Touchstone Farm in Temple to form this collaborative, which would make it easier for veterans to access services at any of the three centers.

 “The Veteran’s Hospital in Manchester is working closely with us to provide transportation, referral and intake processing to make it happen,” explains Meriden. “Veterans will be served at the center nearest to them, making it easy and convenient to access all that time with a horse can give them.”

How You Can Help

From visiting their home base at 334 College Hill Rd., Contoocook, to volunteering and donating on their website, here are a few ways you can help:

  • Donating: A tax deductible donation can be made online, or sent to BITS ETC for the “Auntie’s Fund,” which allows women, who were once little girls who have always dreamed of having a pony themselves, help make that same dream come true for a little girl today. The online option can be found under the “Donate Now” button on their website here.
  • Volunteering: Under the “Contact Us” button on the website, you can find application forms for volunteering and riding.

To learn more about Back In The Saddle Equine Therapy Center and all the ways you can get involved, visit their website at www.bitsetc.org.

Do you know of an organization or charitable event that would make a great Good Cause of the Month? Send your ideas to Assistant Editor Emily Heidt at eheidt@nhmagazine.com.

Categories: Cause of the Month

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