Autumn Trails Stables provides equine support to those in need

After spending some time working behind a desk, Angela Stan, of Springfield, quickly realized that she wasn’t meant for the corporate world. Her calling to work with horses lead her back to the barn, but not in the way she expected.

Stan – a certified riding instructor through PATH International – is the founder of Autumn Trails Stables, established in 2016 as Clark County’s only equine-assisted services center.

Autumn Trails serves children and adults with developmental disabilities or who are experiencing life challenges; Stan says no official diagnosis is needed.

“This was not in my life plan. My mom drives the special needs bus for Northwestern (Local Schools). They always call her bus the ‘happy bus,’” says Stan. “She always told me I should do something with special needs kids, but I didn’t see that in my future; God had other plans.”

However, after serving the community for five years now, Stan says Autumn Trails is easily the most challenging, but most rewarding thing she’s ever done.

“Horses have been in my blood since I was 13. Growing up, I struggled with depression and anxiety, and my horse was one of the only things that saved me,” she says. “I knew first-hand the power of horses.”

Stan worked at Steps to Your Dreams, a former therapeutic riding center in Clark County for a short time before establishing Autumn Trails.

“When I heard (Steps to Your Dreams) shut their doors, I wondered where all of those kids were going to go,” says Stan, “I knew how helpful it was. I knew the next closest facility was almost an hour away. I talked to my dad about it one day and he laughed and said, ‘Well, you know what you have to do now.’”

Stan completed her instructor certification and incorporated Autumn Trails in January 2016. The first session was held in April the same year.

“It grew quickly through social media and word-of-mouth,” says Stan. “People who love horses and people who love kids started coming through our doors.”

Stan says on average Autumn Trails serves 70 to 80 individuals per year with spring, summer, and fall sessions. Each session is 8-weeks-long, and many people ride all three sessions.

Through therapeutic riding, the goal is to teach participants a riding skills based on their abilities.

“We base the goals that we set on the individual,” says Stan. “All instructors are certified through PATH. We set the goal after the first lesson and set up the sessions to work toward achieving those goals. Families have input on the goals, and we collaborate for each session.”

PATH International serves as the credentialing organization for accrediting centers and certifying instructors and equine specialists.

Dr. Alicia Griffin, an associate veterinarian at Northside Veterinary Clinic in Springfield, volunteers her time at ATS to care for the horses.

Griffin has been granting veterinary services to Autumn Trails since 2015. She provides the horses with preventative medicine including routine exams, vaccinations and dental care. Her son, Cooper, also participates in ATS programming.

“Cooper started therapeutic riding lessons at ATS in 2019,” she says. “The lessons have helped him build core strength, to follow multiple step directions, listening to and following instructions while building the bond with the horse each time he rides.”

The horses, Griffin says, provide a tremendous sensory input to the rider that allows them to coordinate riding while working on their therapy goals.

“ATS is a tremendous asset to the community,” says Griffin. “Unfortunately, there are not many extra-curricular activities or therapeutic options for children with special needs in Springfield. ATS provides vital therapy for these children as well as a sense of community and friendship.”

Griffin says ATS provides a positive and supportive environment for the students, volunteers and parents, and there are always plenty of smiles to go around.

“The staff is wonderful, knowledgeable and kind to all the participants,” says Griffin. “The horses and handlers are very well-trained and prepared for each lesson to try and work toward meeting goals. It is amazing to watch the progress over a lesson session on the student’s goals. It truly is a place where the impossible becomes possible.”

The barn at Autumn Trails houses nine vetted program horses. Each horse is accepted into the program on a 60-to 90-day trial before entering the program. Many of them are volunteered through a free lease by their owners while others are donated or adopted.

“The horses are diverse,” says Stan. “They must be sound with minimal maintenance, and very good natured. We do more than just ‘pony rides.’”

This summer, Autumn Trails will launch two new programs in addition to the therapeutic riding program.

Just Say Whoa to Bullying is an animal-assisted bullying prevention program that is used by 30 teams in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.

“The idea is to partner with law enforcement for presentations at schools or to groups and meet kids of all ages,” Stan says. “Bullying is problem at all ages. We will be teaching them that if you see bullying you need to report it, you need to stop it and help.”

By bringing along CJ the miniature horse who calls Autumn Trails home, Stan says they can talk about how a “mini” is smaller than other horses and that might be a reason he gets bullied.

“We are really excited to start this,” says Stan. “It’s brand new for us, and we are learning as well, but I think it’s going to be beneficial.”

Taking the Reins, a job and lifeskills program, will also launch this summer. It is open to children in grades 6-12.

Taking the Reins is an equine-assisted learning program hosted on Saturdays for eight weeks with six participants.

“Each participant will be assigned a mentor and a horse,” says Stan. “They will have a lesson based on a job and life skill that can be related to horses. We will cover topics such as responsibility, body language, appearance and things beneficial in the world.”

Stan hopes Taking the Reins will later morph into two groups – one for those in grades 6-12 and one for adults with developmental disabilities.

While Autumn Trails is a non-profit organization, there are still costs to operate the farm and fees do apply for programming opportunities. Stan says the fees can be paid weekly, and many participants can get financial assistance and scholarships through outside organizations.

“We are a non-profit – funding comes from donors and fundraisers,” says Stan. “The program fees are only 30 percent of what it costs us to operate those programs.”

Volunteers are also at the heart of Autumn Trails. From office work, barn chores and side-walkers, there is something for everyone looking to volunteer their time.

Individuals or groups are also able to sponsor a horse.

“Our horses are the lifeline of our program,” says Stan. “They are a part of our staff. They are worth their weight in gold. And – they are also expensive.”

On average the equine staff at Autumn Trails costs more than $30,000 per year in just routine, day-to-day maintenance, such as feed, hay, bedding, vaccinations, farrier visits, and unexpected expenses.

“There are long days, and days you want to give up and do something else, but I just have to step into the arena with my students, and I know why we’re here,” says Stan.

Those interested in volunteering or learning more about Autumn Trails can call 937-536-9912.
 

Read more articles by Darci Jordan.

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