Central Whidbey riding program provides unique helping hand

— Created August 19, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Melanie Hammons

Height measurement for horses is usually expressed in precise units of hands, ranging anywhere from 8.5 to 17. It’s a practice dating back to ancient times.

Equestrian Crossings, an all-inclusive horse riding program based in Freeland, takes this “hands-on” metaphor to a whole new level. Their uniquely tailored therapy programs seek to provide “healing hands” to children and adults of all ages and abilities.

Therapy and service animals have been around for a while now, but just by nature, horses offer a little something extra, said Marjorie Bommersbach, a riding instructor and volunteer with the organization.

“There’s something about learning to care for a large animal like a horse and developing ridership skills that’s been a life-line for people. Just to see kids and adults, of all ages and abilities, move on to new levels of confidence makes this work incredibly rewarding,” she said.

Established in 2009, Equestrian Crossings is unique among many riding clubs and organizations in the United States, because it successfully offers a range of horsemanship lessons to able-bodied and adaptive students alike. Riders include both children and adults, “from ages 5 to 105.”

The organization also offers people opportunities to develop these skills without having to actually own a horse themselves, said Bommersbach.

“Horses require a lot of care, and room. Most people nowadays are just not in the position to afford the upkeep of an animal of that size. One thing I love about our program is, you don’t have to own a horse to get a horse in your life,” she said.

Just last fall, Equestrian Crossings added a therapy program that serves disabled veterans. As with the other classes they offer, instruction is very much safety-focused and tailored to the individual’s unique needs. It’s a fun physical activity, but it has an emotional element also, said Bommersbach.

“We try to promote healing in a couple of ways. One is physical improvement, which covers everything from muscle stretching to achieving better balance,” she explained. “Two, we aim to create a nurturing, emotional connection between the rider and the animal that builds their confidence as they work toward personal goals of self-improvement.”

Students at Equestrian Crossings reap the benefits of over 40 years combined teaching experience, a volunteer pediatric occupational therapist and riding instructors certified by the CHA (Certified Horseman’s Association). The horses may be silent partners in this, but they bring their own set of strengths to the mission:
“Generally, we look for small, steady horse breeds with nice, quiet dispositions,” said Bommersbach.

Equestrian Crossings’ success depends greatly upon its dedicated instructors, and gentle horses. But it relies most of all on an army of faithful volunteers – from horse handling and “side walking,” to event promotion and fundraising, they are the ones who may be the real behind-the-scenes heroes. New volunteers are always welcome. Equestrian Crossings provides training sessions in Coupeville and Greenbank.

The benefits for all are boundless, according to Bommersbach, no matter on which area volunteers choose to focus.

“There’s a special bond between horse and rider that’s simply super-magical,” she said. “All of us who volunteer here have a part in making that happen.”

Find more information at equestriancrossings.org.