Healing Hooves offers opportunities for new therapy

WEIRTON – Equine-assisted therapy is still in its infancy for much of the United States, but the Northern Panhandle now has its own facility for those wishing to try such a program to help someone with special needs.

Denise Herstine, founder and owner of Healing Hooves Therapeutic Riding Center, explained her program began last year on property along Lyons Road in Weirton. Herstine discussed her program during Tuesday’s meeting of the Rotary Club of Weirton Heights.

“We were only able to do it for three months, but we had about four kids,” Herstine said.

According to Herstine, Healing Hooves works to aid in healing the body, mind and soul of individuals with special needs through horseback riding programs and activities. Equine assisted therapy, she explained is often used to assist individuals with ADD/ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis and spinal bifida.

They currently have four horses with plans to be open this year from April to October, weather permitting.

In order to take part in the program, Healing Hooves requires a physician’s release to ensure the potential rider is capable of participating safely. A personalized lesson plan is then developed.

Herstine explained they are a non-profit organization and ask for a donation of $40 per lesson – or $200 for six lessons – but also look for sponsorships to assist those who are unable to afford it.

“We don’t turn anyone away,” Herstine said. “There’s so much good horses can do if we let them.”

Herstine decided to get into equine therapy after losing her job several years ago. She has completed therapeutic horsemanship classes at West Virginia University and trained for two summers at a farm in Fairmont. She has certification from the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship and is pursuing a degree in human services.

Healing Hooves, she said, is only the third such certified operation in West Virginia. She is always looking for volunteers to assist with treatment programs.

(Howell can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com, and followed via Twitter @CHowellWDT)