Rocking Horse Ranch: Therapeutic Riding Program

by Daria Mitsos

As an equestrian, when I heard Rocking Horse Ranch, I thought for sure it was a gaited horse barn.  For those non-equestrian readers, a gaited horse moves in a way that feels really smooth, (like a rocking horse).  When I learned that I was wrong, and that Rocking Horse Ranch is actually a non-profit therapeutic riding program, my heart fell in love.  As a recent transplant from Florida, it reminded me of our Special Equestrians back home.  I knew I needed to be involved in this amazing mission.

RHR was established in 1991, headed up by Eileen Van Houten.  They saw a need in the community and the rest, as they say, is history.  The ranch serves children and adults ages 4 and up who have an emotional, cognitive or physical disability. Many of the participants at the ranch have been diagnosed with autism, anxiety, traumatic brain injury (TBI), ADD/ADHD and seizure disorders.  

If you are interested in becoming a participant, you must call the farm and schedule a time to meet with the Program Director. After an evaluation, new participants are placed into the program which best fits their needs, abilities, and interests.


THERAPEUTIC RIDING –Therapeutic riding lessons, which focuses on teaching participants basic riding skills, also helps promote physical, emotional, social, cognitive, behavioral and educational skills for people who have disabilities. Using a team approach, participants work toward meeting individual goals under the guidance of a PATH Int’l certified riding instructor.

INTERACTIVE VAULTING –Participants in Interactive Vaulting develop their awareness of the horse, themselves, and others while increasing strength and balance by practicing simple movements on or around the horse. The program fosters teamwork and independence while teaching respect and building confidence.

GROUND SCHOOL – Participants earn badges/certificates for learning and completing mini-programs such as equine first aid, grooming, barn management, and a variety of advanced ground-based horsemanship skills. This practical education program is ideal for participants whose diagnoses limit their ability to ride a horse, or for those who are working toward becoming more familiar and less fearful around horses.

EQUINE SERVICES FOR HEROES – Group and individual lessons provide veterans with the opportunity to learn and practice horsemanship skills. Anyone who has served in the military with an eligible physical or mental health diagnosis may qualify; examples include PTSD, ADHD, TBI, anxiety, depressive and adjustment disorders, and relationship and communication issues.

HEALING WITH HORSES: CANCER SURVIVORS GROUP –In partnership with Vidant, cancer survivors learn horsemanship skills and then participate in a group therapy session with an oncological social worker. 

Participants and horses are specially matched to one another’s personality, and temperament.  Each horse has a unique personality, size and way of moving. When matching a horse for a participant, the director and instructors look at the size of the student (height and weight), what skills that participant will be working on, if they need a narrower horse versus a wider horse, and what kind of movement would be most beneficial for them.  Also in consideration is whether the participant will be better matched with a quieter, more introverted horse, or if they would match well with an outgoing, goofy horse.


Ollie is a 15-year-old American Quarter Horse pony. Early in life, Ollie found himself in a bad situation, but was rescued and had a great home with a loving family.  He enjoyed a life of trail riding and quiet rides through hayfields before he came to RHR.  As long as he’s getting attention and treats (his favorite are bananas!), Ollie is game for just about anything.  Because of his traumatic past, Ollie sometimes needs extra reassurance when he’s first getting to know a new person. Once he knows he can trust you, Ollie turns into a goofball.  His small size and quiet nature makes him a great match for many of the younger and smaller RHR riders.

The ranch is a donation based non-profit, so every dollar counts. There are many ways to support Rocking Horse Ranch. Becoming involved in the programs makes a much-needed difference in the community.  Volunteer in the lesson program or in other ways around the farm.

Donations can be made at any time on-line at or during annual fundraisers such as the Ghoulish Gallop in the Fall, Derby Dash Bash in Spring and the Open House/Family Fun Day in the Summer.

Rocking Horse Ranch is located at 1721 Blue Banks Farm Road in Greenville. For more information about the therapeutic riding programs, visit or call 252.752.0153. Rocking Horse Ranch is a Premier Accredited Center with PATH International.

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