BY PHILIP WHEELER
Located at the northernmost limits of Ottawa County, under the baleful shadow of the Davis-Besse Nuclear Plant, sits a 10-acre plot of peace and tranquility called Riders Unlimited Inc. (RUI). Operating at the present location since 2010, RUI offers Equine-Assisted Therapy for individuals with disabilities, persons recovering from addictions, veterans, and the families of deployed military personnel.
As a member of Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH), RUI has been serving Ottawa, Sandusky and the surrounding counties since 1997. Its mission statement is simple: “By harnessing the unique qualities of the horse, Riders Unlimited utilizes the strengths of each individual to promote physical, mental and emotional well-being.”
A disability does not have to limit a person from riding horses. In fact, experiencing the motion of a horse can be very therapeutic. Certified Instructor Lindsay Bille has been working with horses since she was a young child and has a degree in Equine Facility Management.
“Horses can tell how a person is feeling, or even if they are in distress. We had one rider who had seizures and his horse would stop walking, wouldn’t move, until the rider was OK.” said Bille.
At RUI, Bille and volunteers work closely with riders to provide such experiences. A new rider is assisted by two “sidewalkers” who walk alongside the horse, as well as a horse leader.
“Individuals with physical disabilities can learn a lot from working with the horses. If you can handle a horse, you can handle life,” explained Bille.
Because horseback riding rhythmically moves the rider’s body in a manner similar to a human gait, riders with physical disabilities often show improvement in flexibility, balance and muscle strength. In addition to the therapeutic benefits, horseback riding also provides recreational opportunities for individuals with disabilities to enjoy the outdoors.
Maureen Mullins, the current director of the facility, has been with the program since its inception, having first served on the board.
“When Rebekah Recker (the previous Riders Unlimited director) became ill with a brain tumor, I told her that I would take over leadership of the program. She was the heart and soul,” said Mullins. “Rebekah passed away in 2019.”
For those who are unfamiliar with horses, working with them can be an intimidating experience, but horses can be an emotional mirror for humans, since horses never hide their emotions.
“The great thing about horses is that they are intuitive to the riders needs and emotions. If a person approaches a horse with anger, the horse will respond by shying away or becoming stubborn,” said Mullins. “Because of these qualities, horses can be used to help people heal from a variety of psychological issues. Horses can help individuals identify their feelings.”
The RUI programs could not exist without the work and dedication of its volunteers. During Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT), one to three volunteers are needed to help each participant. They assist as leaders, sidewalkers, and ground lesson help.
Volunteers also help with the care of the horses, maintenance of the property, and even lawn and pasture care. Since the organization is non-profit, volunteers also help with special events and fundraising activities throughout the year.
Volunteers are always needed. Anyone 14 years old or older can help give a smile to the riders and gain the rewarding feeling of knowing how important they are to the program.
There will be volunteer training classes on Feb. 24-26 and on March 2-4 at Riders Unlimited, 3140 N. Behlman Rd., Oak Harbor. Those interested should contact Maureen Mullins or Lindsay Bille at 419-898-6164.
As a non-profit organization, RUI relies heavily on monetary, in-kind, service and material donations from individuals, corporations and the community to maintain and grow the operation.
On March 7, the Leadership Ottawa County Class of 2020 will host the fund-raising event “Leap into Luck” at the Port Clinton Yacht Club to benefit Riders Unlimited. The cost is $25 and $30 at the door. Dinner with be at 6:30 p.m.
There will be entertainment, a cash bar, a 50/50 raffle, a silent auction, and a gift card tree. All proceeds will go directly toward facility repairs, painting, and organization supplies. Tickets can be purchased at: Commodore Perry Federal Credit Union in Port Clinton; First Federal Bank in Genoa, Civista Bank in Port Clinton, Croghan Bank in Oak Harbor and Port Clinton; the Port Clinton Chamber of Commerce; and the Ottawa County Family Advocacy Center in Port Clinton.