Lori Weyhrich, 49, thought it was impossible to combine her love for horses and her experience growing up with a brother with disabilities, until she stepped foot in One Heart’s barn.
Weyhrich’s love for horses began when her parents gifted her a pony when she was only two years old. Growing up, horseback riding was an inclusive activity for the entire family, even for her brother who suffered from severe brain damage after an allergic reaction to a smallpox vaccination.
After coming across One Heart, a therapeutic riding organization for individuals with disabilities, Weyhrich merged horseback riding and her experience with disabilities. Volunteering since 2013, Weyhrich was instantly hooked, later receiving her instructor’s license in 2015. With One Heart now located in Ames, Weyhrich hopes the program reaches a larger audience.
After a year-long process to obtain her license, Weyhrich felt ready for a new challenge. With diverse clients, Weyhrich described a few of the challenges.
With every new client, Weyhrich said trial and error is used to make the best possible experience. For some, it could be the first time riding a horse, a fear of heights or the need for special equipment. But for Weyhrich, it’s the special connection between the horses and the riders that makes it worth it.
“It’s just amazing how they can come in not having a great day and how a horse changes that,” Weyhrich said. “That’s the part of the joy of working with horses, they can turn things around.”
Although a relatively new practice, Weyhrich recalls the lack of therapeutic riding programs for her brother when they were growing up. After seeing how current clients are benefiting, Weyhrich said it could’ve benefited her brother’s muscles from atrophying.
“Nobody had ideas back then,” Weyhrich said. “At that point people thought, ‘We would never put anyone like that on a horse because they would get hurt’. I mean, that was our thinking as well.”
The benefits of therapeutic riding go beyond horseback training. Clients can reap benefits like communication skills, following directions and generally feeling better. Weyhrich said One Heart is open to diversity and aside from medical limitations, can adapt to most needs of a client.
There are even miniature horses, which Weyhrich said are very popular, that can pull carts, allowing clients to steer and take control without having to mount a horse.
With One Heart now located in Ames, Weyhrich hopes the program expands to local schools, especially to students in the individualized education program (IEP). With the new location, opportunities like a veteran’s program is also feasible.
Weyhrich continues to volunteer, even bringing along her daughter, reigning in a new generation of a horseback riding fanatic. Although hard to pinpoint her favorite part of volunteering, Weyhrich highlighted the big smile clients get when they finally start riding independently.
“I love interacting with clients,” Weyhrich said. “They’re such special people and you just can’t have a bad day around them.”