How therapy horses are helping disabled children at Southern Reins


The team doing great things for kids at Southern Reins.

Southern Reins Center of Equine Therapy is an organization in Memphis, Tennessee whose mission it is to “provide equine activities and therapeutic riding to individuals with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities and hardship”. They do these things in order to “empower, inspire, and nurture” the participants so that they can succeed. The center was founded in July of 2015 with the help of Jill Haag who is the Director of Southern Reins in Memphis.

When Southern Reins was first opened, there were only twelve riders in their first session. That number has increased to 53 riders per week. There were no other programs in the area that catered, specifically, to children with disabilities although there were some that offered sessions mixed with other riding lessons.

Due to the demand and nature of a non-profit organization, Jill says that they must run, “lean and mean”, meaning that there are only three part time employees on staff with Southern Reins. The rest of the work is done by the 150 volunteers and community partners who play an important part in the day to day life at the center. Those volunteers and partners truly make running the Center a “labor of love’, as Jill refers to it, for the parents and the children who are utilizing the services at Southern Reins.

The goal for the Center is to “offer hope for someone’s ability and not focus on their disability”.


A rider engages with a horse during a session at Southern Reins.

Hope For Disabled Children

There are many children with many different disabilities who attend Horseback Riding Therapy sessions at Southern Reins. The goal for the Center is to “offer hope for someone’s ability and not focus on their disability”. The children ride horses in order to attain the physical and mental benefits of it in a safe environment. For example, a study that was published in Complimentary Therapies in Clinical Practices in 2012, suggests that there is a “beneficial [short term] effect of Horseback Riding Therapy on hip adductor spasticity when applied in addition to conventional rehabilitation in children with cerebral palsy”, this study also shows conclusive evidence of posture and balance improvement in the same children.

Therapy Benefits Continue After Riding

Jill and the parents at the center see the benefits of Horseback Riding Therapy during each session and at home. Parents have reported to Jill that their children are more independent since starting the sessions at Southern Reins. Even something as small as holding the reins of the horse increases the range of motion in their hands so that they can achieve tasks that everyone takes for granted, like dressing themselves. Although the physicality of this therapy is important, there are also benefits in less tangible areas of the participants lives.


Studies show animal therapy can have a positive impact on disabled children.

Other studies find that, “After 10 weeks of TR [therapeutic riding], teacher rating indicated that participating children with Autism improved their social communication as well as their attention, tolerance, and reactions in the classroom”. These studies also record that parents see changes in the responses of children with ASD”.

The act of riding, touching and feeling the horses move, according to Jill, “is engagement that parents don’t see everyday” in their child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. This engagement transfers to their interpersonal relationships as well, allowing these children to hug and communicate in a way that they were not able to before.


The therapy horses at Southern Reins.

Finding The Right Horses

The horses and ponies at Southern Reins are on their second or third career, a majority of them being former show horses. Southern Reins receives phone calls from multiple sources regarding horses who may be a good fit as a therapy horse. After a horse is found, the Center spends a lot of time ensuring the temperament, making sure the horse is calm, and their soundness, making sure the horse can, walk, trot and canter, in a variety of situations. There is a 90 day assessment period where the horse is introduced to ramps, side-walkers and wheelchairs. There are also “mock sessions” where the seizures, uneven side riders and other situations are replicated in order to ensure that the horse can maintain its composure in those types of situations. This rigorous testing allows Jill to deem her therapy horses as “one in a million”, it is truly a very special horse that can endure all that the training asks of them.


The kids at Southern Reins giving a shout out to Vetericyn!

Keeping The Horses Healthy

The philosophy at Southern Reins is that the horses should be turned out as much as possible. If the weather permits, the horses are outside roaming around instead of inside a stall. This allows the horses to be healthier, stronger, and more engaged in lessons.

This philosophy is great, but a problem arises when a horse is out all day. The more often a horse is out the more susceptible they are to issues like rain rot and scrapes and cuts that they get from being outside.

When horses do suffer from these and other issues, Southern Reins turns to the “Big Blue Bottle”, Vetericyn’s Wound and Skin care. Jill asserts that Vetericyn is the “only thing that works without calling the vet’. Vetericyn helps the horses heal so that they can go back to doing their jobs quickly, so that parents and children do not miss out on the benefits of Horse Riding Therapy.

Helping Those Who Help Others

It is organizations like Southern Reins Equine Therapy Center that Vetericyn loves to partner with. Vetericyn believes in giving back to those making an impact in the animal and agricultural industries. Whenever possible, we assist groups like Southern Reins who do so much for the industry and the animals that are part of our livelihood and our family. We thank our customers across the country who help make this possible.

If you’d like to help Southern Reins, visit their website. To learn more about volunteering or helping the animal or agricultural industry in your area, contact us.