Sherry Jenkins started her Hope Unbridled equestrian program six years ago. By all accounts it has been a success: “We have a waiting list,” Jenkins said. HUEP is a horseback riding opportunity for children, youth and adults with disabilities. According to Jenkins, her clients include people with emotional, cognitive and physical disabilities who have the opportunity to learn to ride at the riding school in West Lee County and East Pontotoc County. They are accompanied by Jenkins and volunteers who provide them with guidance and a safe experience while learning to ride gentle horses. Jenkins has 10 horses for the program; there are more horses at the facility but some are “boarders” and others do not have a gentle enough personality to be part of the program. And while horses must meet certain criteria, clients must also meet certain criteria: “The desire to ride and learn is one of the main qualifiers,” Jenkins said. She currently has 44 runners enrolled in the program, but could have more if the program staff included more volunteers. Ultimately, Jenkins would like to be able to pay her assistants, so she seeks a source of income through donations and corporate sponsorships. While equestrian therapy programs can be found in many parts of the country, Jenkins’ effort is one of the very few in northeast Mississippi. Her clients come from Lee County and many surrounding areas; some drive up to an hour’s drive to participate in the program. “It’s for the sheer fun of riding,” Jenkins said of the purpose of the program. “Independent riding is the ultimate goal, but not all participants achieve it. Indeed, most clients seem satisfied to sit on their mounts while being accompanied by volunteers guiding and walking alongside them during the one hour sessions; Jenkins limits sessions to a maximum of three clients, so there’s a lot of attention paid to each of them. One of the goals of the program is to “build a relationship with horse and rider, and build self-confidence,” Jenkins said. Some runners have been participating in the program for a few years, which is why there is a waiting list to join the program. They come, but don’t leave the program once they enter. HUEP is certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, of which Jenkins is a certified instructor. She had to complete a training program for her certification, which she started several years before opening her establishment, a non-profit organization run by a nine-member board of directors. Jenkins credits her husband, Bobby Jenkins, with being the main driving force behind the success of the HUEP effort as he did most of the construction and maintains the facility. “We are looking for volunteers and corporate sponsorships,” Jenkins said. For more information on HUEP, call 662-231-5388 or visit their website at hopeunbridledequestrian.org.
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